On the latest episode of the Talk Life Sciences podcast, host Laura Browne is joined by Jeff Zonderman, the senior vice president of Bruker Applied Mass Spectrometry. Laura and Jeff are longtime friends, leading Laura to apologize in advance if the conversation becomes more informal and giggly than other episodes.
Jeff is still relatively new to Bruker, having acquired his position a little over a year ago via an acquisition of his previous company, IonSense. IonSense was the developer and leader of a new ambient ionization technology called DART (Direct Analysis in Real Time). Jeff was seeking investors and partners for that company and tech when he met with Bruker for the first time. Rather than invest in I-Invest, Bruker purchased the company outright. After the purchase was completed, Bruker asked Jeff to head up a new division: Bruker Applied Mass Spec Division, defined as looking into forensics, toxicology, food and beverage, environmental, security, and typical applied markets with bringing full solutions together using Bruker technology and partners.
Laura brings up that Jeff’s background is largely in commercial spaces, making the pivot to scientific work a little unusual. Jeff confirms that he has a BS in Biology from Northeastern University, his interest in science provoked by a love of animals (particularly animals). Through a cooperative education, he began working at a company called Millipore as a DNA synthesis chemist. At a certain point he switched to mass spectrometry, which led to a career selling mass spectrometry rather than doing the science himself.
What he didn’t have formal training in, surprisingly, was marketing. Jeff explains that instead, he learned that trade through hands-on effort. As a younger man, he worked at companies with strong product management and a basis in marketing. Launching products taught him how to sell and how to market, skills that continue to be of major use.
Laura then steers the conversation to Bruker and Jeff’s still new role there. She asks what the most important things to him were in setting up his own division. Jeff’s first priority was setting up the same sort of product management system that was so vital to his own development. The first order of business was to add a layer of marketing and product management.
That starts with going directly to the customer, an approach Jeff attributes to his own background in sales. The best way to solve problems for customers is to speak directly to those customers and learn what they need. Jeff discusses some of the major ways in which he and his team accumulate feedback from clients and prospective clients.
Laura asks what kind of skills Jeff looks for in prospective members of his marketing and product management team. Jeff admits that it depends on the role. Different roles call for different sets of skills and expertise. That said, a unifying factor he has found is a good deal of passion, not to mention credible expertise. They will be dealing with demanding customers working with highly complex technologies, so they need to be able to not only understand and problem-solve, but communicate what they have done.
Laura then asks what the biggest comms challenges are for selling mass spectrometry, and Jeff admits that the biggest challenge is also the first: Getting people to know they want it. Mass spectrometry is still new, especially once you leave the lab-setting. New technologies and the changes they bring are exciting, but change can also be scary and painful for some, not to mention costly.
The two discuss some examples of successfully convincing customers to adopt new technologies, often by simply demonstrating that the new stuff does in fact work better. Often, the best results came from targeting industry leaders and finding specific, provable uses for the technology and its applications. Once the industry leaders get on board, there is a trickledown effect that takes over and makes it much easier for the rest of the industry to accept and adopt new approaches.
Pharmaceutical and other medicinal companies can be secretive, so Jeff advises that the best place to start with such influence efforts is with academics. “Their job is to publish. That’s their job,” he reminds us. Another avenue is government agencies, since everything they do is a matter of public record. But even pharmaceutical firms can be induced to participate in open conversation and collaboration, to the benefit of all involved.
From there, Laura and Jeff discuss the specific ins and outs of the marketing side of things. They discuss the measurable factors used to determine success, which Jeff boils down to “opportunities created”, and the ins and outs of developing relationships and connections with the correct individuals and organizations, and using marketing to communicate success within a new organization, as Jeff now finds himself.
Laura asks about the integration of sales and marketing, even as they are separate divisions comprised of separate teams. Jeff’s policy is to make sure that the sales team feels that they are involved and have a say in the marketing, especially for the managers and directors on the sales side of things.
To wrap up, Jeff summarizes his philosophies by reiterating the importance of building a team in which everyone is aligned to the same mission, and that mission is clear and easily communicated. When everyone has a specific task and function, and everyone is dedicating their energies and intelligence towards a common goal, there is no end to what can be accomplished.
As is tradition, the final question is supplied by the previous guest of the Talk Life Sciences podcast. In this case, that is Andy Bertera with New England BioLabs. Andy’s question is what will be the next major advances in the customer experience, driven either by the companies themselves or by customers seeing those advances in other industries.
Jeff foresees major advances in the near future for mass spectrometry, with the technology and its use becoming easier and easier to use. In the broader sense, Jeff is both curious and cautious about the advances of AI technology, which he anticipates will change the world in the lab.
For his question for the next guest, Jeff asks how modern companies can best overcome the dilution of attention that comes from oversaturation of marketing. How do you cut through the noise and make an actual impression when the noise is only getting louder and everyone else is also trying to make an impression?
This is a question that hits very close to Laura. After a bit of discussion about her own perspective on this topic, she thanks Jeff for his time and wraps up the show.
More from Jeff Zonderman
Jeff Zonderman’s Twitter Page: Jeff Zonderman (@jeffzonderman) / X
BusinessWire Piece on Jeff’s Appointment to CEO of IonSense: IonSense Appoints Jeff Zonderman as CEO as it Expands Its Direct Analysis Mass Spectrometry Technology to New Platforms | Business Wire
Academic Pieces Written or Co-Written by Jeff: Shaping IR Spectroscopy into a Powerful Tool for Biopharma Characterizations (biopharminternational.com)