Sometimes a sales cycle is really short: a consumer in a checkout line sees a pack of gum, picks it up, and buys it. The whole process lasts a matter of seconds.
But when a purchase requires forking over big money, say $10,000 for a piece of brand-new, state-of-the-art software, the cycle can run up to 18 months — from the first sales appointment introducing the product through the moment the contract is signed. Experienced marketers understand that they will require a long lead time to put in place the marketing for a new product.
But marketing remains a foreign idea to the creators of many products now flooding the entrepreneurial marketplace — scientists who don’t even want to think about selling until their products are ready. That is, perfect!
The result is not pretty. “If the product is finished tomorrow, you’re 18 months behind,” says Sandra Holtzman, president and founder of Holtzman Communications. “If Microsoft held onto a product until it was perfect, Bill Gates would still be in his garage perfecting it,” says Holtzman.
Holtzman is presenting “Don’t Be a Marketing Horror Story,” at the New Jersey Entrepreneurs Forum on Thursday, October 8, at 4 p.m., at EDA’s Technology Center in North Brunswick. Cost: $40. Visit www.njef.org or call 908-789-3424.
In her years of marketing, Holtzman has heard many “lies that startups tell themselves to avoid marketing.”
This is, in fact, the title of a recent book she wrote with Jean Kondek; its subtitle is “A No Bullsh*t Guide for Ph.D.s, Lab Rats, Suits, and Entrepreneurs.” Holtzman shares a few lies that scientists tell themselves:
If I build it, they will come. This lie is probably the simplest to counter. “If you’re not sitting at your desk waiting for the next innovation that is coming through the door, no one else is either,” says Holtzman.
I don’t have to market now since I have better science than the big guys. Acknowledging that many startups may well have better science, Holtzman emphasizes that the big guys are the ones with the big bucks and hence better marketing.
“If you’re thinking about doing marketing on your own or challenging them,” she says, “for the price of lunch, they can put you out of business.” So Holtzman suggests that small companies should try to partner with a big firm, be bought out by one, or license their product to one.
I only need a website. Having a website is great, but its content is critical to defining a company as a serious business. Take the logo, which identifies a company and is part of its brand — giving people not just a visual but an emotional recognition of who the company is. “It presents you to the real world as a professional company,” says Holtzman. “People don’t even notice if you don’t have a logo, but they do notice that you’re not professional.”
Holtzman likens an amateurish website to a fine restaurant that hires college students as wait staff over the summer. “The service is okay, but not great,” she says. “The kids don’t know what customer service is — how to schmooze you, how to recommend stuff — and it reflects on the quality of the restaurant.”
I need to do public relations first. Looking for the cheap way to get its name out, a company decides that public relations is all that’s necessary. Holtzman explains why this will not work.
“Marketing your company is an integrated process,” she says. The company still needs a logo, a website, and a brochure — all the components that go into branding. In fact, public relations might even cost money because scientists, who generally don’t know how to behave in front of a camera, will need coaching to be effective.
I know how to market. The truth is, you don’t. “Scientists are taught to perfect a product, to keep working on it, and then to publish the results,” says Holtzman. “Marketers are taught to take whatever they’ve got and get it out the door.” To do that, she continues, you don’t need a Ph.D.; you just need to be smart and strategic.
Only a technical person can market my product. In response to this prevalent piece of bravado, Holtzman asks a simple question, “How many men do you know who have worked on tampons?” And she, who has never owned a car in her life, was on the team that launched the Acura car.
What marketers do is translate scientific detail into clear communications that anyone can understand. “If you ask a scientist what time it is, he will tell you how to build a watch, when all you want to know is what time it is,” she says. Scientists will come to her, for example, and tell her about how incredibly successful they were at a conference — with hordes of people visiting their booths.
But when she probes, she finds that the visitors were other scientists. “They are not the people who you will be selling your product to,” she tells them.
The language of marketing (and investors) is plain English. “All the technical stuff and the point of differentiation, whether it’s in molecular or algorithmic terms, can still be translated into plain English,” explains Holtzman. “But scientists don’t understand that they have to do it. Who cares if another engineer understands it? Who reads U.S. 1? Everybody.”
I can get the work done cheaper. What does cheaper really mean? In many cases, says Holtzman, what you get is garbage in, garbage out. She offers the example of people who spend, say, $500 on a website template and then spill in the requested information. The result is usually a look-alike website without a unique identity.
Recently her company was exploring whether to market to law firms. While reviewing the websites of 50 law firms, she found that at least 50 percent were identical, because the firms had all purchased the same template. As a result, they were neither unique nor strategic, and no user studies were done on them. “It’s better to be on the Internet than not,” she says, “but why do things half way?”
Holtzman grew up in Manhattan, where her father was a printer and her mother a bookkeeper. She got her start in science at the Bronx High School of Science, but switched to liberal arts, majoring in film and English at Lehman College; she also earned a master’s degree in cinema studies at New York University.
But when she was ready to hit the workforce, Holtzman says, “I realized I wasn’t going to write the great American novel or even the great American screenplay.” So when friends suggested that advertising might be the perfect venue for a good writer, she got a job at Chester Gore, where she stayed for a year and worked on accounts in different industries, including liquor, clothing, and golf equipment. She then moved to Ketchum, where she did sales promotion for all Schering products. “I had a great boss who taught me the business,” she says. One area where she gained expertise during her two years at Ketchum was over-the-counter products, but she also did work for the New York State Wine and Grape Foundation, Burry Lu (now Lu) cookies, and the Beef Council.
Then Holtzman jumped to KPR, a pharmaceuticals agency. After less than a year, she moved on to Sudler and Hennessey, where she worked for six years on prescription drugs in the areas of cardiovascular, oncology, upper respiratory, and dermatology.
Next was a four-year stint freelancing at Wyeth and Howe Lewis. Finally in 1997 she started her own company.
Holtzman Communications has a particular expertise in highly regulated industries like pharmaceuticals, law, government, and finance, where marketers are limited from saying certain things and making claims.
“You have to get around the regulations and imply things without getting into trouble,” explains Holtzman. She and her team also have broad experience in business-to-business and consumer marketing, spanning different industries. As she summarizes in an E-mail: “My team has worked on everything from soup (Campbell’s) to nuts (M&M peanuts).”
Recently Holtzman started another company, EHR Empowerment Consortium, using some of what she learned working on electronic health records for Pfizer. The consulting firm will work with healthcare providers — physicians, chiropractors, nurse practitioners, and midwives — to access government stimulus money, a minimum of $44,000 that will be used to implement electronic health records and show meaningful use and practice. Holtzman’s company will evaluate electronic health record vendors, fill out forms, and help the healthcare provider become qualified for meaningful use.
For Holtzman, the most exciting part of her work is taking a company that is starting up — with no logo, tagline, or website; just 15 guys in a lab — and helping it become a business. “Their whole concept of who they are changes,” says Holtzman. “They understand, ‘We’re an official company. We’re an identity, not a bunch of white lab coats in a room.’”