Why business development matters now more than ever to life sciences consultancies

Why business development matters more than ever to life sciences consultancies

With evidence that the current recession may have a lagged effect on the pharmaceutical industry, I have been pondering how consultancies – in particular health economic businesses – can weather the storm. That got me thinking about consultancies’ own vulnerabilities when it comes to building business for the future, understanding and responding to customer priorities and learning to sell their skills.

As I mentioned in my last blog, selling doesn’t come naturally to many consultants but it is crucial for business development and lead generation, particularly in a tightening – and crowded – marketplace. If I consider my own background and experience, I do understand that reticence.

Before founding Gatehouse ICS, I was sales director in a large global market access consultancy. It was somewhat of a surprise to me that I ended up in that role since I had come from a background of nursing and considered myself an academic; I had never thought of myself as a salesperson. However, I discovered a real ability to sell, because for me selling was about answering research questions and being authentically enthusiastic about helping clients and their products achieve their full potential and yield their full value. Initially, I was selling without realising I was selling and projects were coming in.

With this in mind, we set up services to help our clients “sell themselves” to their pharmaceutical clients and build their business leads for the future.

One of these services we offer is consultancy-based selling training to reinforce client relationships. We use a model based on insight selling where we help you harness your natural insight skills and your experience with previous projects to showcase your expertise to your clients. In other words, we empower research-focussed consultants to be who they are and to do what comes naturally to them, which is to help their clients ideas, products and services achieve their full potential. Another workshop we offer is around NIMBLE and pragmatic key account management training that takes into account the nuances of selling into pharma. Our training courses involves four remote 2-hour sessions that explore what it means to be a consultant and to lead the client relationship in a proactive way to understand and achieve success for both parties.

Riding the peaks and troughs

Another barrier to “selling” or business development for many consultancies is simply a time factor. I and other directors in Gatehouse ICS have held senior positions in consultancies so we remember the challenges with business development. For example, you might look to hire very senior people with the high hopes that they would bring in new business. But there are huge risks attached to that since to attract those experienced people you need to offer big payment packages and the business doesn’t necessarily follow.

We believe that with us, what you get is those senior people with proven sales success but without the employment contract. In addition to our own expertise, we have a strategic insights panel made up of independent experts who were either in the pharmaceutical industry or in consultancies for many years. On top of that, we have a team of researchers working to deliver high-level insights and a strategy of persistently and consistently reaching out to potential clients on your behalf. Lastly, we have an expansive network from which we can look for relevant customers.

The service is offered for a no-obligation three-month taster period. At the end of that, if you don’t wish to continue you can pause the contract. But even if you do decide to go no further, you still you end up with a list of contacts – coded red, amber, green depending on interest levels – and good market intelligence about which targets and messages resonated. In the vast majority of cases, these leads result in some request for proposals (RFPs), more than paying for our time. What we have found is that most clients go on to use us on rolling basis, month in and out, with a two-week notice period to discontinue because they are getting the leads that generate business.

Our business development service is based on our own experience and understanding of the industry. We specifically went down the path of not charging per meeting but rather for our time because of a past bad experience with a lead-generation business that charged us a lot for setting up meetings that we surmised were not genuine leads. We also chose to go down the path of manually generated research and insights rather than automated, bot-generated services. That is because we believe that with the automated approach you risk spamming people with irrelevant or flawed messaging, which can damage your reputation.

Earlier I talked about our pragmatic and nimble approach to key account management training. Indeed, NIMBLE is embedded in how we help consultants be more proactive. As an acronym, it is:

  • Numbers – your internal data regarding the client account
  • Information – the client perspective, including their goals, key events for the year ahead, promising products in their pipeline, etc.
  • Mapping – assesses where the work currently is, where the client’s contact points are and where the gaps lie
  • Brainstorm – bringing the whole team, not just the key account manager, together to share insights and strengthen connections
  • Leadership – leading the relationship, projects and clients rather than being reactive
  • Excellence – delivering with excellence, which means asking for client feedback and is the easiest way to secure ongoing business.

To us at Gatehouse, NIMBLE is integral to business development. The fact is, it doesn’t matter how good and thorough your research is, if you don’t act on that quickly and nimbly, it becomes redundant.

Business development, consultancy-based selling and lead generation services are tightly connected with all the expertise we offer our clients, and in my next blog I will explore our business insights and customer satisfaction services in greater depth.

I would love to hear what approaches you have adopted to generate business, how successful you have been and where and in what ways my colleagues and I might help you to strengthen your business as we prepare for a tougher business year in 2021.