Sales & Marketing: How to Sell Your Science Without Selling Out

January 16, 2024
5:00 min read
Sales & Marketing: How to Sell Your Science Without Selling Out
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Expert to Entrepreneur, Adventures in Marketing Science

In this episode of Talk Life Science Marketing Analysis, host Laura Browne is joined by her friend and colleague Jeff Kiplinger of Selling Science, member of Capital Region Chamber and author of the Amazon Bestseller, Expert to Entrepreneur, How to Turn Your Hard-Won Expertise Into a Thriving Business.

The concept for the book began with an article published in Nature Biotechnology. Over time it grew into its present form which offers solutions for entrepreneurs who are looking to leverage their technical expertise and expand their digital marketing toolkit. 

A Journey in Scientific Marketing

The interview commences with Laura asking Jeff about his rather diverse background. Jeff describes the evolution of his career, from earning his PhD in organic chemistry in the ‘80s before joining up with Pfizer, then ranked as only the twentieth largest drug company. 

While Jeff initially enjoyed his work and career there, after a few years he began to feel siloed and his chances for growth restricted. Despite Pfizer experiencing a meteoric rise, Jeff walked away in order to start his own business.

Jeff goes on to describe the ups and downs that one can experience as an independent businessman. The post 9/11 recession put a halt to his first company following his departure from Pfizer, leading him to pursue consulting work, real estate, a brick and mortar company that was successful until his business partner won the Powerball and departed, and finally the contract research firm Averica. Averica proved to be a success, and also just so happens to be where he met Laura for the first time.

Averica continued to experience success even through the next recession, and grew until Jeff finally sold it in 2016, remaining on until 2018. When the pandemic hit, Jeff decided to use his new downtime to write his book.

Talent v. Tolerance

Laura wonders if part of setting oneself up for success also means making peace with failure and knowing how to weather storms, as Jeff has had to do throughout his career.

Jeff suggests that it is less to do with ability or talent and more a matter of having the tolerance for a certain amount of risk. While there are different sorts of entrepreneurs and many different sorts of businesses, there is a shared confidence among those who tend to succeed.

The pair discuss this notion for a little while, touching on the differences between the kinds of pressures that risk creates when you are just one part of a giant machine versus when you are the actual boss and the person making final decisions. Risk takers in a corporate environment may quickly find themselves labeled as nothing more than troublemakers.

Expert to Entrepreneur

Laura guides the conversation back to Jeff’s new book and its central premise. Why do scientists and technical experts need a book about starting up a business?

For Jeff, it is tied into the way in which scientists are trained from a very young age to always view things through an objective lens. This is great for scientific processes, but it runs counter to the ways in which the real world works. Jeff believes that this creates problems when scientists attempt to build businesses around their scientific work.

Jeff argues that much of business has less to do with objective data and more with subjective evaluation. Not so much the information, as how the information is communicated, therefore content creation is a valuable skill. No matter how sound and correct the science might be, if sales aren’t bringing this success to customers, it doesn’t help anyone.

Laura echoes Jeff’s observation, noting that she has firsthand experience with organizations that believe that because their science is sound, that alone will be enough to generate attention and revenue. But how, she asks Jeff, would he go about helping scientists with this dilemma? And how to sidestep the common feeling that all marketing is manipulation?

Marketing is Manipulation 

Marketing, Jeff confirms, is indeed manipulation, but the trick is making sure that you choose your moments in such a way that the salesmanship is not overbearing or obvious. 

Success comes from taking a sincere interest in the other person and building a bridge from their needs and desires to whatever it is you are attempting to sell. When that commonality isn’t established, and one party is simply giving the other party the hard sell, that is when the guardrails go up.

From there, Laura and Jeff discuss the ways in which marketing and sales are closely linked but also separate, and the important lessons Jeff needed to learn on this subject when he began his last company. 

His strategy became centered around helping the customer understand what it is the company does, and then staying in front of them until there was a reason to enter into actual sales talk.

He goes on to describe his sales process in more detail. Laura highlights the value of content marketing and the amount of time and effort required to make a sale, bringing up a study that found a person needs to be exposed to an image or word eight times before they recognize that they’ve seen it before. 

The two briefly discuss data manipulation in science and Jeff refers to a New York Times article he recently read that made the very concerning claim that one out of 25 papers contain problematic images suggestive of purposeful adultery.

Laura brings up another quote from Jeff’s book, this time about regularly measuring performance. She asks what measuring performance looks like to Jeff, and what he would recommend to other companies with similar needs.

Jeff points out that scientists are usually good at measuring things, but sales and marketing are often separated from these scientific processes. He recommends that companies should instead take the same analytical approach to sales and marketing as they do with every other aspect of the business. 

Faith isn't Enough: Silos vs. Collaboration

One of the core themes of the Talk Life Science Marketing Analysis Podcast has always been failure, and the necessity of failure in order for progress to be made and for success to be gained. Jeff is quick to point out that he has a long history of failures.

To illustrate this point he shares an anecdote about hiring a sales rep and believing that the sales rep would handle all sales without further input from Jeff. It took hiring and firing four different people before understanding what he actually needed and reimagining the position as a collaborator.

It was a difficult lesson in the fact that sales are not a separate, external factor apart from the core of the business. Once he learned this lesson it led to better overall scientific marketing strategies.

Jeff talked about how he now thinks of marketing in a recent blog post: “Your company's function is to sell what you do - get new customers, and then keep them. Stop saying "we just need more sales" as if sales were something you can order on Amazon.”

An Analytical Entrepreneur

Laura next asks about the role of analytics, marketing technology, and data play in the marketing of Averica, Jeff’s former company. 

Jeff admits that it was not something he paid enough attention to until he brought in Olga Torres, who also just so happens to be a business partner at Covalent Bonds. Olga’s collaboration was mind expanding for Jeff, as she shared all kinds of tools and strategies to keep track of sales and marketingand to assess what was working and what wasn’t. He includes a lot of what he has learned in his book.

In the same theme, Jeff recently made the statement in his blog that “Scientific salespeople are especially afraid to qualify.” Qualification in this context refers to settling on a niche audience and closing doors to broader markets. Jeff asserts that this is a necessity in marketing science. 

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