Category Archives: Sales

Building a Powerful Contact List: Key Tactics for Making the Random Walk a Little Less Random

By:  Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

red leader of blue group

Build a powerful contact list by focusing on key individuals first.

Building up a substantial contact list is crucial to any startup especially as they approach the commercial launch of their first product or service.  This list will be used by your commercial team to recruit alpha and beta evaluators, find strategic partners and of course uncover customers.  One of the key things to keep in mind as you create this list is that it is the quality of the people on this list rather than the ultimate number (although you need this list to grow very large eventually) that is most important.

Why quality is crucial
First, what do we mean by a quality contact.  This is an individual that has shown some interest in your product or service by asking you to:

  • Put them on your mailing list to keep them informed
  • Exchanged business cards with you at an event you both attended (they asked for yours first)
  • Has reached out to you via your website, phone or perhaps by visiting a poster or vendor booth you hosted at an industry event.

People that you connect with in one of the ways described above will have a higher chance of being valuable to you and your company in the future including becoming some of your first customers.  Simply scanning the badge of everyone that visits your booth at a tradeshow to grab some free swag might provide a big number of contacts that you can put on a spreadsheet but now you will have to sort through all of them to find the quality contacts just described.  You have better things to do with you time.

The Random Walk
The highest quality contacts that you could have are those that you have had a chance to sit down and connect with on a one-on-one basis.  If you establish a strong connection during these meetings, these folks can turn out to be your strongest advocates and will go out of their way to help you with referrals, advice and other valuable inputs.  However, the problem here is that you need a significantly larger number of contacts to insure that you have a broad enough reach that will ultimately return the kinds of contacts that will become satisfied customers.  It is not possible to reach all of these people individually.  Reid Hoffman (Cofounder and Chairman of LinkedIn) and Ben Casnocha provide an excellent discussion of how to successfully build your network of contacts with sufficient depth and breadth in their book ‘The Start-Up of You’.  All of the people that we would consider high quality contacts would be rated as first degree connections (depth) on LinkedIn.  The contact lists of your 1st degree connections represent your extended list (breadth) that will have the size you need to drive your commercial efforts.  In LinkedIn parlance, these are 2nd degree connections to you.  As an example of the reach of this extended network, a list of 300 – 400 direct connections (LinkedIn 1st degree connections) gives you access to over 6 million indirect connections (LinkedIn 2nd degree connections).  Whether you use LinkedIn or not, the compelling size of these indirect connections is real and worth the effort to cultivate.

This is Doable
It is likely that between the founding team members, your advisors and other strategic partners that you will be well on your way to developing a list of hundreds of quality (1st degree) contacts.  Be sure to seek out opportunities to meet with new people on a ‘one-to-one’ basis as much as possible.  You never know who these people are connected to and what valuable introductions they will provide.  Looking forward, that is can look like a very random process and it is.  You can increase the likelihood of making meaningful connections by attending events that you think will attract the people you would like to meet (industry events, tradeshows, lectures, CEO groups etc.).

Selected Tactics for Building your High Quality Contact List:

  • Reach out to friends and family.  Not all of these will be relevant but this is an easy first step.
  • Review the alumni contact list from your alma mater and professional school and reach out to prospects via e-mail, phone or ‘face-to-face’ (best).  Remember, don’t just stack you list with names; you need to know that they are at least a little bit interested.
  • Ask for referrals from those you meet.  Always ask the people you connect with who they would recommend that you meet and ask if they can introduce you.  Be sure to return the favor as much as possible as well. Give and take here can really pay off in the long run.
  • Be prepared to make connections anywhere and everywhere by being sure to keep a few of your business cards with you at all times.  You never know who you might meet at your spouse’s business party or at the grocery store.
  • An effective Marketing effort will bring in a number of high quality connections as well as leads for your sales force.  Don’t confuse a quality connection with a sales lead.  Sometimes a sales lead will also be a quality connection but that is not always the case.
  • Host or sponsor events in your industry.  Providing a technical talk, hosting a workshop or having an Open House event at your facility are excellent ways to quickly build your list of contacts.

Picture Credit:  © Suravid | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Eliminate This Risk to Your Sales Momentum

traffic cone

Avoid the ‘out of stock’ pothole on your road to success.

By:  Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

Your team has pushed hard to get a successful product launch.  There is intense focus on Sales & Marketing to take the ball now to close on ever greater numbers of sales.  There is nothing like being ‘out-of-stock’ to put a crimp in your sales momentum.  With a little bit of post-launch effort, the risk of this happening can be minimized.


  • Assemble a team made up of some of the technical people from your product development team, someone from Operations and a product manager.
  • This team will initially be tasked with the following:
    • For Consumables – Identify all critical raw materials.  These are key components like antibodies or other biologicals or chemicals that are critical for the proper functioning of your kit or reagent.
    • For Instrumentation – Identify components with particularly long lead times.

For consumables, pay especially careful attention to sole suppliers of a critical raw material.  What would happen if this company went out of business or decided to discontinue the product?  Alternatively, what would happen to your business if they doubled the price of this component?

Use Failure Mode Effect Analysis (FMEA) to  help you and your team assess not only impact of what delays in instrument components  or loss of a source for a key reagent would have but also how likely it would be for that to happen.  This will allow you to compile a prioritized list with the biggest risks to your business at the top.


  • For Consumables – Have the technical team find an alternate source for the critical raw material.  This alternate source might be more expensive but it is much better to have a validated alternative source than to run out of it when your demand is growing.
  • For Instrumentation – Make sure that your agreement with component suppliers include options for rush shipments.  Find out what the lead times and additional costs are for this.  With good Sales forecasting you should not need to exercise this option but it is good to have this in place (just in case).  Consider keeping some additional inventory of critical components to buffer risk.

You cannot eliminate all of these risks to your business but it is far better to know what they are and have contingency plans in place in the (hopefully) unlikely event that some of them come to pass.   Remember that some of these risks can be mitigated by solutions provided by your technical team and others using business tactics.

Picture Credit:  © Foto.fritz | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

Get the Biggest Bang for Your Tradeshow Buck with These Tips

Tradeshow packing case

Make sure you are coming home with more than just free T-shirts and pens. The best souvenirs are a big list of hot customer leads and referrals!

By:  Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

Tradeshows can be a great place to get the word out about your product and also to keep abreast of late breaking news, trends and opportunities.  However, they can also be very expensive.  Registration fees, travel costs, shipping and other logistical costs, not to mention opportunity costs by having your sales team out of the field for a few days, add up fast.

Don’t just attend, participate!
It is important to identify all of the tradeshows and conferences that will be good sources for customer leads.  Note that I said ‘good sources for customer leads’ not just which events you think your customers will attend.  Some tradeshows and conferences, although excellent events for scientific exchange, are less than great places to make meaningful contacts with potential customers.  Determine which events will have the most value for you by attending as many tradeshows and conferences (as an individual not as a vendor in the beginning) as your budget and time will allow.  Make sure to plan time towards the end of the event to speak with some of the people manning the vendor booths.  Be sure to speak with a representative sample of vendors to get an overall but relevant sense of how valuable this event has been for them in terms of identifying good sales leads (both quality and number).   Be sure to attend some of the scientific sessions and especially the poster presentations of those researchers that could become some of your first customers when you launch.

When Attending Prior to Your Product Launch

  • Talk with vendors about how valuable they think the show is.  (Do this towards the end of the show but not at the very end)
  • Visit the posters of researchers that you think could be customers for you and find out if the problem you plan to solve with your great product is appealing to them or not and why.  (Don’t propose your solution yet)  This can be a great way to start narrowing down what the minimal performance characteristics and features are that your product must have when you launch.  You will also get a sense of how well your offering will be received if and when you host a vendor booth here in the future
  • Take advantage of the fact that this can be a great place to set up meetings with key people that will be important for your business since they might also be attending the meeting.
  • Post Show – Get all of the contacts that you made into a database and follow up with a brief thank you.   (MS Excel spreadsheet is more than enough for this at this point)
  • Post Show – Use your meeting value assessment (see above) to rank all of the shows you attended based on how valuable they would be for getting customer leads (The conference at the top of your list will be the one that you should plan to use as part of your launch strategy)

When Attending After Your Product Launch

  • Before the Show – Be sure to have a customer lead follow up plan for how all leads will be handled after the show and by whom
  • Have sales team and/or product management manage the booth
  • Have your booth staff rate the value of each contact they make immediately after meeting them.  For example: add an A, B or C next to each new contact using your lead capture system to aid in your post-event follow up.   Put an A next to those that could be customers in the next 30 days (First follow up group), B next to those that would be customers in 60 days (Second follow up group) and a C next to everyone else
  • Continue to visit posters and get feedback on the problem your product is solving.  This way you will be on top of important trends that will guide the next iteration of your product, modifications to your sales value proposition and other positioning materials based on what you learn
  • Measure your brand strength.  When meeting with people at the booth or at the scientific sessions, ask ‘Have you heard of ‘your company name here’ before?’.  If they have, ask what they think about it.  Don’t correct them if they get it wrong.  Just collect this information for now (The first time you do this can be a bit discouraging but you will be setting a baseline, If you are doing things right, you will notice a real improvement at next year’s tradeshow.)

Stay vigilant
Some conferences and tradeshows that were initially valuable may not be worth the expense in later years.  Meeting agendas change as do the attractiveness they have for your customers.  Getting in the early habit of doing a post-event value evaluation after every tradeshow or conference will insure that your time and money for this are maximally rewarded.  As your budget for meeting attendance grows, consider reserving some of this to attend new events that could have a better return on your investment.

Picture Credit:  © Budda | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

Google Glass: A Primer for the Life Sciences Market

By:  Chris Cullmann

Google Glass

Google Glass

Your rep is in the lab because your customer is tweeting his 2000+ followers that the $300K sequencing system your company just installed is “a piece of garbage.”

“Poor resolution. Unreliable reproducibility. Low reads. I might as well do this manually” says your customer, the director of a regional sequencing center.

The rep picks up the vial of polymerase from the ice bucket long enough to tell her Google Glass (AKA “Glass”) to scan the lot-number bar code and check the corporate database for manufacturing date and for other complaints. Moments later, her Glass display indicates that 4 labs in the US, 3 in London, and 6 facilities in Italy reported similar issues. The rep verbally tells Glass to add her complaint to the database and to e-mail her manager and the director of quality control about the issue.

Your rep replaces the suspect lot with the one she brought to the lab and tells Glass to add to her calendar a follow-up visit to the same lab in 2 days to check on the performance of the new enzyme prep, and then moves on to her next account, but not before she tells Glass to e-mail her manager that she’s on the way.

Google Glass can accomplish some of these functions today. Now is the time to prepare for what Glass will accomplish tomorrow.

Google Glass: how it works
Google Glass is the most recognizable example of a new generation of connected devices—wearable computing. When paired with an Internet-connected smartphone, Glass provides users with information delivered via the Internet and stored in the paired phone. Glass also records images, video, and audio from the user’s perspective.

The concept of Glass is brilliantly simple—provide information to users in a discrete heads-up display in the wearer’s peripheral vision. The computing elements and display populate an eyeglass-like unit that the user wears like standard eyeglasses. Via audio prompts, users access information from search engines, personal files, calendar events, text messages, and beyond.

Much of this functionality is available on our smartphones right now. Why is this so exciting and such a noteworthy change?

Glass delivers on the promise of science fiction writers and IT department heads—a near-neural implant putting all your company’s (and the world’s) information available on command.

Today: a capabilities showcase
Out of the box, Glass provides seamless integration with Google’s own services. Text messages, search, calendar events, video-chat service “Hangouts,” and social sharing via Google+ all are integrated into Glass. It’s a demonstration of capabilities and integration above all else. But keep in mind that the product is still in beta testing and not commercially available.

If you’re searching for a broader context, the message from Google is clear: “Glass is coming.”

Tomorrow: a new interface for information management
At face value, the most powerful feature of Glass is the ability to share, on command, photos and video from the point-of-view camera. Imagery captured via Glass documents and details an activity or event, and does so in real time. Sharing experiences and creating a new genre of digital first-person media are key components of the Glass value proposition.

Sharing information in real time
From a commercial standpoint, the ability to simulcast makes it a tremendous utility for the scientific, healthcare, and education communities. What makes Glass so powerful? Unlike smartphones, wearable technology records, transmits, and receives audio and visual feedback non-disruptively.

Scientists can gain the insights of peers or groups of peers and spawn symposia of in-the-moment discourse. Clinical researchers can leverage expertise from the other side of the globe to diagnose and treat patients. Sales teams can get in-field feedback and tips from sales veterans or support teams to provide the expertise of an entire company—on the spot.

As described at the beginning of this article, the love would flow in both directions. Field information from the user’s point of view—images, video, and audio—could be captured, stored, and made available for distribution throughout the entire business enterprise.

Making Glass work in the business world
Glass has been a toe in the water for wearable computing, and it’s not difficult to envision how something so integrated can change how we apply information and technology to our daily business lives. Does Glass become a new interface for the infrastructure we already use?

Yes. Good or bad, enterprise will quickly adopt Glass or it’s next iteration as a way to provide workers with access to the spectrum of corporate information and wisdom, including but not limited to:

  • Inventory
  • Up-to-the-minute pricing information
  • Product identification
  • Customer information

Let’s take a closer look at customer information, but with a focus on context.

Glass can provide a discrete vehicle for information about our contacts. Who are they? Who are they connected to? Do they have decision-making ability? Are they eligible for discounts? What is the financial status of their account?

It doesn’t take long to see how tools like Glass can evolve business practices, but there are real-world issues that need to be addressed.

Etiquette and legality
Our social construct is changing quickly. Consider the issues raised by existing mobile technologies. Is it acceptable to take a phone call during a conversation or to rely on a tablet for note taking during meetings? The agreed-upon norms are changing daily and without much perspective on generational differences.

So what will be the social implications of Google Glass and subsequent wearable computers? How will the ability of Glass to capture information at any time be received? At meetings will Glass be as acceptable as open laptops and tablets, or will its use be restricted?

Confidential information and privacy. These are critical issues for academic and commercial research in the life sciences and for the public at large, so much so that Google is unsure what functionality to include in Glass and how much data should be made accessible to Google or other parties. For example, Google has developed facial recognition technology, but doesn’t include it with Glass (or its Android operating system). The technology would enable a Glass user to capture an image of any person at any time, identify them, and deliver as much information that is publicly available to the Glass user without the observed person’s knowledge.

Your customers might consider the above an invasion of their privacy.

But similar recognition technology applied to bar codes or other labels could also benefit life science researchers:

  • By identifying hazardous materials and providing safe-handling instructions
  • By recognizing equipment and providing instructions in the heads-up display

Many commercial life science businesses bar their employees and vendors from bringing image-capturing devices into their facilities. Despite the many benefits of data capture and recognition technologies, rules have to be developed that will impact Glass deployment and use.

Can Google Glass become a crystal ball?
Currently, most everything that Google Glass does is reactive. You command, Glass acts.

The vision for Glass is to predict your needs and provide the information—before it’s needed—which might be its greatest challenge and most significant accomplishment.

In this capacity, Glass would analyse your digital activity (e-mail, product ordering, journal-article downloads, visits to help forums such as Scientist Solutions and Biocompare) to search for patterns. Over time, such trends would comprise a large information fabric that would be mined for insights that inform accurate predictions.

Google Glass is a bellwether
Relevant information that is ubiquitous, accessible on demand, and rapidly shared is central to business success. Glass advances this cause by speeding the evolution of information management from desktop experience to the Internet.

Glass isn’t in final form, but a first glimpse. Like viewing the first television, it provides a view of something very important to your business world. Glass isn’t commercially available and registration for beta trials closed, but you can sign up for Glass updates.

Distributors Demystified: Use These Insights to Help You Help Them Sell More

business people and world map
Using distributors can be a key part of scaling up your sales reach. Be sure to budget the time and effort to make this tactic work for you.

By: Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

Working with Distributors can be a great way to expand your sales reach as you grow.  This can be a very effective way to ramp up sales especially when you look to sell internationally.  It is important to have a good understanding of how best to support, motivate and manage your distributors prior to your product launch to make sure that you get the biggest bang for your buck here.

A few myths

  • Hire them and forget them.  Your distributors will require training, sales collateral and on-going support to be successful.  Whether you have a direct sales force or a distributor, they both require the same level of sales and marketing support.   In addition to this, you will likely need to plan on refresher training and customer visits with your distributors over time as there is turnover in their sales team and also to keep them motivated.
  • They will be excited to sell your new innovative product.  The business team that sold you on the contract will be excited about your product and its business potential.  The distributor’s sales team, not so much.  An unfamiliar new product takes time and effort to learn how to sell effectively.  When the distributor’s sales team member has a choice of selling an existing product versus a new one, everything else being equal, they are more likely to focus on what they already have confidence in selling.  Consider offering cash or other incentives for early sales for a period of time.  Once the distributor’s sales team has some success with your product, this challenge will become less of an issue.
  • Distributors will be less work than a direct sales force.  (see the first point in this list)  You will need to plan regular update meetings with your distributors to monitor progress and help them to succeed with your products.  In the early days, you will find that you need to provide more support to your distributor’s sales team as new sales people call with questions or issues.  With a direct sales team, you will not have to constantly deal with the same questions and issues.
  •  If you sign on with a big distributor, you will instantly have hundreds to thousands of sales folks selling your product.  The distributor’s business team will brag about the enormous size of their sales force, in practice the number of sales people that will actually learn and sell you product will be a fraction of that.  If you are lucky, you will have a few talented sales people that will have early success with your product.  They will tell their colleagues about this and interest in selling your product will increase throughout the sales force.  However, you need to make sure that you are not taken in by pronouncements of how ‘thousands will be selling your product every day’ this just is not true.
  • You can count on the experience, reputation and size of a distributor to mitigate some of your sales risk.  You can never outsource risk!  This is as true of sales as it is with any other risks that your business will face.  You will need to work with your distributor to help mitigate the risk of poor sales.  It doesn’t really matter if it is your own sales force or the distributor’s that is not closing sales.  In both cases there is a problem that you will need to address.

The number one thing that you can do to insure a good experience with your distributors is understanding that you will be expending a significant amount of time and effort (especially in the early days of the relationship) helping them to be successful with your product or service.  Whether you have a direct sales force or not, you will still need to plan on producing teaching materials and conducting training sessions so that your distributor’s sales force has a good understanding of your product and confidence to sell it successfully.  You will also need to provide them with a clear point of contact in your company that will handle all questions, concerns and technical issues in a timely manner (recommend that this be the Product Manager not one of your Sales team members).  You will also need to plan to travel with your distributors on a regular basis to insure that you are meeting their customers.  This will allow you to get critical customer feedback as well as motivating the distributor through demonstration of your commitment to support them.  Traveling with your distributors also allows you to further strengthen your connection with them and show them that you are not only actively managing them but are open to helping them be more successful.  In time, a supported distributor will put increasingly more effort into generating the leads and winning the greater numbers of sales that you expect.

Other advantages
Not all products are ideal for distributor based sales.  If your product is truly ‘game changing’ and requires a very technical sale, you will likely be better off with a direct sales force, at least in the early days after your product launch.  Once you have established enough sales with your direct team so that you have a good understanding of your ideal customer demographics, the most successful tactics for discovering and reaching them and the value proposition that has proven to be most effective, you are ready to consider bringing on a distributor to augment your sales efforts. 

There can be many other advantages of brining in a distributor other than expanded sales reach.  Keep the following in mind during your negotiations with prospective distributors.

  • Forward stocking locations:  This can be a particularly valuable asset to have when you start selling overseas.  Having your product warehoused in the same country where it is sold will insure timely delivery to your customers without the unpredictability and delays caused by getting through customs.  Being able to maintain stock at your distributor’s overseas warehouse will also allow you to take advantage of cheaper (and slower) shipping options like having your product delivered to them by ship rather than by air.
  • Shipping and handling services:  Distributors, especially larger ones, will be able to use their size and expertise to significantly reduce the costs of shipping and handling.  Your distributor already has the infrastructure and expertise in place for this, better to take advantage of this in the early days and save your money for other business expansion activities than customer fulfillment.
  • Marketing and Lead Generation Services:  Many distributors have their own Marketing Communications teams.  They can promote your products in their own marketing literature, at tradeshows or generate literature that has been translated for use with international customers.
  • Localized Promotions:  A good distributor knows the regional and cultural cues that will be most effective for your customers in their territories.  Work closely with your distributor to prepare custom promotions that are designed to appeal to their customers.   Discount and loyalty programs that are prepared for local and regional audiences are always more effective than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ global campaign.

Picture Credit:  © Svidenovic | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

The Startup Product Manager’s Dilemma: Getting the Right Product by Ignoring Some of Your Customers

By:  Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

swiss army knife

Make sure that your product offering has all of the features that it needs to be successful but no more than that.

Figuring out what you first product or service is going to look like, how it will be priced and how you will sell it is at the top of the ‘to-do’ list for the Product Manager of a startup.  As an experienced startup product manager, you have been very careful to balance the enthusiastic advice and suggestions of the founding team with the wealth of feedback that you have gotten from potential customers in the field.  After getting all of this input, you will rarely have an obvious answer to the ‘What is it?, Who wants it? and How much would they be willing to pay for it?’ questions.

Don’t listen (only) to your Sales or Operations colleagues
Everyone on the team wants what is best for the company but you should be wary of your Sales and Operations team members.  From an operations stand point, the fewer the options the better for them.  They are looking to provide the best product at the lowest manufacturing cost with the highest quality.  Every different version of a product or additional set of features introduces complexity into meeting their goals.  On the other hand, your Sales team, as good representatives of your customers and their wants and needs, will want to have as many versions as possible so that they have the ‘perfect’ solution for every one of their customers.  Simply stated, you need to consider both viewpoints as you determine the final feature set or version options of your initial product offering.  The correct answer, of course, is somewhere between 1 and 100 versions or feature sets.

Determining the right number
You may not get this exactly right but you need to be close.  This is why you need to lean toward determining the smallest feature set of your offering that will be compelling to a large enough number of customers.  Another way of looking at this is that you need to determine what product your development team will most easily and quickly be able to produce that is commercially viable.  Running a well-managed alpha evaluation (see ‘Alpha Evaluations: Going from Great Science to Great Products’) will help you to know if you have got the right offering for your launch or if you will need to make changes.  Steve Blank defines this as the High-Fidelity Minimum Viable Product.

“Minimum Viable Product:  (The) simplest minimum viable product (i.e. a website with the core features implemented, a demo version of a physical product)…”   Steve Blank – The Startup Owner’s Manual

Why go small?
Until you have your first sales with paying customers (free or hugely discounted placements don’t count), you will not know if you have got the right product.  The best feedback that you will ever get is from paying customers.  If everybody tells you that you have a great product but nobody will actually buy it, you have the wrong product.  If only a few people will buy your product or after an initial burst of enthusiasm from ‘early adopters’ you find it difficult to grow your sales, you do not have the right product for the customers that you are targeting.  Going small at the beginning will allow you to get valuable feedback from paying customers as early as possible and limits the amount of effort and resources that could be wasted if your first product to market is not quite right.  This allows you and the team to make changes and/or additional features that will allow you to start winning the sales that your great product deserves.  By keeping the initial offering limited, you will still have the resources to make the changes you need to end up with a winning product.

Selected Tips for Getting the Right Product

  • When talking with potential customers, be sure to determine which of their suggestions for your product or service are ‘needs’ and which are ‘wants’.  Your first product should include the smallest configuration or feature set that will satisfy the majority of the consensus ‘needs’ you learned from this group.
  • Use the ‘wants’ and ‘nice to haves’ from your outside feedback to help you to develop a ‘Product Roadmap’ to guide you with future releases of your offering.
  • Make sure that the issue that your product or service aims to fix is compelling enough for people to want to ‘pay to have it go away’.  A product that is just more convenient may not be seen as worth the additional cost by your future customers.  Your discussions with them should focus as much or more on the problem you aim to fix as you do about your proposed ‘fix’.
  • Have an upgrade strategy worked out in advance of your first product launch.  You need to make sure that your earliest customers will have access to the latest versions of your offering that still makes sense for your Revenue Model.  This will help you to deal with any push back from your first customers who may wish to see your product proven by others first.  Being able to offer the chance to be the first one on the block with a viable path for access to future upgrades and releases will significantly help you to deal with this sales issue.

Highly Suggested Reading:

The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-by-Step Guide for Building a Great Company’, By Steve Blank and Bob Dorf, K&S Ranch Publishing Division, 2012.

Picture Credit:  © IbanMontero | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

The Life Science Innovators Dilemma: Converting Skeptics to Evangelists

By: Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

Model holding a light bulb

Investing in the tools and resources that will be required for an effective missionary selling campaign will help your customers see the light!

Having a truly innovative, disruptive technology or service is both a blessing and a burden.  A blessing in that you can ‘own the market’ for a period of time if you successfully launch and grow your business.   (This is the good side of being first to market).  The burden is that achieving a successful launch and growing sales effort will often face entrenched skeptical attitudes and outright hostility from the very people you hope to reach with your new offering (The downside of being first to market).

Why does customer resistance exist with innovative and disruptive offerings?
If you have a truly new offering, much of the resistance can come from a lack of understanding of the positive impact that your products and services will have for them. Some may even feel threatened by the new offering if it would seem to decrease their own power or influence particularly when it allows lower skilled workers to produce equivalent or better results once restricted to this individual by their having a ‘hard won’ skill or talent.  This means that your company will need to expend some time and resources to develop an education component to its Sales & Marketing efforts.  This will help transform skeptical leads into satisfied customers.  This is often referred to as missionary selling (and marketing).

“A missionary type of sales job involves convincing someone who has never used a product to buy it. Selling financial planning or life insurance and other financial products typifies the missionary sales job. The metaphor of a missionary involves educating someone about an idea or concept and convincing them to have faith in that concept.” (

What’s an innovator to do?
The rewards of being first to market with a disruptive technology can be significant in financial terms to say the least.  Being aware of some of the resistance that you might face even early in the game will allow you to craft a launch and Sales & Marketing strategy that will be able to handle the additional education burdens that this opportunity presents.  Eventually the burdens of missionary selling will decrease as your customer base grows and evangelizes your innovation.

Tips for Successful Commercialization of Disruptive Life Science Offerings:

  • Use beta evaluation to refine customer segmentation and value proposition. This is where you will learn who you will initially target and get a heads up on what will be the most compelling value proposition for them. (See ‘Beta Testing Checklist Your Competition Doesn’t Want You to Have’)
  • Prepare a Scientific Road Show to connect with scientists through their research.  You have some great science.  Why not leverage that to connect with other scientists through their research.  The questions and conversations that will come from this effort are invaluable for tweaking your ‘go to market’ strategy (See ‘Taking Your Show on the Road: Using Your Science to Boost Sales’)
  • Create demos that highlight impact rather than features.  Nothing is more powerful than a compelling demo to confront skepticism. (See ‘The Technical Demonstration: 3 Tips to Insure Success’)
  • Use a Key Opinion Leader (KOL) plan to help smooth your launch.  Key Opinion Leaders can be a strong force for reinforcing the value of your innovation to the field.  (See ‘The Key to Key Opinion Leaders’)
  • Invest time and resources to creating scientific content that will be compelling to your future customers.  Consider starting an application focused blog, write white papers and present at industry conferences in the scientific forums. (See ‘Where Does the Science Belong in the Life Science Startup?’)

Picture Credit:  © Grafvision | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images