From The Editor | April 11, 2023

Focus On The Client Journey, Leadership, Continuous Learning: Insights From A Career In B2B Sales And Marketing


By Perry Rearick, Chief Editor, Follow Your Buyer

Ethical leadership GettyImages-1363960193

Within minutes into my conversation with John Phillips, Vice President of Sales at Pharmaceutics International, Inc. (Pii), I realized that I was speaking with someone with 30 years of experience and wisdom working in the life sciences industry. He is strategically thoughtful, pragmatically tactical, resolutely focused on his customers, and cares deeply about his team. He shared some of the most important things that have served him well throughout his career.  

Focus on the Client Journey

Phillips strongly believes that the most important constant for business development professionals to think about is “the client journey.” Among life science contract development and manufacturing organizations (CDMOs) and clinical research organizations (CROs), there is quite a bit of redundancy in services offered. From the client’s point of view, it is their experience with the service provider that becomes the most significant differentiator.  “Marketing and sales teams must work together to create a seamless customer journey that delivers value at every touchpoint, from initial awareness to post-sale support”, says Phillips.

John Phillips, Vice President of Sales at Pharmaceutics International, Inc.
“The age of digital marketing has evolved so tremendously”, notes Phillips. Before a prospect has their first conversation with a seller, they have a significant amount of information regarding the solution provider’s capabilities, reputation, and even culture. Phillips says that the early stages of the client journey are an opportunity for solution providers to engage prospects in a “polite and sophisticated way” resulting in a mutual buyer-seller progression through the journey.

However, Phillips adds, digital marketing also provides sellers with a lot of intelligence about buyers and where they are in the journey. It can help inform the seller’s outreach or nurturing activities. But Phillips advises us to do this responsibly and with a high level of empathy for the client.   

One final point Phillips makes about client experience is that solution providers need to be intentional about their culture. This starts with “quality people who believe in what they’re selling” and then naturally resonates outwardly to clients. This goes beyond a tagline in marketing collateral, it cannot be faked, it must be something that we live by.

The Chief Commercial Officer Comes of Age

While Phillips’ title is VP of Sales, he serves as the Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) for Pii. It should be no surprise that he sees the growth of the CCO role as a natural way to create a better, holistic client experience.

Phillips reminds us that the drug development process doesn’t begin with a project discussion between a drug sponsor and CDMO and end when a product goes out the door. Rather it starts with a promising discovery and the goal is for patients to receive treatments. His clients have a go to market strategy that includes regulatory approvals, clinical trials, and distribution. His clients must develop relationships with payers, hospitals, and other medical providers. The modern day CCO in a service provider company must understand market access, pricing, and reimbursement strategies: the entire ecosystem.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that this understanding must be communicated in each piece of marketing material, but CDMOs should be ready to express their understanding of this complex process when they meet with drug sponsors face to face. Again, according to Phillips, it requires empathy, builds credibility when done well, and contributes to a better client experience.

The CCO, says Phillips, is also responsible for resourcing the marketing and sales team with the blend of skills that the organization needs. There is no universal line and block chart that can be applied to all marketing and sales teams, they must be aligned to the needs of the organization. He borrows a concept from the book “Good to Great” when he describes it as “getting the right people on the bus and then getting them in the right seats.”  It means hiring and retaining employees who fit the corporate culture and contribute to the company's growth and sustainability. He adds that we have a diverse generation of people entering the workforce, and good leaders will leverage that to create the kind of organization they need for today and tomorrow.

Phillips says the CCO has a big job and must think strategically, communicate clearly, and manage cross functional teams that generate revenue and drives business growth. And it will continue to evolve.

Continuous Learning and Developing the Next Generation of Leaders

Anyone who has been around business, manufacturing, and the pharmaceutical industry will be familiar with continuous improvement. Its origins are in the Japanese business philosophy of kaizen, which seeks improvement through a series of focused, incremental positive changes. It is probably best known for being at the core of lean manufacturing and just-in-time logistics.  

However, Phillips embraces it as a lifelong pursuit. He prefers the term “continuous learning” which implies it is more intentional and personal: the concept of always expanding one’s knowledge and skills. And he leads by example when it comes to continuous learning.

He reflects on how business development was entirely face-to-face when he first began working in the life sciences and notes how his own behavior has evolved over time to deliver a better client journey. He notes that when a client first meets with a service provider now, they already know your capabilities and enough about you to make the meeting worthwhile for them. This demands skills from your marketing and sales team that were not needed ten to fifteen years ago. Identify the gaps you have across your marketing and sales team and determine the biggest opportunities to develop skills that will make an essential difference for your business. And don’t be afraid to use external training assets and coaches.

There is ample evidence that the reason people leave their employment voluntarily is due to poor leadership and Phillips agrees. Leaders must invest in the development of their team members. This is challenging to do in real time in our busy work lives, but it is necessary to develop the next generation of marketing and sales professionals.   

Phillips has witnessed greatness firsthand during his career and he has seen troubled businesses as well. The single, most important, thing that can really make a difference when seeking greatness, according to Phillips, is organizational leadership. He says this is leadership that determines what is essential for a business’s success, clearly communicates direction for the team, and then encourages them to experiment and even take some risks to achieve the right outcomes. And he encourages us to find, follow, and emulate greatness and great leaders.

Phillips concludes our interview by referencing an Oscar acceptance speech by Mathew McConaughey in which he says that we all need heroes to chase, someone we want to be like one day. The actor goes on to say that the hero he is chasing is himself in ten years. If you ask him in ten years, he will tell you he isn’t even close to reaching his goal, check back in ten years, and again ten years later, and so on and so on. His point is that his hero is always ten years away and he will never attain it. That’s fine with McConaughy, and Phillips too, because it gives them a goal to keep seeking through continuous learning.

John Phillips is the Vice President of Sales at Pharmaceutics International, Inc. (Pii). He has over 30 years of business experience in small, midsize, and large international Fortune 100 companies that include Thermo Fisher Scientific – Patheon, Sharp Packaging Solutions, Mikart, BioDuro-Sundia, and now, Pii.

His business and leadership philosophy is grounded in delivering the best customer experience possible, continuous improvement, intentionally developing the next generation of life science leaders, and a deep understanding of the complex process of delivering lifesaving therapies to the patients who need them. John is a graduate of Widener University.

About Pii

Pharmaceutics International, Inc. (Pii) is a US based contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) with a passion for solving problems. Pii’s Hunt Valley, Maryland campus includes 70 manufacturing suites with four integrated aseptic filling lines delivering quality, safety, and efficiency. Their professionals have extensive experience with small and large molecule compounds, developing and manufacturing complex parenteral drugs, extended-release formulations, non-aqueous injectable drug products, and lyophilization. Learn more at