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by Darcy Grabenstein

Marketing to the pharmaceutical industry can be likened to selling to a car dealer: It’s a tough nut to crack. Trust me, I know. One summer break during college, I took a job selling radio ad spots to, yes, car dealerships. Making cold calls caused me to break out in a cold sweat.

That summer, I learned two important things. First, I am not cut out to be in sales. Second, it’s all about building relationships. Although I didn’t make any sales that summer, when I left to go back to school, my supervisor truly did not seem disappointed that I hadn’t closed a single deal. He said I had developed a great rapport with my accounts, and that was something he hoped they could build upon in the future.

All those marketing to pharma-related clients, take note.

No matter the industry, B2B sales managers want a constant stream of leads for their sales team. The pharma industry is no different. However, what they mean is they want a constant stream of quality leads. It’s best to look at the big picture. Keep in mind that you’re in it for the long haul.

Loooong lead times

Let’s face it, the pharmaceutical industry is a difficult market. Each potential contract can represent a significant infusion of cash into your business. As with sales of any high-ticket item, however, the lead time can run six months or longer. Patience is the name of the game. This is especially true as it’s hard to even get a foot in the proverbial door. Industry insiders know that these potential customers keep their cards very close to the chest. Members of your sales team have their jobs cut out for them, as it’s not only hard to find the right companies to target, but equally difficult finding the decision makers at each organization.

Your pharmaceutical prospects know the pain of long lead times all too well. It takes an average of 10 years for a new medicine to go from concept to marketplace. So don’t expect your prospects to make any hasty buying decisions.

That’s why it is critical to develop a lead-nurturing program. Converting pharma prospects is not a one-and-done proposition. As mentioned earlier, you must build a relationship through a series of touchpoints. 

Flip the funnel

When it comes to pharma lead gen, focus on quality over quantity. Less is more. Think about it. If you must devote your sales outreach over a long period, you want those leads to be worthy of your time and effort. 


Pharma marketers are wise to rethink the traditional sales funnel. Instead of casting a wide net, it makes sense to prioritize leads for the sales team by disease, trial stage or compound. Then use lead profiling to identify all potential companies or drugs that meet your ideal customer criteria. To perfect the timing of your touchpoints, note the trial status of each. Finally, prioritize the best opportunities by success and revenue potential. 

In order to optimize lead engagement, remember that no two prospects are exactly alike. You must tailor your content to meet the needs of different personas. Remember, there’s a balance between regular communication and inundating your prospects. The key is to provide valuable content along the way. When you deliver relevant content, your leads will become more engaged which, in turn, should result in shorter conversion times.

A recent survey of Pharma Intelligence subscribers revealed that, on average, four or more decision makers are involved in the selection of new suppliers. Depending on their roles in the decision-making process, a different piece of content may resonate with each person. When crafting content, look at it from their perspectives and ask yourself the tried-and-true question: WIFM (what’s in it for me)?

Location, location, location

Where and when you place your messaging is as important as the message itself. A diversified approach is key, with a mix of print, digital and in-person tactics.

Instead of playing a guessing game, pay close attention to the analytics for each of your channels. See which channels produce the most qualified leads and result in the most conversions. And, as with any marketing strategy, you’ll get the most bang out of your budget by testing. My mantra? Test. Tweak. Repeat.

Darcy Grabenstein is Senior Manager of Content Strategy for Informa Pharma Intelligence.

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