Thursday, December 10, 2009

Myth #1 - The Lab Manager

Note: this article is intended for those selling lab consumables to life scientists; I'll get to capital equipment another day

At many of my talks to Life Science Marketers, I have tried to dispel the myth of the lab manager. It goes something like this....

You (the rep) walk into the lab and ask, "What lab is this?" The scientists all look up and tell you the lab name, but few look you in the eye. You then ask for the "lab manager". Sometimes you were even clever enough to figure out the lab manager's name beforehand. Every scientist in the lab breathes a sigh of relief, points you to the lab manager, or the lab manager's desk/office, or sometimes an empty desk that last quarter's rotation student vacated for greener pastures. You then leave some fliers/literature/catalog/candy, or you talk with the lab manager and ask dumb questions (At the bottom, you can read my list of dumb questions to ask life scientists). Then you move on to the next lab glad to be out of there without getting radioactivity all over your shoes. Heck, perhaps even you make a sale or two.

Here's the opportunity you missed. Those scientists that tried so hard to ignore you, they are the ones that use your products as well as your competitors' products. They are struggling to isolate proteins, clone genes, create knockout mice, silence genes, get Western blots to work, etc. Many of them are quite desperate for a better kit, a better probe, or just some help. Here's the strange thing, most of them see your products as a necessary evil, not a shining light. That makes you an even less desirable person to talk with.

Most important - The postdocs, grad students, and technicians use your products therefore they buy your products either directly with a credit card or indirectly through the lab manager. Never forget that!

What should you do? Simple, talk to the scientists. Give them value, give them help, give them free kits, take them out for beer! Gain their trust and they will buy your products.

Furthermore, at least in the US, many of the scientists you see in the labs are not native English speakers. Imagine what it would feel like to be working in a foreign country and have someone you have never seen in different clothes (tie, business suit) walk into the lab and start asking you questions. Hint - Learn a little Chinese

Rusty's list of dumb questions to ask life scientists (and lab managers) and why they are dumb

1. Does your lab do...? (cell culture,cloning, pcr, mouse work, pipeting, western blotting)
Here's a clue modern life science laboratories do every conceivable type of experiment all the time. Just because, we are located in a Biochemistry Department doesn't mean we only do Biochemistry. Furthermore, the lab manager has no clue that Bob the Post-Doc is planning on isolating a new protein in a week or that Cindy the graduate student can't get her Western blots working.

2. Where do you buy your...? The answer tells you nothing. Either we buy it from your company or the competition. 85 percent of the time, we just use whatever someone else in the lab bought 3 years ago.

3. How much are you paying...? Since the lab manager or scientist you are talking with likely didn't purchase 85% of the consumables in the lab, they don't have a clue. Furthermore, no scientist except the PI cares about a 10% savings on a kit. They just want it to work, give consistent results, and for the guy in the bench next to them to stop taking the last widget and not order more.

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