The Best Client I Never Met. (In Person)

Dec 03

True story. I have never met one of my best clients.

Even after two years of the intense work of launching a startup in a very complex industry (pharmaceutical contract manufacturing) and and an even more complicated business environment (China), we’ve never once had a face-to-face meeting.

And you know what? It works.

The relationship was born of a referral. I’d written a presentation for a client to give to a global pharmaceutical convention on a manufacturing topic. The one-off project went over so well that when he needed a branding consultant/freelance writer on an ongoing basis, he referred me to his general manager, David Deere. It was David who achieved “most favored client” status. But it didn’t start that way.

Our first meeting was a two-hour teleconference. Not a conversational brief. More of a comprehensive, scholarly lecture. David detailed the China drug market, the Chinese CFDA and their changing regulations, aseptic injectable drug manufacturing, and a branding concept he had for the company name and logo. I listened patiently. Up against the clock, we scheduled a follow-up teleconference. It, too, was composed of a two-hour lecture and then a third of similar intensity. Finally, I interrupted David and told him we had to stop meeting like this.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

I explained that while the lectures were insightful, I was suffering from too much inside baseball and it was time for a more direct, collaborative approach. He apologized, confessing to a bit too much entrepreneurial enthusiasm. Informational infrastructure laid and ground rules in place, our virtual relationship was now synergistic and on task.

When you’re working to change the ingrained mindset of a global industry afraid of entering one of the largest and most complex countries on the planet, you have to know what you’re talking about. I learned quickly that my client was up to the task. David is a veteran of global pharma and has an intuitive understanding of the sector and what China was seeking to accomplish by elevating their pharmaceutical industry to global standards. He also saw the trends threatening Western drug companies: a business model threatened by increasing costs and political push back, a fiscally unsustainable healthcare system and decreasing disease targets.

For his part, David put his faith in my ability to get the marketing communication job done: corporate and personal branding; writing content for the website, social media and blogs; managing trade congresses; globally synchronizing press releases and story placements; and executing email marketing.His trust was both empowering and motivating. You do your best work for this kind of client.

Together, our small team was tasked with changing the pharmaceutical industry’s perceptions of China, making PaizaBio® – so named for the Kublai Khan’s gift of a gold paiza to Marco Polo – the preferred name in injectable contract drug manufacturing in China and establishing David as the expert on China’s regulatory changes.

It was a huge task. As a startup company, we had a shoestring budget. Our team grew to include our partners in China – I never met them in person either – and we had many late nights on Skype working through our strategy, tactics, messaging, and all the other details that come with startups in complex industries and markets.

One of my responsibilities was to translate David’s technical writings into blogs a broader audience would understand and connect with. I was at a disadvantage due to his four decades in global pharma. (Those kick-off lectures came in handy!) Bringing his technical and often metaphorical topics down to earth required hours of careful editing, but the end product was full of information our audience appreciated because of the analytical insight and subject timeliness. Ultimately, these blogs played an instrumental role in landing speaking engagements, high level meetings with potential customers and partners, and articles in trade journals.

David Deere, PaizaBio

Over the two years of this digitally enabled partnership, we’ve achieved many of our goals. The global pharmaceutical industry now recognizes it must be fully engaged in the Chinese market, despite current trade agreement restructuring. This has been confirmed by across the board major expansions and investments by multinational over the last 18 months.  PaizaBio is in the process of capital formation for a new plant in China. And David has gained recognition as a global expert on China’s rapidly changing drug industry and is routinely quoted in pharmaceutical journals and mainstream business publications like The Wall Street Journal, CNBC Asia and Bloomberg News.

We’ve also proved that intense business relationships can be highly productive conducted over Skype, WeChat, and phones rather than in person over donuts and coffee.

Will I ever meet my client David Deere in person? I might. But why spoil a good thing?

Have you ever considered creating a virtual marketing team or engaging a consultant or freelance writer in another city? It’s easy to do and surprisingly workable. I’m happy to chat about it.






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