An Interview with Illumina—2017 PM360 Winner

new york city at nightIt was a beautiful September evening in New York City. Along with the Seismic Public Relations Manager, Jason Fidler, I was joining the Illumina team at a PM360 Trailblazer Awards Gala that recognizes outstanding achievement and innovation in healthcare marketing. We entered the gala knowing that we had worked hard to solve Illumina pain points and set up the company to scale globally. However, when we considered the big names among the competition—GlaxoSmithKline, Regeneron—we never expected that Illumina and Seismic would be coming home with the Gold in Best Sales Aid. It was a total shock to hear the announcer call out “Illumina”—we were stunned, elated, and humbled to receive such recognition.

In their use of Seismic, Illumina is not just delivering sales enablement—they are changing the whole way that Marketing, Sales, and Service/Support teams handle global content.

To explore their PM360 win and how Illumina is driving sales enablement and other benefits, I chatted with Susan Felke, Senior Manager of Content Management at Illumina.

Why is a centralized content repository so important in this industry?

In life sciences, compliance is a substantial area of focus. Audit trails are critical. We need to show that we have a process in place that enables everyone, even a first-day hire, to have accurate conversations about our products and services.

In life sciences, technology and products are growing by leaps and bounds, and two years ago we lacked processes, technology, and teams to keep up with the rapid pace of content growth. There was never one place to go to see if content had already been created for a specific need, so we faced a lot of redundancy. We view sales enablement not only as a centralized repository, but as a tool that supports multiple workflows in the field. Our ultimate goal is to serve up personalized content for each specific selling situation.

Obviously, sales enablement is more than just a technology; successful programs require the right combination of people and processes too. Can you tell me a little bit about how your enablement program is set up at Illumina?

The enablement program at Illumina is a moving, dynamic setup. We favor a cross-functional, multi-region approach. Some teams create core content, and other teams regionalize it. Technologies like Seismic helps us provide that flexibility while remaining rigorous about version control.

Although technology is the backbone of enablement, we would be nowhere without the people and processes. Implementing the tool was just one step. We had to pay equal attention to all the processes surrounding information flow, and make sure that people understood their new roles as part of the ecosystem.

The Illumina team is assembled a little differently, with all of content operations being under the same department and not just for Marketing and Sales. Can you tell me what benefits that brings?

We view content operations as a combination of customer experience, field enablement, and operational excellence. Our business systems affect thousands of people across the enterprise. By enabling all the customer-facing content teams to work together, we improve efficiency and effectiveness. Our teams provide content that touches the entire customer lifecycle. Many Illumina customers are repeat customers, and we need to ask ourselves what we are doing to improve their experience. When we onboard new customers, we want to make sure they feel supported, and content is a huge page of that.

How has a sales enablement platform affected departmental alignment and communication at Illumina?

The biggest change is that we’re all working in one environment. When we want to drive change in the field, whether it’s behavioral or informational, all the groups work together now. Before Seismic, each group would just create a new folder somewhere or send an email.

Another thing that has greatly improved communication for Illumina is Seismic NewsCenter. We launched it two weeks ago and everyone loved it—every single person has had such positive feedback. It’s a powerful tool for keeping product information available in one place and always up-to-date. Our event teams are bubbling with ideas about how to use NewsCenter to drive engagement.

Why is sales enablement an integral part of your sales cycle?

Sales reps these days don’t all have the same level of life-sciences training. We need them to get up to speed quickly with our technology, product portfolios, and customer pain points. Sales enablement is important for equipping them to meet their quotas as fast as possible.

What types of content do you find resonates most with your buyers?

That depends on how we’re looking at this. On the website, customers often gravitate towards product information. A lot of work goes into exposing related content to drive additional lines of inquiry. Since many buyers are new to next-generation sequencing, we also provide educational material about the science and technology. Buyers often ask for case studies—they want to know who else is using Illumina technology and products, and what their results are. Sales uses a combination of customer-facing slides and supporting materials to increase engagement.

Congratulations on your win from PM360! Can you tell me more about the submission and the experience of winning?

The submission part was interesting. Originally, we were going to focus just on sales enablement, but we wanted to convey that Seismic goes way beyond that—it’s also a tool for employee engagement and compliance. The offline-sync functionality that Seismic and Illumina codeveloped was a key element. Both our Sales and our Service/Support teams can have their content synced to their laptops and available offline. Many of our buying settings lack WiFi access because of institution rules or remote locations. Now, people don’t need to copy content to keep it available. This makes their lives easier while also being more compliant.

How did your company react to the win?

Complete shock! My jaw just dropped. My colleague, Kathleen, said that was when it really hit her that we had won. She had never seen me have such a reaction. Driving adoption for a tool like Seismic that affects hundreds or thousands of people takes sustained effort, but there’s value here and this proves that. Our CEO sent us a congratulatory email and gave our LinkedIn post about the win a “like.” Even he knew about the award.