Science Matters: Decide to be Different

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Many lab scientists remember what it was like to work “on the bench.” The term referred to the standard practice of manual processes or methods. No matter what services a particular lab offered, you could bet the work was all done by hand.

Then suppliers of lab equipment and materials decided to do something differently, which ended up playing a significant part in the evolution of the industry.

Suppliers realized that to improve on manual processes, they had to start paying attention to the details of the relationship between a lab’s customers and methods within the lab itself. Analyzing these delicate interactions, suppliers used their findings to develop automated instruments that could outperform old methods. The move added value to suppliers’ products and ensured the industry’s adoption. Automation in turn became the new industry standard, in part because of suppliers’ willingness to look at the customer/lab relationship in a new way.

Just as supplier creativity led to an industry game changer, similar actions on the part of managers can dramatically improve a lab’s bottom line in the business realm—but only if they are willing to embrace differentiation and change.

Labs of all sizes, however, sometimes continue to operate within an outdated business model that provides no opportunity to stand out in the crowd, even as personnel may feel confident in their ability to solve a customer’s problems.

This dilemma demonstrates the need for modern laboratories, now more than ever, to adapt to the new marketing reality. As is true for most businesses, scientific labs will flourish if they stop competing on services and instead learn how to compete on best customer outcomes.

“Fix my problem”

Today’s customers require a more solutions-based outcome before they even walk through a lab’s door, and an opportunity always will be missed if they are greeted with the traditional menu of services.

Why? Every lab has one, so this traditional marketing tool, while serving a valuable function in highlighting a lab’s basic capabilities, actually does very little to establish for the customer why a particular lab is preferable over another.

More important, we know from the past that customers did not always realize from looking at a menu of à la carte services the best way to synthesize those services into a desirable product that would lead to the best outcome.

Customers nevertheless have become more sophisticated about their expectations and, in the process, more demanding. A lab’s customers, whether they are individuals or larger businesses, no longer want to buy single services from a list. They want to buy total solutions that will last and perhaps even help their own businesses grow. If a lab doesn’t have a sales plan that goes beyond its basic list of capabilities, customers are likely to go somewhere else.

Use your employees to differentiate

Marketing a lab that provides customers with a unique solution to a problem is usually the easy part. The real challenge is identifying what has the potential to make a lab different. In other words, how can a lab be truly “disruptive” in the marketplace? How can it take its standard practices and transform them into game-changing solutions that will make the lab exceptional among all others?

The path for getting there will be different for every organization. However, for nearly every lab, it likely will include a fresh approach to staffing. A lab may determine a unique solution capability that can be staffed with specialized skills designed around a common customer outcome. Managers must learn how to evolve their recruiting to identify the most critical skill sets in potential employees and learn how to use those skills to best support the solution and customer outcome. The trend toward hiring contingent staff fortunately can make the manager’s job easier. Today’s contingent workers in the science industry are more prepared than ever to help propel labs in new creative directions because of their versatility. This means workers can respond easily to a variety of different skill requirements and challenges. They can be productive right away, minimizing the learning curve and increasing a lab’s profitability

Employing contingent workers can also give a lab a great amount of flexibility once it has established a new set of services and solutions. The lab will be better able to handle fluctuations in volume and demand as business grows and to deploy the right kind of workers as new demands crop up. It will be even possible to use talent in a remote way if work needs to be done at a customer’s location.

Rising to these new marketing challenges might be difficult in the short term, but it is guaranteed to translate into a lab’s long-term business and financial success.

Published In

Confident? Magazine Issue Cover
Confident?

Published: February 1, 2011

Cover Story

Confident?

Our third annual confidence survey reveals that survey participants—ranging from technicians to corporate management—believe their research organizations will be just slightly better off financially than they were a year ago and that business conditions in their market sectors will somewhat improve to support or attract significant research investments.