Sales reps are an essential element of the life science marketing mix — even though scientists say they get most of their information from colleagues and catalogs. In our market we’ve been told by scientists that Fisher Scientific, Invitrogen, Bio-Rad have the best-trained, most effective sales forces.
Sales reps play an important role in informing and influencing scientific customers and can often be the catalyst that can motivate a scientist to choose one supplier over another. Scientists, however, tend to favor reps who play a more passive, supportive role as illustrated by the their preference for reps who respond to requests promptly and who understand the science behind their products. Naturally, scientists also respond well to reps able to offer favorable pricing.
I count many life science salespeople among both my clients and friends but I still brace myself for their reaction when I say that believe a sales force should operate as an integrated part of your company’s overall strategy for developing brand equity – not as its vanguard. While a sales force is a very important contributor to success, life science products, more often than not, sell themselves, or are in fact sold by brand equity, the catalog and other marketing communications. For most product categories, margins won’t support the cost of winning business “bench by bench,” especially in a market where customers react negatively to salespeople. The sales force must therefore focus as much on supporting as it does selling. This means you need to provide your sales force with the freedom to concentrate on establishing long-term business relationships, rather than solely on the achievement of short-term sales goals.
As products become more become more complex, so too do sales strategies. The sales force must consider the influence of other departments within the customer’s organization, and must sell to each potential decision-maker in the purchase. To be successful, complex sales strategies require the input and involvement of your entire company, including Marketing, Sales, Product Managers, Customer Service & Support, Accounting and R&D. At many companies that kind of integration is a long way from being realized!