Even though I look like I’ve just graduated from college, I have actually spent the last 15 years working with contract services providers in the pharmaceutical outsourcing sector. From CROs to CMOs, tech companies and everything in between, I’ve seen the same schoolboy errors over and over again. So, I decided to look back and collate the most common mistakes I’ve seen when it comes to firms trying to market themselves more effectively to the pharma and biotech industry. If I’ve done my job properly, some of these common mistakes will resonate with you or at least make you cringe a little…

1.Trust in text-heavy slides

At any point in your career have you sat through a 50 slide sales presentation with a load of bullets on every page and thought… wow, that was truly wonderful? I doubt it. So why do so many contract service companies insist on boring the heck out of prospective buyers? Stop telling and selling and start engaging. People buy from people is the classic B2B adage. And it’s true. Get the room interested in you and your company’s story, not what is on the screen behind you.

The fix?

Limit yourself to a maximum of 3-5 words per slide and accompany with impactful imagery. It takes just a few seconds to read the text and then the audience will focus on you. Now you have their genuine attention, engage them and bring the slide to life. And if you’re not sure why the slide is there… then take it out. Each slide should have a clear intention. Keep it that simple.

2.Dismiss the search engines

“No one searches for a CMO online, do they?” Seriously guys. Look at how you search for new suppliers? I bet you a Google search is on your list. In my experience, sponsors end up with a handful of potential vendors via a referral, a company they may have met at an event and through an online search. Don’t bury your head in the sand and accept that people search for even the most technical of capabilities online.

The fix?

Make sure your website is optimised for your buyer’s search terms. Regularly update with relevant new content that your audience will benefit from. Do this properly and you’ll see the inbound enquiries rocket.

3.Record contacts on individual spreadsheets

Almost every company I have worked with at some point is apparently, ‘working on a new CRM system’. I actually think this is the achilles heal of 90% of contract services companies. Every BD person with their own spreadsheet and system. No clear process for recording contacts. And certainly no intelligent usability of the data collected. Instead, most opt for a total scatter gun approach of everything to everyone.

The fix?

Start small and get into the habit of using even a low entry CRM system. Systems like Zoho and X do much of what Salesforce can do so before you blow the budget on an all singing and dancing CRM that solves world peace, just get your BD and marketing team into the habit of using a system and following a clear process. Once you realise the power, you’ll be bought in.

4.Let’s keep our capabilities under wraps

This one drives me crazy. Contract service companies that don’t want to shout about specific capabilities because they ‘don’t want the competition to know’. Ironically they know already. Hiding capabilities quite simply limits your market. It’s like opening a local, organic butchers next to one that sells purely processed meat. And because you don’t want them to know, about your superior offering, you remove your sign and black out the windows.

The fix?

Have confidence in your offering. Be loud and proud about your specialist capabilities as these are likely to be the things that differentiate you and generate interest. If your prospects don’t know you have them, then they’re never going to buy them now are.

5. Assume no one uses social media in pharma

I reckon there’s a chance you have a Facebook account. If not, most definitely a LinkedIn account. And I know you’ve seen at least one video via Youtube. Irrespective of how conservative the pharma sector is, social is the norm for most of us these days. Imagine a prospect is recommended you and Google’s your name. Below your website are LinkedIn and Twitter accounts that have not been updated for years. What does that say about your firm? Not to mention some of the biggest industry conferences that often ‘trend’ online, yet your company isn’t part of the conversation.

The fix?

Accept social media has a role. It may not be the main driver of enquiries but it no doubt amplifies your message. Furthermore, social platforms can be invaluable for prospecting and recruitment these days. At the very least, keep your accounts up to date or just remove them all together (and risk having no visibility of brand mentions – good or bad).

6. Assuming you’re guaranteed leads at CPhI

If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard this one. And it’s not just exclusive to CPhI actually, but any major event or conference. Turning up with your booth (however well-designed) and expecting visitors to just flock and purchase your services. Seriously. The success of any event is always down to the pre-event work and preparation. The ‘build it and they will come’ theory may have worked well for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams but I guarantee it won’t work for a big trade show.

The fix?

Wait for it… drum roll please… inform people beforehand. It’s scary how many firms miss this out. Communicate to your prospects and clients before the event and give them a reason to come and see you. Whether its for a meeting, a product/services launch or a drinks event, get scheduled in before the event as you can bet your bottom dollar they won’t have much time for wandering on your stand when the day comes.

None of the above are rocket science. But like most things in marketing and business development, each requires thought, courage and above all, discipline.

Invest in getting them consistently right and the rewards can be rather spectacular.