The Role of the Life Science Sale Rep in 2018

In an online, interconnected world, where product info, reviews, and recommendations are available anytime, anywhere with a few keystrokes or a swipe on phone screen…what’s the role of a sales representative?

In many aspects, online ordering and product information gathering are preferred, and (in some cases) are even the optimal path for consumers wanting to “browse the shelves” at their leisure, without getting pestered by someone “trying to help.”

However, as has been discussed countless times in many different industries, envisioning sales reps and the internet as competing sides of the same coin may not be the correct way of looking at our current situation. It is better to view these two forces as complimentary tools, instead of existing in direct competition.

“She got pricing and worked with my organization to get the right instrument for our lab, and worked with our university to get through all the red tape.”

Although many suppliers include extensive product information online, and websites exist in which scientists can even compare similar products side-by-side, these informational materials and comparison tables can’t possibly cover every type of variable often in play during a purchasing decision.

Good sales reps are familiar with their customers — their lab, their budgets, their research, and their preferences — and can navigate all these variables and drill down to a solution and product that perfectly fits their needs. Scientists want to focus on their research and use the equipment they need, but don’t want to get distracted by the minutiae of the purchasing process. Brochures and online catalogs can provide a lot of useful information, but helping buyers cut through bureaucratic red tape is not a service a website download or chatbot can replicate.

“They are familiar with the nuances of their machines and could talk me through which is best. In some cases, I have even had reps tell me that their instrument might not be the best for my application.”

Trained sales reps are knowledgeable about the products their company offers and/or manufactures. Scientists can be experts in their field, but might not be familiar with a new technology, such as an instrument that better performs the same function using a different technique (i.e., the steady replacement of Ion Trap Mass Spectrometers by Triple Quad LC/MS systems for the analysis of food products).

Online brochures can sometimes go a long way toward explaining a product to a potential buyer. However, as with our previous example, brochures don’t take into account the myriad variables often present in a purchasing decision. In this case, the sales rep knows the context of the potential purchase. They know what applications the lab is expecting to use that machine for, what it might be replacing, what products in the lab it will complement, and they can adapt their explanation to best fit the knowledge of the potential user and/or buyer.

The second part of the above statement might worry some readers. However, what is more valuable to a supplier?:

  • A sales rep recommends the sale of your product, despite not being a great match for the needs of the buyer. That buyer later realizes this and has to spend more time and additional money on another product to fill any gaps in their needs.


  • A sales rep realizes that no products from their company are a good fit for the buyer’s needs. They still give the option to purchase their company’s product, but also recommend a product from a different supplier that will meet all of those needs. Either way, because the rep has been upfront and honest with their advice, the buyer will now be more likely to trust them in the future when it comes to following purchasing decisions.

Often it is beneficial to sacrifice quick, temporary sales for a potentially more financially rewarding relationship over the long-term. Good sales reps don’t just push their company’s product – they ensure their customers’ research will not be undermined by using the wrong products.

“They were very clear about the instrument we wanted to buy and clearly highlighted the advantage of the product and how it’s different from others within that price range.”

It’s easy to Google “best practices for sale reps” — some advice is certainly market-agnostic, and the cohabitation of the Internet and living reps is not a new issue. However, you’d be hard pressed to find quality content specifically focused on reps working in the Life Sciences (except, perhaps, our previous reports on this subject).

As a market research company that exclusively focuses on the life and analytical sciences, has Ph.D. scientists on staff, and interacts with thousands of scientists around the world each day, we have a clear advantage when it comes to understanding how life science vendors can maximize the effectiveness of their sales force. Our recent report, Maximizing Sales Rep Effectiveness for the Life Sciences, is a must-have tool for vendors of any size looking to adapt their sales efforts to the preferences of laboratory decision-makers. With survey data on preferred sales force structure by region, situations where rep assistance in most useful, vendor rep scorecards, and more, this report is a great guide for business development staff and sales team managers.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll delve into some of the data gathered for the report and a few of the insights we achieved through our research.

Click here to download the report’s brochure, which contains a detailed Table of Contents and some sample data. For any specific questions you may have, please reach out to us at [email protected] or by phone at 703-778-3080 x19. Our friendly neighborhood sales rep (Devin) would be happy to assist you!