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20 min read

Product Marketing Life [podcast]: Sara Spink


This week on Product Marketing Life we’re joined by Sara Spink, Director of Portfolio Marketing at IQVIA Global Technology Solutions. Sara explains the similarities and key differences between product marketing and portfolio marketing, what a day in her role looks like, the role of PMMs within life sciences, and why she believes it’s the next hottest space for product marketers, plus her tips for newbies, why she recommends a PMA membership plan and, as always, TONS more.

Full transcript:

Mark Assini  0:00

Hi everyone, and welcome to the Product Marketing Life podcast brought to you by the Product Marketing Alliance. My name's Mark Assini, Product Marketing Manager at Voices. As part of this series, we're connecting with PMMs all over the world about various product marketing topics.

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Today's guest is Sara Spink, Director of Portfolio Marketing at IQVIA Global Technology Solutions. Sara possesses over a decade of leadership experience in hyper-growth startups, prestigious global fortune 500 companies, and everything in between.

Beyond her role as a leader, Sara also cares deeply about giving back and improving diversity and inclusion at work as an active member of the Race, Ethnicity, and Cultural Heritage employee resource group, as well as through her involvement in Women for Woman international.

Now, some of you may have heard of IQVIA before, with over 70,000 employees and operations in more than 100 countries, IQVIA is the leading global provider of advanced analytics, technology solutions, and clinical research services to the life sciences industry. IQVIA creates intelligent connections across all aspects of healthcare through its analytics, transformative technology, big data resources and extensive domain expertise.

Alright, with that out of the way, let's get into it. Hey, Sara, how's it going?

Sara Spink  1:15

It's going good. How's it going, Mark?

Mark Assini  1:15

Great. Thanks. Thanks for joining us today.

Sara Spink  1:15

Yeah, thanks for having me.

Mark Assini  1:15

Of course. Yeah. Right on. So I have a couple of questions for you, we'll just get right into it.

Sara Spink  1:15

Let's do it.

Mark Assini  1:15

So the first one's an easy one, can you just tell me and our listeners a little bit more about what you do at IQVIA as Director of Portfolio Marketing?

Sara Spink  2:05

Yeah, sure. So I own global product marketing responsibilities for 10 data and analytics products across two portfolios that bring in around 370 million in revenue for the IQVIA technologies group. And these portfolios include products such as Master Data Management, data warehousing, and next best action that are built exclusively for the life sciences industry. And it really helps them bring together multiple sources of data to deliver what we call connected intelligence, which is essentially actionable insights that help these companies make faster, more precise decisions.

My job as a product marketer is to really help these companies understand how they can use IQVIA technologies to build a strong foundation for data and analytics. So this will help them commercialize their drugs effectively and reach the right doctors and patients at the right time so they can diagnose diseases earlier. A day in my life involves defining go-to-market strategies, developing product positioning and messaging, narrative design, and working on content.

A big part of my role also involves coordinating with regional business units to make sure that we present a unified front and maintain consistency in our messaging across markets.

Mark Assini  3:16

Very cool, awesome, thank you, a very technical start to that explanation that you made very, very easy to digest so thank you for that, our listeners will appreciate that. Because when you talk about these very technical-based companies with these really complex solutions, I think as product marketers, the challenge is often to be required to break that down into simple terms.

And I think even in just your answer to that question, I think you did exactly that, where you're talking about providing your customers with the solutions to more quickly diagnose their patients and come to those probably positive patient outcomes faster with the help of IQVIA, so that's great.

Sara Spink  3:52


Mark Assini  3:54

Right on. So in preparation for our chat, obviously, I like to look up our guests on LinkedIn and just do a little bit of sleuthing, as it were. And I noticed in your LinkedIn bio, you mention in order to bounce out of bed in the morning, your work has to have meaning and make a difference. So how do you find the work you do at IQVIA gives you that kind of energy?

Sara Spink  4:14

That's a great question. I'm actually reading Simon Sinek's books Start With Why nowadays, a little late to the game, I know it's been around for a while, but I think IQVIA is one of those companies that's really clear on why they exist, which makes it a really inspiring place to work. Especially during the pandemic IQVIA really helped these pharma companies make the fast shift to digital, and also to help them bring vaccines to market.

So it's really meaningful to know that our work extends and improves patient lives. Even though my contributions as a product marketer indirectly benefit the industry, it's still pretty fulfilling and motivating to know that I can play a small part in advancing human health. That's my why and what gets me out of bed in the morning.

Mark Assini  4:56

That's amazing. Yeah, I can't imagine how that must feel knowing that, like you said, even indirectly the work that you're doing helped us get through this significantly challenging part of, I think, everyone's lives right now and dealing with this pandemic and getting vaccines to market. So as someone who was fortunate enough to get their own first dose of the vaccine just recently, I thank you for any help you would have contributed to that rollout, for you and all your colleagues, because it's definitely something that I know the world needs right now and getting those vaccines out was critical to moving on with our lives as best we can. So thank you for that.

My next question here, looking a little bit more about your title, because portfolio marketing is a term that I've heard before, but I don't personally know a tonne about it. Obviously, product marketing and portfolio marketing are really closely related, but also two different things. Can you help our listeners and myself really understand what some of those differences and relationships are between the two roles?

Sara Spink  5:50

Yeah, sure, and I'm still learning about portfolio marketing as well, this is my first role as a portfolio marketer. But the way I understand it is that to do portfolio marketing effectively, it's really about coordinating marketing activities across products in three main ways.

The first one is really looking at messaging. So the messaging for each of the products in your portfolio need to tie into the overarching narrative of the portfolio. And then the portfolio narrative needs to tie into the overall company positioning. That in itself is a full-time job. That involves really making sure your messaging aligns with the overall narrative of the company.

Then you also need to look at personas, a common issue that portfolio marketers run into is really touching the same target audience with different product messages. That makes the whole buying experience a little disjointed and confusing. So to do portfolio marketing well, I think it's really important to segment your audience and really see what products they already have. And that would help you figure out cross-sell and upsell opportunities across products in the portfolio.

You may even discover cross-sell opportunities across portfolios. In my case, I support the data management portfolio, it's actually called information management, and the performance management and insights portfolio, which has analytics products. So really, there's a good tie in between the information management and analytics products.

That just goes to say that you can definitely find those cross-sell opportunities between portfolios. And lastly, looking at campaign activities for each product, you really need to make sure that they align with the overall vision of the portfolio and the business goals.

I think with portfolio marketing, there's just a lot more coordination that's required when you're developing campaigns to make sure you're presenting kind of a cohesive experience that then makes sense to the buyer.

Mark Assini  7:38

Wow. Yeah, it sounds like there's obviously a tonne going on at any given moment, which I'm sure poses its own unique challenges. So obviously, IQVIA operates in a lot of markets internationally.

Based on some of the things that you were mentioning earlier, do you find it a struggle to ensure things like those campaigns and that messaging is consistent across all the product lines and across various markets? Do you have ownership of that? Or is that managed globally and kind of coordinated at an international level?

Sara Spink  8:07

Yeah, there are many different stakeholders and players involved and it's extremely tough because as you can imagine, IQVIA is a huge company and these products have multi-million dollars in revenue. So it's extremely difficult to one, make sure the messaging aligns, and then also just having that high-level view of all the different marketing activities going on between products, and portfolios.

So just being able to get that high-level overview and that bird's eye view, I think it's pretty difficult. But I think at IQVIA, we're starting to figure that out where we've got some really nice spreadsheets and different tools that we're using to give not only ourselves peace of mind that this is how our campaigns are going to go, but also to help our executives understand what's going on at the portfolio level.

Mark Assini  8:54

Yeah, I mean, it's funny to hear you talk about managing all that through spreadsheets, it's kind of reassuring to know that even a company the size of IQVIA is just using the tools available to them to get the job done.

Even it's something as simple as a spreadsheet. I know often as product marketers, we look at all the different tools out there, and resources we can leverage and really, sometimes just something as quick and simple as a spreadsheet gets the job done, even if you're dealing across hundreds of different locations and multiple campaigns in different countries. That's fascinating to hear, thanks for sharing that little tidbit.

Sara Spink  9:24

Right. Exactly. Trying to keep things simple around here.

Mark Assini  9:28

Exactly, well when you've got so much else going on I guess you don't really have the time to make everything else complicated, just what works. So I just want to hop back real quick to your LinkedIn profile because there was another line that really stood out to me.

You mention this concept of influencing without formal authority and I think as product marketers, that's something that we're tasked with doing a lot, oftentimes without even realizing we're doing it as it's happening. Can you tell me a little bit about how you develop that skill and how you've had to leverage it in your current or past roles?

Sara Spink  9:57

Right, so influencing without formal authority is probably one of the most important aspects of a product marketer’s job as you know. It's a highly cross-functional role, we interface with different teams across the organization such as sales, product management, customer success, and the rest of the marketing team.

So I think there are two main things that I think I focus on when I was thinking of how do I develop this skill. And really one is relationship building. Of course, that's extremely important to get to know your stakeholders' pain points, what gets them out of bed every day, their goals, and also to get to know them on a personal level.

But the second main thing is obviously communication skills, and really adapting your communication skills to each stakeholder.

I think a common example, that other product marketers can relate to, is really how to work with product management. When you want to submit a feature to go on their product roadmap, you're not just going to go in there and ask them to put it on there, you need to do a lot of research, understand the customer's use case, what they hope to achieve, how it benefits their business, and how this feature would also benefit a group of customers.

What I'm saying is that when you go to ask for a feature on a product roadmap, it's really about presenting the information in a way that it resonates with the product manager. Likewise, when you think of a different audience, such as the C suite, I've had to present to the CEO in the past, so in order to give a weekly update on a new product that we were launching, I intentionally kept it very high level, talked about the business impact, the different activities that are underway, but still keeping it at a high level. Really, I'm trying to say adapt your communication style to each persona that you're speaking to.

Mark Assini  11:49

Yeah, absolutely. I think it's great you mentioned that, and I actually even like how you just said the persona of the audience you're communicating with, because I think as product marketers, we're often so focused on "Okay, what's our customer persona? Who are we talking to?"

But at the same time, as you said, we're interacting with a lot of internal stakeholders. It's funny, sometimes you can get caught up in those relationships internally that we kind of lose sight of the fact we're experts in that relationship piece for our customers, so why wouldn't we bring that same level of expertise and knowledge to our internal relationships? To get some of those, like you said, whether it's product features on the roadmap or even just another initiative off the ground.

So I like that perspective, it's not one that I've heard turned in that way, so thanks for sharing that. I'm sure some of our listeners will re-approach some of those conversations and just think, what's my product manager persona? And how can I best speak to them? I think that's a really interesting insight that you just shared.

Sara Spink  12:39

Right, and I think product marketers are often so busy, we just think about how we're going to communicate externally. But obviously getting that buy-in internally, and communicating what we're doing internally is just so incredibly important. And I think product marketers have that skill set, it's just a matter of doing that work internally as well.

Mark Assini  12:57

Yeah, absolutely. It's kind of just flipping the switch and making sure you're always on in those conversations.

Sara Spink  13:02


Mark Assini  13:03

Awesome. So I'm going to switch gears a little bit here and focus a little bit more on product marketing in the life sciences space. Obviously, throughout the course of the show, we've had a number of product marketers across a variety of industries, some really well known, like gaming, and others a little bit more niche.

Obviously, the life sciences industry is not a niche one, it’s global, it’s massive, but it's not one you typically look at and think, "Oh, there's an immediate need for product marketing in that industry, specifically, or at organizations within that space". What role does product marketing typically play at a life sciences organization?

Sara Spink  13:38

It's actually really interesting. I think product marketing's role at a life sciences organization is pretty similar to what it would be at a traditional tech company. And I think what is maybe something that I didn't understand before I came into life sciences is that usually when we think of a life sciences organization, we think of drug development and discovery and getting that to market.

But in most life sciences companies nowadays, they've got a whole technology department. So I think that is an interesting way to look at it, that really, you're still doing tech marketing, but it's just for a different vertical. Essentially, your responsibilities are very similar. You're defining the overarching narrative of your portfolio, the messaging and positioning of each of your products, you're creating content, running customer advisory board meetings, and developing campaigns.

I think one thing that's especially important for product marketers in life sciences is that what I've learned and figured out is that it's just as important for us to be as well versed in the product as the product manager, or solution engineer.

So if you're in an analyst briefing, and the presenter is not able to make it, you really need to be able to jump in and share your perspective on how the portfolio or product solves the need. I think you just really need me to know your stuff inside out.

Mark Assini  14:57

Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for sharing that because you'll see jobs posted for product marketing roles in these industries that you would think, "Hmm, I didn't really think that industry even needed a product marketing manager".

I think it's reassuring for a lot of our listeners who are either maybe in the process of looking for new opportunities or looking for their first opportunity to consider and explore opportunities in those industries, where you might not necessarily think a product marketer would normally find themselves.

Because it sounds like based on what you're saying that even if the vertical is, let's say, nontraditional or not what your mind first jumps to for product marketing, the role itself and responsibilities are still pretty consistent. It's less about the vertical in which you're operating more about the function and the expectations of the role that really define what you're going to be asked to do.

Sara Spink  15:43

Right, exactly.

Mark Assini  15:45

Very cool. In the build-up to our conversation, you had mentioned life sciences being the next hottest space for product marketers, can you help our listeners understand why you think that's the case?

Sara Spink  15:54

Yes, I think life sciences is definitely one of the hottest places for product marketers right now. I think the biggest reason why is that life sciences, as an industry had to adapt faster than probably any other industry during COVID. So they had to quickly adopt virtual ways of engaging with doctors, equipping their reps with the technology to reach out to these doctors.

Historically, the life sciences industry has been considered as digital laggards. But I don't think that's the case anymore, because they've really accelerated their digital transformation and they're starting to realize that in order for them to make the most out of the data that they have, they need data management tools, and they need to be able to analyze this data quickly, so they can respond to market changes.

And also to reach out to doctors and patients at the right time so they can diagnose rare diseases faster. So it's really a matter of harnessing your data, creating fast analytics, and then making decisions fast. 💨

Mark Assini  16:52

I think you're right when you say, historically, life sciences is seen as technology laggards, and it's funny you say that because you wouldn't think so, right? Like you started our conversation by saying that a lot of people assume that the life sciences industry is just about drug development, which obviously requires a lot of technology. Obviously, there are foundational scientific skills that are needed to make those things happen but you still have to leverage technology to make those things happen faster.

I remember growing up, a big conversation in Canada and a lot of hesitance in the life sciences and healthcare space around digitizing patient information. You think about something that's so simple today it's like, well, why wouldn't we do that? Why wouldn't we make that information that much more accessible to the people who need to have access to it to get faster, positive outcomes for our patients?

I think you're right, as product marketers, we often are the people who are the first people to bang the drum of technology. That's kind of our wheelhouse, we're all about the tech, making it accessible to our customers. I think you're absolutely right, if product marketing needs to be the vanguard for that transition, I think we are probably the best-equipped group of people to do exactly that.

Sara Spink  18:04

Exactly. It's like you work in life sciences already.

Mark Assini  18:08

In preparation for our conversation, I did a little bit of research so that helps make it that much easier to understand, at least for me anyway. While we're on the topic of being a product marketer in the life sciences space, are there any specific skills you feel that a product marketer needs to possess to be successful in life sciences that they might not necessarily consider or need in other industries?

Sara Spink  18:33

One of the specific skills I can think of off the top of my head is influencer marketing. So it's gaining traction in the tech industry, but it's still not really a widely used channel, especially in the life sciences industry. There are many different life sciences technologists that can help advocate for your product, but it really requires taking a critical eye to determine the right influencer for your product.

That's something I'm definitely learning about nowadays and exploring as a potential option for our marketing promotion activities.

Mark Assini  19:02

That's fascinating to hear you say that because I think when you hear the word influencer marketing, I think people's first line of thought is "Oh like YouTubers and Tiktok influencers and Instagram influencers?", not something you necessarily associate with life sciences.

So what kind of influencers are you looking to partner with? Are these other healthcare professionals, other thought leaders in this space, what does a typical life sciences influencer look like if you can describe one?

Sara Spink  19:30

Right, so I'm still learning about this space, but I'm thinking like even looking at Forrester and IDC and Gartner and looking at those analysts and the type of research that they put out. Really collaborating with them on webinars and maybe white papers.

I'm sure a lot of companies do briefings and get their input on messaging and positioning as well but I think analysts are a great resource to tap into that can really act as influencers as well.

Mark Assini  20:00

It's interesting to hear you say analysts because yeah, as I said, that's not immediately where my mind jumps but when you explain it, and you lay it out like that it makes total sense. Why wouldn't you want someone who is an expert in that field or in that area, either speaking on behalf of or promoting you, or representing you, or partnering with you and your product or your services to better resonate with those audiences?

I think that makes perfect sense. But again, one of those things that when you said that I was like, "Whoa", I would not have expected that answer. That was interesting, thanks for sharing that. Just a couple more questions here.

Throughout your career, you've obviously had the chance to work with a variety of leaders across a couple of different orgs, during your time in life sciences, and of course, you yourself are a prominent leader in this space. What would you say are some of the product marketing best practices that either you develop, or that you've gleaned from other leaders in the life sciences field?

Sara Spink  20:47

So many best practices, where do I begin? But I think the biggest one that I think I've developed over the years, is creating a golden marketing document. Which essentially, anytime I start a new job, or I have to support a new product, like any product marketer, I do a lot of research. Anything and everything you could possibly learn about the product you can put into this golden marketing messaging document.

This document is really just meant to be for yourself so anytime you're writing content, you can refer to it or you just need to refresh yourself before you go into an analyst briefing, it's really helpful for those purposes. It's not necessarily for sharing with other people. But I think it's a great bank of content that you can look into when you're doing different content creation activities.

Another best practice is really, especially in the life sciences industry, it's important to make sure somebody else reviews your work. And in life sciences, you're putting out your brand, and any little thing that is incorrect can just reflect so poorly on your brand and who knows, bring your stock price down. So I think it's just really important to make sure that you have someone review your work.

Mark Assini  22:03

Interesting, you'd think, arguably, two of the most precise types of people are scientists and doctors and engineers. I think you're absolutely right if you know your customers and your audiences are very detail-oriented, and they're very much about the facts, the second you say something that, in the context of product marketing or marketing in general, sounds really good on paper, or on a web page, or in an ad copy but your customer reads that and thinks I'm gonna call BS on that, that's not accurate, or that's misleading in a way, you instantly lose credibility.

So yeah, I think you're absolutely right for product marketers either in life sciences or in industries where attention to detail and being factual is of critical importance to your customers, you have to make sure that you're reviewing it almost like a scientific paper will get peer-reviewed, right? You almost have to approach it like that level of analysis and critical thinking to ensure you're not gonna put something out there as you said, that's gonna get you in trouble, or worst case, maybe even affect your stock price, as you said.

Sara Spink  23:09


Mark Assini  23:10

Right on. So, Sara, this has been a great conversation. I really appreciate some of your insights and thoughts so far. My last question, which I ask all of our guests, what advice or tips would you have for people looking to get into or build their career in product marketing?

Sara Spink  23:27

My biggest advice would definitely be to get a membership for Product Marketing Alliance. Take advantage of their templates, all the great videos that they put out, and especially the certifications, I know that Product Marketing Alliance is coming out with a product marketing leadership course, which I can't wait to take. That's definitely on my list. I would say you continuously invest in your learning and growth. That's a big one.

Then also, definitely network, I mean, build your brand, get to know people, and just by interacting with different like-minded product marketers in our community, you're just going to learn so much. Who knows, it might open a door for you down the line, or you may be able to help one of your peers out with a job at your company, but definitely invest in nurturing your network.

Mark Assini  24:19

Yeah, I couldn't agree more with you, I think Product Marketing Alliance, not to turn this into a giant plug for them, but they've invested so heavily in creating this community of like you said, like-minded product marketing managers and product marketers, and they invest a lot of time and effort in developing these resources. I know they're about to start pre-orders for some new courses that are coming out as part of that leadership track, as you said.

Yeah, I think you're absolutely right, leveraging that and also weaving some of those certifications or those experiences into building your own personal brand, I think can only take your product marketing career to that next level, which I know a lot of us in product marketing are always looking for the next best thing and I think those two pieces of advice you just shared are critical to that kind of success and achievement. So thanks for sharing that.

Sara Spink  25:05

Yeah, of course. Thank you for having me and this has been super great.

Mark Assini  25:08

Yeah, it's been great having you on Sara, thanks so much for sharing your insights and kind of giving us an inside look into what it's like to be a portfolio manager in the life sciences space. Thanks so much.

If any of our listeners want to learn more about getting into life sciences or product marketing in the life sciences space in general, how can they get in touch with you?

Sara Spink  25:30

So yeah, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn, I'm under Sara Spink and you can message me or send me a connection request, and I'd be happy to connect with you.

Mark Assini  25:38

Awesome. Thanks so much. I'm sure some of our listeners will be doing that right after listening. Again, thank you so much for your time, Sara, this has been great, I really appreciate you sharing your insights with us today.

Sara Spink  25:48

Awesome. Thank you, Mark.

Written by:

Stephanie Whalley

Stephanie Whalley

Steph is Senior Copywriter here at PMA and you can usually find her crafting content, writing words and sniffing out typos (or making a cup of tea!)

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Product Marketing Life [podcast]: Sara Spink