Category Archives: Sales

Three Tips to Insuring That Your First Sales Are Not Your Last

3d line chart

Upward sales momentum is rarely smooth, especially in the early days. Use insights from your first customers to win the larger number of pragmatic customers that dominate your market.

By:  Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

Growing sales from your initial product launch requires a special approach with disruptive technology in the Life Sciences.   In a typical Life Science or biotech startup, your very first sales will likely come from some (hopefully most) of your beta evaluators.  Often, you will have a slew of sales at the beginning followed by a very frustrating period of time where every new sale takes a huge amount of time and effort to win.  Some have called this the ‘Valley of Death’ since it looks like your sales momentum has fallen off while you are burning through your capital reserves.

What’s going on?
Geoffrey Moore discusses this situation perfectly in his book “Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers” (This book has become a classic and is a valuable source of insight to any entrepreneur with new technologically advanced products).  The premise here is that most if not all of your first customers are ‘Early Adopters’ but the market that you really want to reach and where the success and failure of your company hang in the balance is with ‘Mainstream Customers”.  There are never enough Early Adopter customers to be an attractive market.  However, these customers are valuable since they will help you to figure out how to reach the bigger market later on of the pragmatic ‘Mainstream Customer’.

Know thy customer
Knowing the difference between the characteristics of an ‘Early Adopter ‘ from  a ‘Mainstream Customer’ holds the key for getting across Moore’s ‘Chasm’ or the ‘Valley of Death.’  Here is how he defines both customer types:

Early Adopters … buy into new product concepts very early in their life cycle … they are people who find it easy to imagine, understand and appreciate the benefits of a new technology, and can relate these potential benefits to their concerns … [They] do not rely on well-established references in making … buying decisions, preferring instead to rely on their own intuition and vision…”1

“[Mainstream Customers] … are driven by a strong sense of practicality.  They know that many of these newfangled inventions end up as passing fads, so they are content to wait and see how other people are making out before they buy in themselves.  They want to see well-established references before investing substantially.”1

Tips for winning ‘Mainstream Customers’
The following tips have been field tested and shown to work.  They are based in part on the insights gained from knowing the difference on what it takes to appeal to your first customers and what is compelling to all the rest.

      • Build early credibility using Key Opinion Leaders (KOL’s). – Learn who these people are from your first customers (you might think that you know who they are already, just validate this with these customers first).  Engage with these Key Opinion Leaders through collaborations, sponsorships and other ways (see  blog post ‘The Key to Key Opinion Leaders’ ) and get their endorsements and testimonials.
    • Get published – There is no better way to validate the impact of your new product though publication.  Work with your beta-evaluators and early customers to help them to publish.  Academic journal publications are most desirable but look to get poster presentations, articles in trade publications (printed and electronic) as well.  As good as the papers that your own scientists are publishing, the ones by outside investigators will hold the most value for the ‘mainstream customer’.
    • Stay visible while building credibility – Start a blog where you r scientists can showcase their mastery of this field of study and how your products are impacting your customers. (Be sure to keep your blog posts free of anything that looks and feels like an advertisement, keep this about the science)Where possible, see if you can get early customers and Key Opinion Leaders to be guest bloggers for you by submitting a post or two.


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Taking Your Show on the Road: Using Your Science to Boost Sales

Green Comet

Dazzle them with your science and you will get more than just sales leads!

By:  Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

The technical roadshow can be a great way to build excitement for your product(s) with potential customers, build your brand and engage with the researchers and other professionals whose feedback is most valuable to you.  Use these tips to make the most out of the time and effort this requires to make this work for you.

Maximize the Impact of Your Technical Roadshow with These Tips:

      • Frequency – Schedule one or two roadshows per month.  Most academic departments and even some biotech firms have regularly scheduled ‘Journal Clubs’ or ‘Brown Bag’ lunches where speakers are invited to share their work.  These are ideal venues for your technical presentation.  Give each of your sales team members the opportunity to schedule these.


      • Content – The goal of these presentations should be to excite your audience about the science.   Interested attendees will seek to learn more about your company, your technology and your products afterwards (sometimes even during the Q&A session).  Keep the sales stuff out of the presentation other than perhaps a slide that briefly describes your products  and focus on how your product has impacted the field.


    • The Presenter – The presentation should be given by a scientist traveling with the sales person who scheduled the event.  Make sure that the science and business side are kept separated by having the sales person introduce your speaker and take all questions regarding business (pricing, scheduling demos, etc.)  Nothing turns a scientific crowd off faster than a sales pitch masquerading as a technical talk.  The other benefit of having two people at these events is that the sales person can provide valuable feedback on how well the presentation is being received and where improvements might be made to increase impact.  On the other hand, the speaker can assess how well the audience is interacting with the sales person and provide them with equally valuable feedback for how to better connect with potential customers.


  • Duration – Keep the presentation concise and focused.  The presentation should be about 20 slides long and take about 25 – 30 minutes max when you are rehearsing it without interruption.  This will allow for enough time for questions during and after the presentation.  Your goal here is to engage with your audience and the more questions the better.  The comments and questions from your audience are a goldmine of information on how well your technology is perceived, what might be trends in the field that you should be following and even what your next product iteration might be.  (Another reason why it is good to have two people at these events is that they can take notes of all of these insights)

Preparing and delivering a compelling and effective technical roadshow program is not trivial.  There is a lot of work required to not only get your slide-deck right but also making the event itself work well (measured by lots of questions from your audiences and ultimately lots of strong sales leads).  Stick with it, it gets easier over time and you might even find yourself enjoying this!

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Where Does the Science Belong in the Life Science Startup?

Old microscope

Give your customers a chance to ask you about your science.

By: Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

One of the best things you can do for your new Life Science Company is to engage with potential customers through your innovative new technology.  However, there is a time and place for this.  The following simple Do’s and Don’ts will help you to get right what most companies (even some of the big ones) get wrong.

Although science is at the heart of your company, it is the products that you have created that are based on this science that are most meaningful to your customers.  Think of it this way, you likely selected your cell phone or car based on what these things can do for you and how they impact your life.  This is the same thing that happens when a Life Scientist is looking to purchase new products that will help their research program.

This means that it is vitally important to clearly communicate how your product (not your science) will impact a customer.  Once a potential customer is intrigued by your product, some of them (not all) will further be interested in your science and/or technology (often to validate the claims you made earlier).


Start a blog (linked or part of your website) where you discuss your science.  Don’t make this an ad but share applications and ask happy customers to guest blog for you to connect with others in your field.  In time, this can help you and your company become considered subject matter experts which will ultimately drive new prospects to contact you.

Write White Papers
Pick key applications using your product and share them as white papers.  These should be accessible from your website.  Consider posting downloadable versions in a PDF format for convenience.

Produce YouTube video:
Creating quick 2 – 3 minute how-to videos and/or application notes in video format is a good way to take advantage of this medium.  When people are searching for solutions on the web, having some videos can help improve your rankings and your chances of showing up high on the first page of the search results.

Create Tradeshow Booth Graphics:
Have compelling graphics that catch the eye and perhaps some copy that emphasizes the impact of your product (e.g. allows you to measure something new for the first time, is higher throughput than the competition, produces data with tighter CV’s etc.)  You will have plenty of time to discuss science should visitors wish.


Explain your science or technology on your Website homepage:
This is where you clearly indicate what you are offering.  This is what you offer not who you are.  (A quick survey by the author of over 500 Life Science company websites showed that nearly 80% of them got this wrong)

Load Brochures and other Sales Collateral with lots of content about the science:
Make sure that the number one message here is how your product will positively impact your customer.  On longer format pieces like tri-fold brochures, a brief very high level summary of the technology behind the product can be appropriate but his should clearly take second place to helping prospective customers see how your product or service will affect their research program.

In Summary:

  • Put the impact of your product on your customer’s research first in your marketing communications
  • Back up your claims with the science in a succinct  way
  • Create a separate page on your website where all of the detailed description and other resource material can be easily found

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Second to None Customer Experience: Beating the Goliaths

smile face on colored ping-pong balls

Great customer relationships = Powerful competitive advantages

By:  Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

The quality of the interaction your customers (both current and future) have with you in the early days of your company can be a powerful differentiator in the long term.  In fact, establishing a high level of customer care is something that startup companies with small customer bases have a decided advantage over larger competitors.  When you have only a few customers, you are able to actually speak with them on the phone to ease purchasing or handle technical issues.  Doing this in the early days can help to create a group of evangelists for your product(s) that will generate the kind of positive publicity that will help you win new customers and successfully compete.

Hold onto this advantage by growing with your customers
All of this may seem pretty self-evident.  However the key here is to make sure that your customer care efforts are scalable.  In the beginning, you may be able to plan visits, schedule direct meetings with your lead R&D team members and other activities that will delight your first customers.  However, these types of interactions are costly (with regard to time, effort and money) and are likely not sustainable as your customer base grows.

Maximizing your customer relations efforts
Use your early effort-intensive efforts to learn what particular customer relations efforts are most valued by your customers and begin to plan scalable, sustainable and cost effective alternative that can grow along with your increasing customer base.  Doing this early, will allow you to plan for the budgets, human resources and other efforts that will be required to maintain this.

The following list of Customer Relations Tactics is intended to kick-off the thinking that will lead to a winning strategy.

  • Smooth purchasing process
    • Small Customer Base: Every order handled in-person or by phone
    • Larger Customer Base: E-commerce, ‘Click here for quote’ button on online store, hire inside sales dedicated personnel
  • Caring technical support
    • Small Customer Base: Every issue handled in-person or by phone
    • Larger Customer Base: FAQ’s on website, ‘How-to’ videos, hire dedicated tech support personnel
  • Easily contactable
    • Small Customer Base: Encourage customers to call you with any issue anytime
    • Larger Customer Base: Encourage customers to contact via email, hire dedicated tech support and/or inside sales personnel to handle calls
  • Insuring customer satisfaction
    • Small Customer Base: Check in with all customers by phone or in-person
    • Larger Customer Base: Check in with a customers by e-mail (automatically set up at the time of sale), periodically send out satisfaction surveys, randomly select a subset of customers for calls by dedicated inside sales personnel.

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The Hand-Shake Co-marketing Agreement: What every Life Science Company Should Know

Hand shake

Keep agreements simple to start – build on those that work!

By Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

Complicated co-marketing agreements use up a lot of time and often produce no results.  How many times have you met with another company at an industry event and talked about how great both of your products would sell to your respective customers, go home with high expectations only to have nothing really happen.

Here are two questions you should ask yourself before proceeding:

  • How much time and effort would I expend promoting/selling my new partners product instead of my own?
  • Will they do the same thing for me?

If the answers to these questions are  ‘not much time and effort’, politely move on and find a partner with a better fit.  If you really believe that your partner’s customers would appreciate learning about your product and vice versa, read on.

When your product and theirs together might be valuable for some of your respective customers, this can work.  You have an instrument – they have analysis software—you have a reagent kit –they have the instrument etc.

Handshake Agreements Start Very Simply:

  1. Determine value proposition of both of your products together
  2. Pick a few of your current customers that might be interested in your new partner’s product and contact them on behalf of your new partner
  3. Provide warm introductions for you partner to these customers.  They should be doing the same thing. (Suggest starting with 3 or 4 introductions)
  4. Assess how valuable the leads that you got were from your new partner.

Continue or dissolve the relationship based on how well this is helping you with your sales.

Keeping things simple will allow you to avoid wasting money and time on initially exciting but ultimately ill-fated relationships.  Once you have developed a successful relationship based on your handshake (i.e. informal agreement), transitioning to a more formal agreement will be much easier and productive.

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The Key to Key Opinion Leaders

cartton of group of grey people following red-colored leader

Motivated ‘Key Opinion Leaders’ can really help you to reach new customers before there is a compelling publication record.

By:  Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

One of the best ways to validate your new technology with your customers is with publications (especially those of happy customers).  What do you do when you don’t have them yet?  Key Opinion Leaders or KOLs can be a great resource for getting things moving in the early days before there is a compelling publication record.

Who are they?
Although most scientist-founders will easily be able to name the key people in their field, it is important to find out who your future customers regard as the Key Opinion Leaders.  Set up meetings with your customers, face-to-face if possible, over coffee, in their labs, at trade shows and everywhere and anywhere that you can.  You want to generate a candidate list of about 10 – 15 Key Opinion Leaders.  During this discovery process, be sure to ask who the ‘up-and-coming’ leaders in the field are as well.  The top people can be fickle as they are courted by many whereas the leaders of tomorrow tend to show more loyalty (The up-coming leaders will likely value the relationship more since it can have a bigger impact on their own careers).

Who gets what out of this?
Your goal is to develop a relationship that you and the Key Opinion Leader highly value.  When you and your company are valued, the Key Opinion Leader will talk about you at industry conferences, provide valuable insights on what the key issues in the field are and many other tangible and intangible benefits that will help you with your product launch and even early sales.  Putting some thought into what you hope to get out of the relationship as well as the benefits for the Key Opinion Leader are essential to maximizing this effort.  The two lists below are some examples of the types of things to be considered.

What They Get from You

  • Free conference attendance and travel
  • Early access to instrument or product
  • Free instrument, supplies etc.
  • Completion of a small study by your  R&D team on their  behalf
  • Increased visibility among their peers as you promote them

What You Get from Them

  • Keynote speakerships at tradeshows
  • Completion of a small study on your behalf
  • Testimonials for your marketing team
  • Publications with your product (eventually)
  • Early insights in the field with regard to trends and opportunities

Ready, Set, Go!
Now that you know who the Key Opinion Leaders are that your customers most highly regard and what you will do for each other, it is time to reach out to them.  These early discussions can set the stage for how well this effort will turn out for both of you.  Share with them what you hope to gain and what they could expect to gain from the relationship.  By the end of this you should have agreement on outcomes, timelines for when  you and they expect to deliver on your commitments, how any issues that come up should be resolved and how frequently you will connect to discuss progress (aim for at least once a month if not more).  Having a plan like this in place at the outset will insure that everyone’s expectations are in line and will give you the best possible chance for a successful outcome.

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The Technical Demonstration: 3 Tips to Insure Success

Pipetting into 96 well plate with multi-channel pipet

Always demonstrate using your own samples!

By:  Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

If you are introducing an innovative new scientific product, you will likely need to plan on letting your customers ‘test-drive’ them first.  Good life scientists are naturally skeptical and often the only way of getting past this to a satisfied user (that will tell their colleagues) is with a demo.  Here are a few tips that should ease this burden and allow you to make the most of this effort.

    1. Only offer Demos to qualified customers.This seems like an obvious one.  However, it is easy to offer demos to anyone that shows interest.  It is quite another thing to actually conduct them.  Be sure that your customer  has the authority, budget and is planning to make a purchase in the next 30 days (if the customer is planning on making a purchase beyond 30 days, consider scheduling the demo later. (this is one of the times that being last is best)
    2. Establish clear success criteria for the demo with your customer.Schedule a meeting prior to the demo where you agree on what the customer would consider a successful demo (e.g. sensitivity, maximum measurement range, throughput etc.).   This will allow you to unequivocally determine that the demo was a success and remove the final barrier to purchase (I say final barrier as this is a qualified customer – see previous point)
    3. Be sure to use your own sample(s) during the demo.Customers will always want to run their own sample.  You can only show how your product performs using a well-tested standard sample.  Using a standard sample will allow you to demonstrate how your product works without the confounding effects that might be present in an unknown customer sample.  It needs to be clear that you have a tool that should help your customer with their research.  A demo should never be a research project (unless you are offering a service and the customer is paying for it).  Offer to run the customer’s sample along with your standard sample if the customer is insistent.

A good demo will go a long way to getting your new product into the market.  In time, the need for customer demos will decrease.  In their place you will be able to use testimonials from satisfied customers, reference customers and even a video demo or two.

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