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Selling Science

Laura Haldane is the Head of Sales and Marketing at SciLeads, a lead generation and market intelligence platform for science companies. She is also a board member of SAMPS, an organization that connects and develops sales and marketing professionals in life science & applied research.

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On this episode of the Marketing Science Podcast, we talk about best practices when it comes to marketing and sales for science companies. Sharing insights from her 10+ years of sales experience across the science industry, Laura breaks down the science and psychology behind selling to scientists.

Can you tell us about your background and about founding SciLeads?

My first job out of university was in the life sciences industry, selling reagents and working for an IVD company. I later went on to work in NGS at a data science company, where I helped with the software and intensive algorithms, which is what got me into data and machine learning.

Eventually, two friends and I, who had been in scientific sales and marketing for many years, set up SciLeads based on a desire to find better leads using open data sources. We wanted to use our data science techniques to create a single platform that contains all of that open-source lead data.

Can you tell us about SAMPS?

SAMPS stands for Sales and Marketing Professionals in Science and the organization focuses on helping connect, network and develop the careers of people who sell to scientists.

We normally have a few meetups a year, where we talk about popular scientific tools, best practices for selling to scientists, etc. Right now, we’re doing things like remote webinars to make sure we still have regular content coming out for members on topics like adapting selling approaches in the COVID-era, how the pandemic has affected selling to scientists and those types of topics.

How would you say that selling to scientists differs from selling in other industries?

"Scientists are naturally curious, but they are often very skeptical as well."

When you are selling to scientists, you have to have a lot of accurate data to present to them. The same marketing and sales techniques might not work as well if you can’t also provide graphs and hard data. Having referrals from their peers who they trust and can speak to directly will also be important.

What are the main challenges that sales and marketing professionals face within the science, engineering and healthcare industries?

When I first started in sales, we physically visited labs and knocked on doors. Even before COVID, that started becoming less feasible. The pandemic has only accelerated that migration towards digital channels. Even sales veterans who have been reluctant to make that shift are being forced to embrace a more digital approach of connecting through email, multimedia, social media, etc.

Throughout the last year, we’ve found that there is a lot of noise in terms of the number of emails getting sent out. Trying out new things, like podcasts, is something sales and marketers in science have to do more often to rise above that noise.

"To get noticed, you have to do something unique to stand out."

How does your degree in psychology play into your approach to email marketing?

When it comes to applying psychological concepts to email marketing, it’s not always intuitive and that is why I love looking at experiments and data to inform email marketing strategies.

A big debate that I have with many companies is about what emails should look like. If you ask marketers about the kind of emails that they think will work best, most will choose emails with HTML images in them.

Read: Email Marketing to 3rd Party Lists

But, when we’ve done A/B testing, we actually find that the more images you put in, the lower the click-through rate (CTR). And because we’re often selling into academia, the images end up getting blocked most of the time anyway.

There was a case at QVC where their head of sales smashed sales targets by updating a line in their emails from, ‘Our operators are waiting to hear from you’, to ‘If our operators are busy, please call back”, Instinctually, that doesn’t make sense - it means it might be harder to buy their product, but it creates a feeling of urgency and creates the illusion that so many other people are buying their products, that the operators are busy.

Can you give some more tips on how to create that sense of urgency or that ‘fear of missing out’ feeling?

I often tell my clients, ‘you need to make it sound like this is something everyone else is buying or doing’ and to try to get that ‘FOMO’ element.

"Making it seem like you are offering a scarce resource can help drive sales."

I see far too many sales professionals emailing things like ‘here are all of these time slots I have available, and there will be far too many slots presented. Not only are you not making yourself seem like a scarce resource, but you are also paralyzing them with too many choices.

Studies have shown that the more choice you give people, the less likely they are to make any decision at all. Head & Shoulders are a great example of this - a new CEO came in and reduced the number of shampoo-types from 25 down to 15 and their sales went up by 10%.

Do you have thoughts on the best length for emails or about how much of the content should be above the fold?

Clients show me emails every day that have great content, but I usually tell them to take about half of the email out. It’s a trend happening across many areas - TikTok is a great example of how we’re moving towards these shorter clips and addressing the fact that we all have less attention to spend on things.

Especially as everyone is getting more and more emails, we find the shorter and snappier, the better. Writing more personalized messages also helps to make your email stand out.

Ask about email marketing

People are busy, so unless someone has asked you for more information, I would never suggest going above the fold. It’s also important to keep in mind that people are reading emails on mobile more often, so your fold is even higher than if you were looking at emails on desktop.

How do you tailor your language in emails to be the most effective?

In sales, if customers say yes, they are more likely to continue saying yes because their brains are primed to do so. AA’s salespeople used to approach prospects and ask, ‘Are you a member of the AA?’ and many would say ‘no’. Those were the people in their target demographic, but they were starting the process with a no. Now, AA salespeople ask, ‘Do you drive a car?’, which most people do. So now, they are starting on a yes.

Another important word is ‘because’. There was an experiment where they had people queue for a photocopy machine. When they asked people, ‘Can I cut to the front of the line?’, 68% said yes. When they changed that to, ‘Can I cut in front of the line because I’m in a rush?’, 94% of people said okay. Most interestingly, the ‘because’ doesn’t even matter. So, they changed it again to say, ‘Can I cut in front of the line because I need to make copies?”, which doesn’t add a legitimate reason, but 93% still said okay.  

Can you use these same techniques when it comes to effectively managing teams, particularly sales teams?

I often see language being used ineffectively in sales management. For example, if you email your team and say, ‘only two of you have sent through your pipeline this week’, everyone else will see that and think ‘Well, I’m okay then since no one else has done it either.' Instead, use language like, ‘there are a number of you who haven’t sent through your pipeline’, and that will get more people to act on it.

People also regress to the mean - there is a magnetic middle to things. They did a survey on energy consumption and people who were told that they were 10% over, cut down their usage, but the ones who used 10% less energy, increased their usage, and they ended up meeting in the middle. To counteract that, they sent out the same letters, but with a smiley face, and that was enough of an incentive to keep their usage lower.

For sales teams, commission probably does that inherently, but recognizing an individual by publicly praising them with a ‘well done, keep it up’, is an easy way to keep their numbers up, while also focusing on those that are performing at a lower level.

What skills do scientific sales professionals need to be successful today?

Something that has changed over the course of my career is that we used to employ more salespeople to whom we would teach the science to. Now, we have more scientists to whom we teach sales techniques to. Scientists typically would prefer to speak to another scientist to talk them through the process and applications. They don’t necessarily care about textbook sales techniques.

Read: The Scientific Buyer's Journey

During the pandemic, we’re all doing more remote sessions, so they can become forgettable. You need to hire salespeople that will be able to create memorable and creative experiences. Being able to show a more human-side and provide a more personal experience can help.

A nice trend with people working from home is that you get to see people’s pets, kids and see more of their personal lives. I think it’s helped people have more casual sales discussions about products or services.  

How important is having technical expertise on the products and services you’re selling?

When selling to scientists, having technical knowledge is very important. Scientists won’t necessarily care if you are super polished. I used to tell salespeople to stop wearing suits when going into the labs - it doesn’t make sense to go in a suit when the scientist you are selling to is there in flip-flops and casual wear.

Having someone that can talk about the technology and the applications is what scientists actually want to hear about. Moving towards a hyper-specialized focus is a trend we’re seeing as well. If you are hyper-specialized you are going to be able to offer more personalization and that’s what people respond to best.  

How do you see the future of selling and marketing to scientists? What do you see the industry looking like in five years' time?

I have looked at AI tools like Conversica and AI bots that can automatically follow-up, but I don’t think we’re at a stage where those tools can replace human contact and the level of personalization that is required to get engagement from customers.

But some of our clients are doing very sophisticated things with marketing automation and email marketing. If a lead gets a grant, they will automatically send out an email and track them thereafter. If someone downloads a white paper, they automatically get assigned a score and once that score goes above a certain threshold, it gets passed on to sales.

Even our smaller clients are starting to put processes like that in place. We’re also seeing a lot more use of data analytics. As humans, we aren’t great at following patterns, so a computer will be better at giving advice about things like the best time to send an email for CTR and new markets to sell into. Data analytics and marketing automation all help sales and marketing to be more targeted, which will help to rise above the noise.

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Posted by Elizabeth Rudy

Elizabeth graduated from Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT) with a BA in Psychology and completed a MA in Organizational Psychology at Adelphi University in New York. Elizabeth recently relocated from New York, and she has enjoyed exploring and getting to know her new home in Manchester. Elizabeth started her career in human resources and operations before discovering a passion for marketing. She previously worked as a marketing and operations professional in the international education sector. Outside of work, Elizabeth loves cooking and is always interested to experiment with new cuisines and dishes. She also enjoys baking, true crime, traveling, playing the piano and singing.

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