Recently, I had occasion to interview several scientists whose careers are technical sales. They sell different types of products, have different territories and experiences, but they all agreed on several things.
Firstly, technical sales, or the selling of complex, scientific products, is different from the other types of sales jobs. The potential customers are chemists and other scientists who are not interested in pretty, fluffy marketing pieces. Instead, they want facts, technical details and specifications that will tell them how the product will work in the real world. It is not the hard sell of repeated advertising, but the softer sell based on earned trust and respect.
The successful technical salesperson takes the time to build a relationship with the customer, learning their needs and objectives. Only then can they explain what the product does, how it does it, and how it will solve the customer’s problems (or save them time or money). Since many technical products are expensive and will be in use for a long time, the customer needs to feel confident that the relationship will continue with support after the sale as well.
You may be wondering what this has to do with you. You don’t have a career in sales. Or do you?
As you move through your career, seeking out new opportunities, what are you doing if not selling yourself? You are building relationships with co-workers, colleagues and others, getting them to understand your strengths and abilities. If you are successful, you get them to “buy” you as a valuable addition to their professional network and career, someone they can call on when the right opportunity comes along.
Adding a new person to a profession team is similar to buying a new product. What/who is selected will depend on marketing (what you know about the product in advance, its reputation), and sales (what you learn during a close examination of the product in preparation for making a purchase). If you manage your personal marketing well, the sales opportunities will come to you, and will be easy to close.
You will continually meet new people through out your career – it’s inevitable. But how you connect with them, how well you market yourself to them, and how you maintain those connections over time (or don’t) is up to you.
Simple actions, such as forwarding news items that will be of interest to them, can make a big impression, and gently remind them that you are out there, looking out for their interests. By looking out for others, you will gently “sell” your own personal brand as a valuable professional, and ensure a future supply of “customers” for your own career. As Tom Lane, ACS Immediate Past President, said at a recent Leadership Conference, “90% of any successful transaction in life or business is selling yourself.”
This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2007).