Why Scientists Hate Selling
Updated: Nov 18, 2019
When I started a pharmaceutical contract research company in 2007, we gained a lot of new business very quickly. We were offering services that were hard to find, which was why we started in the first place. By mid-2008 we were wildly profitable, and all we really had to do to bring in new business was tell people we were up and running. Then the Great Recession came, and we realized that we'd just plain been lucky. When things began to pick up again, we had new competition. Now we really needed to build a solid business system, and that meant we had to figure out how to market and sell our services.
Scientists hate selling. It feels inherently un-objective.
I learned this way back in middle school: never present your result as true; instead lay out all the possible interpretations, especially the results of other scientists in the field. Never let anyone see what you believe; they will say you're biased.
To make a claim that our solution is the best one makes us feel vulnerable. As if someone in our audience is going to call us out for missing a well-known review article about a better approach. Not only would we lose the sale, we'd be exposed for not thoroughly reviewing all the options! Oh, the humiliation.
Selling is not trying to convince a customer of an unsubstantiated claim, or presenting biased results, or using psychological or verbal trickery to convince. The best definition of the process of selling I ever heard came from Brian Tracy (briantracy.com) who said "Sales is simply the transfer of enthusiasm."
You joined (or started) your company because you were enthusiastic about your ability to deliver solutions - solutions with real benefits for the customer. You're still there because you still believe that (if you don't, start your job search now). So the enthusiasm that exists inside you is your biggest asset. You don't need to trick anyone into buying; you don't need to be disingenuous about the solution you present. You simply have to use what already exists inside of you.
It took me a while to get it, but I learned to sell my company's services by knowing that I'd hired good people, and that we'd created a system that allowed those people to deliver their best effort to solve our customers' problems. I didn't need anything beyond that belief - every day I was reminded of my own enthusiasm for what we had built, and what we continued to build into our business. All I had to do was show my prospects how much I believed in us.