Sunday, August 15, 2010

What Makes Product Management Different in Life Sciences?

     At the August meeting of the Silicon Valley Product Management Association (SVPMA), Jennifer Turcotte and Dione K. Bailey, Ph.D from Complete Genomics, Inc. provided a comprehensive discussion of what is required to successfully transition from product management in high tech to the Life Sciences industry.

    Jennifer Turcotte, vice president of marketing at Complete Genomics, drew upon 15 years of enterprise software and biotechnology marketing and product management experience with both venture-funded startups and public companies. Jennifer currently directs all product management and marketing activities at Complete Genomics including strategic product planning, product marketing, market entry strategy, marketing communications, branding and public relations. She has held senior product marketing positions at SAP, Siperian, Ariba and BEA. Jennifer holds a B.Eng. in mechanical engineering from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

    Dione K. Bailey, Ph.D. is the Director of Product Management at Complete Genomics, Inc.  She joined Complete Genomics in 2009 where she focuses on requirements gathering and improvements to existing products and strategies that impact the direction of future products. Prior to joining Complete Genomics, Dr. Bailey was the Product Manager for CGH/CNV microarrays at Agilent Technologies. Dr. Bailey was at Affymetrix for 5 years where she started as a Postdoctoral Fellow and also served as a Genomics Collaborations Scientist and Application Scientist.  Dr. Bailey has 14 years of experience in the life sciences market. She holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Delaware and a B.S. in chemistry from the College of New Jersey. Dr. Bailey has co-authored articles that appeared in Science, Cell, Cancer Research, The American Journal of Human Genetics and Genome Research.

       Dr. Baily began with an introduction to Complete Genomics, explaining that they are a life sciences tools company, not a diagnostics or medical devices company.  The goal at Complete Genomics is to provide large scale and affordable complete human genome sequencing as a service to enable the large scale research of the genetic mechanisms underlying complex diseases and drug response.  As a small start-up company, their biggest challenges, from a product management perspective, are the highly competitive market comprised of a small number of amply sized, fierce competitors and the multi-disciplinary technology required to provide DNA sequencing of human genomes.  Domain knowledge of bio-chemistry, hardware, software, bioinformatics and genetics is essential because they sell to PhD level research scientists.

       Regulatory considerations are a factor in the life sciences industry, however they do not currently affect Complete Genomics since their customers are not doctors or CLIA labs (testing laboratories affected by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments).  However, if and when DNA sequencing becomes a diagnostic test or part of standard care, it will require FDA regulation.  FDA regulation will severely impact product management’s role in product lifecycle management given the rigorous reporting and clinical trials necessary.  Product Marketing is also inhibited by FDA regulation in restrictions of who you can sell to, how you can market, what you can and cannot say about the product.  These are not common issues in high tech product management.

       Dr. Baily referenced bay area companies focusing on personal genomics services,  Navigenics and 23andMe. They provide analysis of personal genomes to individuals for use in predictive medicine.  They use the information produced by personal genomics techniques for making decisions on medical treatments, such as type of treatment or drug and appropriate dosage for a particular individual.  The companies require genetic counselors to help interpret the results.  Currently these sequencing tests and results are considered a regulatory gray zone for the FDA.  All have received warning letters from the FDA asserting that the gene-analysis systems the companies are using are medical devices that must be regulated.

       The presentation focus shifted to the differences between the Life Sciences Tools and High Tech industries.  The life science tools industry does not utilize industry analysts as is done in high tech – instead there are key opinion leaders who are renowned, leading scientists who influence customers’ buying decisions.  Selling to scientists requires facts, proof and validation and credibility. “Scientific meetings” are considered closed events where scientists interact with scientists to share research.  Scientific meetings are not a conference, trade show or event and no venders are present. News is provided under embargo and opinion leaders are treated equal to journalists and put in touch with R&D directly for peer-to-peer discussion.

       Life science companies rarely employ complex selling or unique marketing tactics because scientists are only interested in the features and functions of the products. They are aware of all the offerings available since it is a small industry where everyone knows everyone, and the marketing grows out of research and development. In life science companies, buyers will purchase every solution they can acquire to advance their research. Comparatively, in the high tech world, briefing and influencing industry analysts is critical to the marketing strategy.  Sales require differentiated positioning and messaging, competitive intelligence and sales tools to highlight product offerings.  Product management and product marketing are understood and valued in high tech companies when compared to life sciences.

       Regarding research and development in high tech, product management is often brought in half-way through development to steer the final product feature set, run the alpha/beta testing and launch the product.  This may be three to six months after launch of the company.  In a start-up life sciences tools company, R&D works for many years without any marketing or product management.  R&D is often multi-disciplinary and it takes longer to transition to a commercial organization.  Dr. Baily suggested that bringing in product management to help drive the way products are developed, marketed and sold by focusing on the problems of the market rather than the features of the product is optimal.

    Typically in high tech, product management and product marketing have separate but coordinated roles even in small companies.  Developers want product managers to prioritize requirements; marketing people want product managers to write copy; sales people want product managers for demo after demo. Product managers are so busy supporting the other departments they have no time remaining for actual product management. But just because the product manager is an expert in the product doesn’t mean no one else needs product expertise. Product marketing must work alongside product management to fill in the more tactical outbound role.  Successful companies clearly define the distinct roles of product manager and product marketing, and they work together to maximize sales revenue, market share and profits.
    Successful products come from companies that know the market and its problems. Strong dedicated product management is necessary to provide nimble product development and highly differentiated products with a strong value proposition within highly competitive, rapidly evolving markets.  It is important to keep product management focused on strategic product direction while simultaneously ensuring that vital tactical activities are managed, including providing consistent messaging to customers, sales support, marketing programs, industry analysts and the press.  One person is unlikely to have the bandwidth to do both jobs well.
    In Life sciences, the product manager is often responsible for both product management and product marketing, yet it’s difficult to find one person who can do both roles well who also has domain expertise.  Each role is critical and necessitates different skills and talents.  Due to the technical nature of the buyer who is a scientist, product management in life sciences requires someone with more scientific background than marketing training.  Marketing training in life sciences comes from on-the-job training which prevents much out of the box thinking.

    Being a product manager in a life sciences company often requires a PhD which makes it difficult to transition from other industries. Domain knowledge in life sciences requires understanding of the customer’s problem in depth.  Requirements are often technically focused and detailed (i.e. requires molecular biology, genetics background and understanding).  This is not solution selling as the only thing differentiating one product from another are the technical product features and most buyers purchase solutions from more than one vendor.  Many researchers from R&D within life sciences transition from a technical development role into a marketing role.

    In high tech, domain knowledge is secondary to product management and customer facing experience.  Jennifer Turcotte told the story of when Ariba decided to hire purchasing managers from their customer channel to help guide product management, assuming they would convey what drove their purchasing decisions to enhance the product development process.  The experiment was an utter failure because purchase managers couldn’t translate their job into product requirements, they were not skilled as product managers.  In high tech it is often important to have business to business or business to customer product management experience as well as business acumen.  Jennifer talked about when she was in enterprise software and wanted to move away from enterprise to a consumer-oriented business like Yahoo, Google, Adobe, but lacked consumer experience.  She thought it was weird that she was a consumer yet couldn’t represent one when she represented B2B software but was never a business. Sometimes things aren’t logical and you have to find a way to breakdown these misconceptions.

    Ms. Turcotte discussed social media where bloggers are emerging as a key media audience.  Many life science tools companies believe they don’t need to participate in social media marketing because their products or services are not customer facing.  Whereas in high tech an integrated approach that includes social media like blogging, Facebook or twitter is second nature.  Customers, decision makers, influencers and investors are all participating online and companies need to actively listen to what is being discussed in this arena.  She shared she will pre-brief key reporters and key bloggers. She treats key bloggers with the same respect and inclusion given to the press because they are read by customers who are often more knowledgeable than the reporters.

      Jennifer tackled the challenge of changing industries, not roles in your career progression as a product manager.  Really understand why you want a change and what is motivating that change.  Research new careers and key companies, identify transferrable skills, network and find a mentor. Be flexible with location, role and salary.  Changing roles within a life science organization to transition from R&D to marketing requires patience.  Take the time to learn the basics and grow into the role.  Don’t be afraid to ask your marketing peers for advice and help.  Expect on the job training.  Some companies will contribute to MBA and other training programs.

    To transition industries, set a goal and map out a plan with steps and milestones.  Satisfaction is found when playing to your strengths and passions.  Try to determine how the role you are in now will get you to your next goal.  Leverage your network immediately and look for peers who have made a similar move.  You’ll need to be flexible about nearly everything, from your employment status to relocation and salary.  Set positive goals for yourself, but expect setbacks and change.  Besides a totally new career, you might also consider a lateral move that could serve as a springboard.