Closing the gap between a manufacturer and its customers

 A case study in BT&C consulting

BT&C Inc.

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Lebanon, NJ 08833

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Manufactures of scientific equipment and supplies can often find themselves isolated from their customers.  The manufacturer will often be staffed by engineers, sales persons, marketers and a support staff that has little or no training in the sciences.  The products the company makes may be on the periphery of cutting edge science, and though the products are important, in-depth knowledge of the science is not required.   The manufacturer lacks scientists, and scientists are not a vital player in the organization.  In such cases, manufacturers find themselves in a scientific void.  This situation is surprisingly common.

In the early years of BT&C, back when the company focus was on training in biotechnology, one of our most popular courses was "Marketing for the Life Science Professional".  This program turned into one of the mainstays of BT&C as there was a great desire for non-science based companies to understand their customers.  It was apparent to our clients that they needed to better understand the science so they could grow with their customer base.

Virtually all companies at some point look inward and conclude that they must become closer to their customers.  If you don't understand your customer, it is difficult to support them and even harder to provide them with new products that helps to propel the science while keeping your company healthy.  Without understanding the customer, opinion and customer feedback can easily become obscure.  This lack of communication with scientists can turn into a very significant problem.  This situation can be compounded for manufacturers who sell through the major distributors.  Distributors serve as a buffer and can further impede information flowing from the scientific user to the manufacturer.  

A senior executive at a major manufacture of laboratory equipment recognized this internal problem and requested that BT&C help to narrow the knowledge gap between company employees and customers.  In a very competitive market, the executive realized that the company needed customer input to hone its products to give it an advantage.  The executive also considered this a prime opportunity to gather market intelligence for new product development.  Working closely with management, BT&C developed a program for strengthening the company's scientific knowledge base while gathering information for new product development.

The gap between the manufacturer and scientist was not only an issue about knowledge, but it was also a characteristic of the corporate culture.  The task of bringing customer and vendor together would require a change in attitude by the management and staff.  Simply taking a seminar about "molecular biology" or "how scientists use your products" was not a long-term solution.  Consequently, a multifaceted approach was used.

As an icebreaker, management and staff were provided with a series of short workshops which defined the life science market.  This training simply clarified the type of research that was being performed and how the manufacturer's customers fit into the market.  At every opportunity, examples of how the company's products fit into the market were highlighted.  This training was used to direct the inside sales team into contacting new accounts based on the expectation that scientists would use the company's products.  The engineering group was also challenged to define the parameters of the company's equipment based on user need.

Following the training, a select group of customer scientists were invited to serve on a scientific advisory board.  This group's objective was to identify hot new areas of bioresearch and the associated opportunities.  BT&C served on this board, but we also facilitated the meetings and acted to confer and decipher the information to management and staff.  The scientific advisory board would meet regularly with management, sales, and marketing.  These meetings included a discussion of science, but were also used to direct the different corporate teams into new realms that would narrow the gap between company and scientist.

As a better understanding of science emerged, BT&C further pushed the capabilities of the company by providing detailed training on the use of products.  This training was at times hand-on and went beyond the basic explanation of features and characteristics, but focused on the scientist and how they used the product.  Sales and marketing persons were expected to know the products in addition to how they were used. 

The in-depth training was supplemented by technical papers generated by BT&C for the scientists.  This included "how to" papers that used the company's products in a process without an aggressive sales pitch.  These papers were made available online, but also to the sales and marketing staff as tools for hooking customers.

This program of changing the attitudes of management and staff so to be more inline with their scientist customers was effective.  It was an involved program that required an investment of time and resources, but the alternative was to allow the company to stagnate.