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Insights for Greater Sales Results: The 6 Needs of Technical Professionals

March 7, 2013

We all know that there is no such thing as a purely rational buying decision. Whether in a business-to-business (B2B) or a business-to-consumer (B2C) context, there is always a strong psychological element in any purchasing behavior. Buyers are trying to do "right" by their organization's technical needs, but also in fulfilling their own personal values and drivers. Will the buyer value fiscal prudence over the best (and most expensive) option? Will they choose the bleeding-edge-yet-unproven technology over the tried-and-tested safe alternative? The answer will depend as much on that individual's values as the organization's strategy.

In marketing and selling to scientists and others in R&D and manufacturing at life science companies as well as academic and governmental areas, we encounter different personalities and buying behaviors. Procurement, purchasing, logistics, operations, and bench scientists each have their own requirements and behavioral makeup. It helps, in chaperoning a sale to a close, to understand and cater to the different drivers of purchasing decision makers. These considerations, along with an appreciation of the customer's location in the buying cycle, will increase your prospects for a sale.

Technical experts have specific needs

Technical professionals are found in most organizations—these are the employees who are experts in specific disciplines such as molecular biology, genetic sequencing, high-throughput drug screening, toxicology, and clinical development.

Their professional survival is dependent on keeping their skills current, and they thrive on being recognized as experts in their field.

In comparing the personality profile of technical professionals against non-expert employees, we find 6 specific needs that are strongly accentuated amongst technical populations, namely:

Autonomy: Technical professionals crave self-management and independence. They are motivated by the very nature of their work, and prefer a high level of discretion and control where work conditions, pace, and content are concerned. Their need for autonomy is often accompanied by a desire to shape work-related goals and determine the best approaches for achieving them.

Achievement: Technical professionals are natural problem solvers. They like challenge and are driven to accomplish goals that require considerable skill or effort. They also want their work to make a difference. Putting their skills and knowledge to the test in a way that contributes to their overall research objective stimulates their commitment and enthusiasm.

Keeping Current: Technical professionals want to be at the leading edge of their fields. Obsolescence is unacceptable to them (and is, in fact, a danger to their careers). They want to know the latest, have the inside scoop, and be the first to try new ideas or techniques. They demand continuous learning and crave variety and challenge in their work. If their skills are underused or tasks feel too routine, these talented employees can disengage.

Professional Identification: Technical professionals tend to identify with their fields of interest or their profession first and their organization second. As a result, conflicts can arise when their professional goals and affiliation needs don't align with the objectives or priorities required by their manager or the larger organization.

Participation in Mission and Goals: Technical professionals can be reluctant to commit to mandated goals unless they understand how they and the organization will benefit from their efforts. They welcome involvement in setting goals and expectations to ensure that their knowledge and talents are maximized. Because they have high achievement needs, unexpected changes in direction or obstacles in reaching those goals can fluster or demotivate them.

Collegial Support and Sharing: Competitive spirit is strong among technical professionals, who are generally confident, ambitious people. Yet because they identify so closely with each other and share a desire for personal development, they value idea sharing and networking. They also welcome learning from experts outside their field of expertise. Not surprisingly, technical professionals prefer that their leaders establish supportive, collegial (not directive) relationships with them.

By looking at each of these in turn, we can see how an understanding of these needs of technical professionals can inform our sales and overall client-engagement effort.

NEED SALES / MARKETING APPROACH
Autonomy Technical professionals are often frustrated at being dependent on any other group. They like to produce results in a self-reliant way. If your product or solution enables this in any way, highlight this as a benefit. Does your product remove any of the steps that would typically demand input from any other group?
If you can support a technical professional in making an independent decision and removing dependency on others, you will be making a friend.
Achievement Technical professionals like to spend their time on more challenging tasks that make a demand on their expertise. Can you remove any of the tedious tasks that suck up time and don’t allow them to shine?
Technical professionals are frustrated by not having helpers to take on these less challenging tasks—so find anything that annoys the technical professional (lengthy protocols, paperwork, complicated but unchallenging steps) and take them away.
Keeping Current Provide opportunities to play with new technology specific to their field. If your solution is at the cutting edge of the field, highlight this. Provide additional information on the technique or technology that allows the technical professional to broaden his or her knowledge—they will use this to further sell your solution inside their organization.
Professional Identification This is an often-missed opportunity. We see many vendors trying to convince a technical buyer that the vendors will do right by the customer’s organization for choosing that vendor’s solution—but how will this contribute to their field? Remember, the technical buyer is an expert in his or her field first and an employee of company XYZ second.

 

If you are planning on recognizing a technical professional, you will generate more goodwill by recognizing them for their contributions to their field as opposed to their contribution to their organization (the two of course are hopefully aligned).

Participation in Mission and Goals This may be the more difficult driver to tap into, but if you do find opportunities to get a technical professional plugged in to the mission and goal of his or her organization, this would be well received. This could include, for example, trade articles that highlight the importance of this technical professional’s area of expertise in the overall development of the industry. Conversely, technical professionals will welcome information from you that they can use to provide input at their next team meeting.

 

First, find out how involved your contact is with the goals and mission of their organization, but be prepared to sympathize when they tell you how overlooked their valuable input is.

Collegial Support and Sharing This is an area of great opportunity. You can build great rapport by providing opportunities to network with other technical professionals from the same field or working on the same type of challenges. Opportunities to attend conferences or seminars would be a good example.

 

Even within one organization, it helps to connect experts from different fields who may provide mutual support outside of a formal reporting structure.

It's your move
By focusing on these 6 needs specific to technical professionals, you can generate ideas on how to position your product or solution in a way that is more compelling to this audience. Beyond a specific offering, you can also tap into these needs as a way of developing your brand and generating goodwill within your client base.

BlessingWhite's study on the needs of technical professionals (and other research reports) can be downloaded fromhttp://www.blessingwhite.com/research


Fraser Marlow

Fraser Marlow is head of research and marketing at workplace consulting firm BlessingWhite, based in Princeton, NJ. Fraser was formerly a product manager in life sciences at Amersham Biosciences and head of eCommerce at GE Healthcare. As of February 2013 Fraser is also working on the next release of Leading Technical Professionals™, a training program that provides managers with the skills and strategies for making the most of the expertise, independence, and confidence of today's specialized knowledge workers.
SAMPS, Sales And Marketing Professionals in Scientific research, is the first and only organization dedicated to sales and marketing professionals within the life sciences.

The association’s goal is to serve its members who work in commercial roles for life science products and services companies and associated businesses, globally.
 
SAMPS was previously named ACP-LS. We feel that SAMPS more clearly describes the membership, and will form a better foundation from which to expand this membership globally. 
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