Life Science Sales: A Call to Action

A recent study of sales force perceptions by GS Discovery has some findings that certainly caught my interest. And I think they will interest more than a few of you in the Life Science Industry. This study may be the first of its kind for this industry

The study highlights some findings which deserve immediate attention from sales and marketing executives. More than that, the findings represent a “call to action” for executives in the life science industry. Because I believe these factors will be important to your business, I want to take a moment to share my perspective on the findings.

There are some “red flags” in the study that show up both in customer relationships and in internal management practices:

Red Flags

  1. Sales people don’t feel they get enough time with their customers.
  2. Competition is increasing and sales people want more competitive product information.
  3. Credibility with customers is declining.
  4. Mergers and major reorganizations are disrupting customer relationships.
  5. Most sales people aren’t convinced that they are working for the best company, and even though satisfaction is quite high, they don’t expect to stay very long.
  6. Almost half the respondents feel their compensation is either not fair or not competitive

The first four points are primarily customer relationship problems. All raise red flags for the future of life science companies’ relationships with their customers. In fact, the first one, “decreasing time with customers” kills companies. And this threat follows directly from sales people earning less credibility with customers, increasing focus on competition, and increasing turnover of sales people from reorganization. As the industry becomes more competitive and companies are more focused on their own overstuffed product lines, sales people begin to look less like trusted consultants and more like the path to a discount. This decline in credibility has occurred in many industries, and it is a one-way street. This is the first call to action: let’s hit the brakes and steer in the other direction.

Which other direction? Remember Macy’s surprising and most effective sales tool in “Miracle on 34th Street”? It was as simple as knowing the market and being willing to recommend whatever the customer needed … even a competitor’s product if yours couldn’t meet the need. To get more time with customers, we must equip sales people to bring more value to their relationships. First, we hire people who have solid experience working in labs, just like their customers do, and then train them to understand the choices and trade-offs their customers have to make, as well as how their own products fit. Just reciting features and benefits isn’t enough. We make sure sales people are consultants and not just order-takers. We try not damage their credibility by asking them to repeatedly pull business forward with favors and discounts to make the quarterly goals.

The Call to Action

  • Hire people with solid experience at the lab bench to sell technical products.
  • Train them to understand the customer’s perspective and how their own products fit.
  • Make sure they are consultants and not just “order takers”.
  • Teach them to sell, but to do so ethically and credibly.
  • Make it worth their while to stay for the long term; keep your product innovation, training and compensation at the leading edge of your industry.

That said, they still have to sell, and consulting isn’t the same as selling. We need to train people to give good advice, but then press for specific action, to leverage relationships and cover all the buying influences. It’s not easy to do both, but it’s not impossible. That’s what the best sales people have always done.

The second eye-opener in this study is the reminder that good sales people have lots of options and many sources of information in the life science industry. They are constantly looking at the industry and making career choices based on who has the best products, the best compensation, or the best training for the future, to name just a few factors. They listen not just to their management but to recruiters, other sales people and their customers. It is easier to lose good people than we might think, especially to a sharp sales manager who is intent on building a strong team. Reorganization makes our people more vulnerable to competitive recruiting; so do flawed compensation plans and overly ambitious revenue goals. The resulting job-hopping by cynical sales people compounds the credibility problem with customers and erodes confidence in the entire industry.

The best sales managers learn to recruit the best people, to train them well and continually work to make them want to stay for the long haul. They create loyalty by developing people, coaching and teaching business skills that are valuable. They use their influence with management to keep innovation flowing to the product line and to keep training and sales compensation at the leading edge.

While we see red flags in these study results, we also have answers and antidotes to address them. We have resources in training groups, research departments, human resource groups and a vast array of agency and consulting options. This study will make a great topic at an upcoming strategic planning meeting. Get your team started assessing the situation and generating ideas right away. Let me know how we can help you.

Good Selling,
Dave

Technical Sales Consultants, LLC
www.techsalesconsultants.com

Reference: (see RepReview Life ScienceSM: The Life Science Supply Marketplace from a Sales Representative Perspective, December 2006, www.gs-discovery.com/home.html)

Note: While I’m not affiliated with GS Discovery, I do have a friend there and I made some pre-publication comments on the study, so you’ll see me quoted in the press release. The study highlights are available for download at the agency’s website, http://www.gs-discovery.com/home.html; for a free copy of the full study, contact Mark Walker at GS.

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