A complicated landscape has left us tongue-tied
Counsyl is a DNA testing company whose unapologetically Silicon Valley-style approach to diagnostics proved wildly successful in their early years. Their uncompromising approach to science, super-sleek modern campus (designed our friends at Min | Day), and robot-run lab allowed them to offer a super high quality test at a super low price—much to the chagrin of their entrenched and start-up competitors alike. But after several years of competing in an increasingly crowded space they were having a hard time getting their story through to their most important customers: Doctors. And what was their story anyway? Was it about the high-tech lab? Was it about their end-to-end software tools? Or was it about something else—something harder to pin down? They weren’t sure, but they knew they needed a clear, easy-to-tell story to help cut through the noise and grab the attention (and imagination) of everyone from oncologists to phlebotomists.
In lieu of a unified story, every sales person was crafting their own ad hoc pitch—leading to a potentially schizophrenic and undifferentiated impression of the company. And newbie sales folk were leaning into single-product sales rather than the more complicated portfolio sell, and seeing way too much drop-off as a result.
As it happens, doctors are people too.
We talked to Counsyl’s sales team as well as the doctors and support staff they sold to. The sales folks are the old-school kind: hitting the pavement, relentlessly knocking on doors, and slowly building relationships with their customers through attentiveness and service. We did several sales ride-alongs and were blown away by their ability to answer every science-y question that doctors threw at them in exhaustive detail. They were an incredible resource for helping us understand medical office politics and the difficulty in capturing the attention of harried, overworked, and cynical doctors—who in many cases see a new salesperson every day at lunch. But perhaps most importantly, we learned that every salesperson chose to work at Counsyl specifically because they believed the company could actually make good on its promise of being ethical in an industry known for its opaque and oftentimes deceptive practices.
Here’s the not-so-secret truth about modern medicine: being a doctor isn’t what it used to be. Under pressure from malpractice insurance, rising tuitions, and cost shifting in the health insurance industry, individual private practices are being supplanted by larger, corporate group practices. Under that system, doctors are being squeezed between offering quality care and maintaining profitability. That means more time doing paperwork, more time managing their team, and less time doing the thing they care most about: caring for patients. The doctors we spoke to were delicately navigating this landscape and framing their decisions around a single question—what would be best for my patient? And they tended to see diagnostic companies like Counsyl as an impediment to patient care, serving the company’s needs (and the needs of their shareholders) first.
Doing the right thing still matters.
Despite the tectonic shifts in the healthcare industry, doctors are still doctors. They enter medicine for the same timeless reasons they always have: to heal people. And they feel the same way everyone else does about the opacity and misaligned incentives that are driving cost up and quality down. We realized that in order to capture their attention, we’d need to appeal to their higher calling—the one that actually gets them up in the morning and compels them to stay up late finishing their charts—ethics. Every company in the industry gives lip service to caring about patients, but when you dig beneath the surface you’ll find that profits trump people every time. Counsyl is one of the few companies that can legitimately show that their actions make good on their promise. Which is indeed a valiant one. It’s why they built the super efficient lab they did. It’s why they took a stand against maximum out of pocket pricing (don’t ask, long story). And it’s why they come to work every day. Just like the doctors and clinicians they serve.
A framework to grow on.
Of course, being a “good” company isn’t enough. We needed to tell a story that connected their intentions to their products and services. We needed to show, in a concise way, how everything that Counsyl does follows from what they believe. Luckily for us, we found the answer in one of our early interviews. This little gem of a quote from one of the harried physicians would become the seed of our entire messaging framework: “We want to do the right thing—but we want to do it the right way, and for the right reasons.”
We developed this idea through workshopping and iterating with the sales and marketing teams until we arrived at a pithy but memorable framework that could be adopted by everyone from a junior web developer to the CMO. Counsyl helps doctors be wise, efficient, and ethical. Wisdom is about having insight, not just data. Being efficient means giving time back to caregiving. And taking an ethical stand means being transparent and affordable—being part of the solution, not part of the problem.
This three-legged platform perfectly met our criteria for a great messaging framework: It was simple; It was all-encompassing; And above all else, it was true.
Creating a benchmark.
Of course, our friends in sales weren’t asking for a bunch of high-fallutin’ words. They needed practical tools that could help them close deals. So our next task was to create a handbook that helped the team quickly identify the type of customer they were dealing with, easily create a customized pitch that hit all the right notes, right away, and finally offer proof—showing how Counsyl makes good on its intentions.
Thanks in large part to our collaboration with Counsyl’s amazing internal training team, the new this new way of telling the company story was a hit at the yearly sales conference (which we used as our final, most hard-hitting feedback session). We believe our work, although brand new to most, was so well-received because it encapsulated what the sales team already had in their head, but didn’t have an elegant way of saying. They adopted it as if it were their own, which in fact, it really was.
With the sales conference in the bag, we moved on to implementing the new messaging on the website and tradeshow booths. It was great to hear feedback from oncologists and obstetricians who appreciated not being “sold” to, and who believed in Counsyl’s mission. The approach opened a door that had previously been closed and gave Counsyl an opportunity to cut through the noise, meaningfully connect with their audience, and elevate the conversation. Now as never before, they could connect the why with the what and demonstrate that they ‘get’ what doctors need—and are taking tangible steps to meeting those needs.
“We asked Sequitur to help us differentiate in a very competitive market. They dug in deep and got to the core of what makes us unique in a very short period of time. And they helped us craft a distinctive story that connects directly to what customers actually care about. We ended the engagement with a solid messaging platform that continues to serve as the foundation of our marketing activities today—not to mention a range of very practical tools for helping our sales team deliver that message to our customers in the field.”
Senior Director of Women’s Health Marketing
The story goes on.
Not every organization can live up to the Hooli promise, but we’re honored to work with a company that really is trying to make the world a better place. By building a hyper-efficient lab, lowering the cost of their tests, and not gouging patients and insurance companies on pricing, Counsyl has saved the healthcare industry over $400M. Our hope is that someday (perhaps in some small part thanks to us) the good guys will win and the bad guys will go out of business—and when that fateful day comes, we’ll all be able to swallow a cherry flavored pill that cures cancer.
Until then, we’re just glad to see that there are still people fighting the good fight, one super smart DNA test at a time.