The Bracken Blog

Five Marketing Considerations for eClinical Software Execs

A Hand-Curated Bundle of Goodness

Here at Bracken, most of the marketing we do is in the eClinical space. It’s therefore where we do most of our market analysis and consulting.

We recently created and launched a dashboard that maps and categorizes more than 360 companies that compose the category. It’s part of our ongoing effort to be the most knowledgeable on trends in this space.

With that in mind, I’ve recently been considering the top characteristics that describe how to do marketing in the rewarding yet difficult space that is the eClinical space right now. Below are five of them.

  1. eClinical companies have all the revenue-generation challenges of a life science business

Sales cycles in eClinical can be 12+ months long, and the buying committee for a piece of software can include six or more decision-makers. Meanwhile, for such a hyper-niche there is a wide variety of customer needs. What a small biotech needs from a software partner is entirely different than what a large pharma organization needs. The options in such a scenario are to . . .

  • Increase your cost of sales and cost of services to be the customizable, “sell to everyone in the industry” offering, or
  • Position for one end of the market and not the other, thereby reducing your addressable market but better systemizing your sales and service processes. (This option is my recommendation because it will produce higher sales close rates amidst an increasingly competitive market.)

eClinical software contracts are typically tied to a specific clinical trial, which means that even if you have successfully sold a clinical trial team, it’s not guaranteed you are the preferred partner for your customer’s other clinical trials. In other SaaS verticals, the concept of having software contracts tied to finite projects, and to not have an indefinite subscription term, would be an unviable business model.

Finally, due to how complex clinical trial protocols have become, some clinical trial teams are less concerned about how vendors typically implement software and ask for a custom solution and implementation process. Needless to say, this increases the cost of sales and cost of service, in addition to increasing the difficulty of doing business.

  1. eClinical companies have all the value creation challenges of a software business.

Successful software categories typically get crowded fast. We’ve been blogging about this for a few years. In that time, we’ve seen the number of eClinical companies more than double. The implication is that playing defense in a software category is difficult. New entrants can come in any time and squeeze out your revenue opportunity.

This competitive and fast-moving environment creates risk. The cost of acquiring a customer this year may be quite different from next year. Meanwhile, how does one actually predict customer lifetime value in a category with 1 year sales cycles, 2+ year contracts, and 15% CAGR? Unfortunately, it takes a huge amount of work to get customers in the door and retain them.

Not to be all doom and gloom, the truth is there is an incredibly high barrier of entry to doing business in this space. This means that while the road to proving scalability is higher risk than in other spaces, once you can crack that nut and establish dominance in a sub-niche, enterprise value will be significantly higher than it would be operating in another space. As evidence of this, as the software category has matured it’s seen record high valuations (which is congruent to the biotech category).

  1. If you can’t talk the talk, don’t talk.

In short, generic, uninformed marketing won’t do.

Consider two scenarios:

  1. A clinical data manager reads a whitepaper your marketing team put out and gets the sense your company doesn’t know what it’s talking about when it comes to FDA guidances on electronic records.
  2. A Chief Medical Officer reads an article on your company blog related to oncology and thinks your team is misinformed on important scientific matters.

In both scenarios, it becomes the readers’ job to make sure their team and their peers do not buy your software. If this were your software, you might have been better off not putting out marketing at all.

Yet, we know that putting out high-quality marketing information with a targeted distribution strategy will grow your business (I’m thinking of the eClinical businesses in our portfolio where we tripled traffic and quintupled leads from the website through content marketing tactics).

The takeaway: No matter how busy they are, bring your regulatory, technical, and scientific experts into your marketing process. Only work with a specialty team such as Bracken to interview your experts, align what they are saying with outside sources, professionally write and design materials, and bring it all together with the right marketing strategy.

Bonus tip: Be sure your salespeople have proof and evidence for all their claims. For starters, this means producing a library of case studies your sales team can use to walk a prospect through past scenarios where you’ve successfully implemented software into a clinical trial team like theirs.

  1. The culture in pharma is changing

The ecosystem around pharma used to be incredibly formal. Proving you are an insider once required packing your company information with formal language, being the best at spouting scientific jargon, and referencing items like “posters”. Much of this still takes place, but it’s now more accepted to use everyday language. For marketers, we encourage it.

The workforce in pharma has more millennials and Gen Z’ers each year, and the FDA now takes meetings via video calls.

Most large pharma orgs now have “innovation groups” and have shifted from shying away from new technology to seeking it as a competitive advantage.

With this in mind, use marketing messaging that relates to people. Connect with the emotional beings whose buying decisions impact your business. Be direct and concise about what your company does. And use images, data visualizations, video, and interactive media where possible.

  1. Mass convergence from other industries has already begun. Defend your lane.

To make this point, let’s look at electronic data capture (EDC). On Capterra, there are more than 190 electronic data capture companies listed (at the time this was written, 30 new companies listed in Capterra’s EDC category in the last 4 months). These are companies that enable patient and procedural data to be captured, standardized, stored, and prepared for milestones such as FDA submission. Within the EDC umbrella, we have ePRO (electronic patient-reported outcomes) and eConsent. Meanwhile, there is a booming ecosystem of software related to reporting patient outcomes and consent in the next town over: healthcare IT. It’s only a matter of time (correction: it’s already started) before eClinical EDC companies start building out hospital-focused solutions while hospital ePRO vendors put together their battle plans to take over the clinical trial market. This story is playing out not only in EDC, but potentially in every category included in our eClinical Market dashboard.

What should your team do? Defend your lane. Firmly establish what it is that your team is the best and most experienced at and keep a foothold on this expertise as if your business depends on it. Maybe your team has the best UX, maybe you have the most advanced compliance systems, or maybe you have a larger client-base in oncology research than anyone else. If marketed correctly, these kinds of differentiators will make it difficult for outsiders to come in and steal your lunch money.

If you’d like to discuss eClinical marketing strategy in more detail, please book a call with me anytime via this link.

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