A blog focused on helping life science sales professionals
This post is the transcript of an interview conducted with Avi, an academic lab manager in Tufts' Sackler School of Biomedical Engineering. As the recipient of large amounts of marketing materials and daily sales visits, he has valuable insight into how vendors can improve the customer experience and align their efforts with his buying process.
His biggest suggestion?
Focus on value.
Ethan: Can you tell me a little about yourself and your background?
Avi: I actually studied Religion as an undergrad, but transitioned over to Biology once I graduated. I started as a technician doing more basic research, then moved up to the tissue culture and cell culture side of things and now I do more project planning alongside the technical side of the work. A lot of my work is determining which experiments we need to run to answer the questions we’re exploring, as well as working with our collaborators to make sure that they can get what they need. My title is technically Senior Lab Technician, but functionally I do most of the lab management.
Ethan: In your experience doing lab management, how do you feel about your interactions with vendors generally?
Avi: The woman who managed the lab before I did was very focused on building relationships and she instilled in me the importance of speaking with vendors and trying to work together.
But over time, I’ve seen more and more vendors. Often I’ll get 4 - 5 vendors a week, sometimes more than once a day, and I struggle to understand the value that they are specifically bringing to my lab. I see five different vendors trying to sell me what are essentially the same centrifuge tubes or gloves and I rarely see a valuable differentiating factor.
I would say every once in awhile someone comes in and offers us something that we don’t have and could use - but most of the time the visits feel distracting and I’m not sure how much value the visit has for them or for me.
Most of the time, I see a lot of vendors competing on price - they’re always focused on price. You see it a lot with commodity products. Obviously plastics and glassware are commodities, but even with growth factors, companies are always offering me alternatives. I’m open to it - but I’m not sure that they understand how much energy is involved in adopting new products.
To give you an example, going back to growth factors, we originally purchased growth factors from R&D until someone from Peprotech came along and offered us growth factors for 50% of the price of what we were spending. About a month later, back comes R&D and now there’s a new deal and the R&D growth factors costs about as much as the Peprotech, if not a little cheaper. But for me, switching isn’t easy.
It feels like more and more products are becoming commodities and companies are willing to compete on price. When that’s the case, you need more than price as a convincing factor for me. You need to focus on value.
Plastics are another good example, often we’ll be buying plastics for a price, and someone will come and offer them for a few cents less or a maybe even a few dollars less and that’s the ONLY reason that they give as a value proposition to us. I need more to justify a change.
Ethan: It sounds like price isn’t the only driver behind purchasing decisions for you. Can you tell me about some of the other factors that affect your choices?
Avi: Price is important, but experimental consistency is also important and since I can’t be switching items every day or every week, we need a concrete reason to switch or try new tools. Maybe if something is 75% cheaper it would be worth risking some sort of experimental inconsistency, but for a few dollars cheaper? Why would I take that risk? Why would I ask my lab members to take time to try something new? I want to see something that improves my experience as a user - something that helps drive the goals of the lab.
I remember one vendor came in to offer me serological pipette tips and he was focused on his pipette tips being molded from a single piece of plastic as opposed to two, which eliminates edges on the tip. I understood that - but I didn’t understand how that would affect my research. What I did notice was that his tips had fewer measurement marks than the ones we currently use, which can affect precision. His pitch wasn't aligned with my goals.
On the other side of the spectrum, there’s Biotix. The Biotix rep talked about how Biotix tips were more flexible so they were easier to get on and off. They also had a foam barrier that changed color when media touched the barrier so you would know if you were potentially contaminating your experiment.
Obviously, the tips were within the price range that we wanted to spend, but the differentiation was that there were features of tips that would directly improve our research and user experience.
These were actual, functional improvements as opposed improvements on a problem that I don’t have.
It also helped that the woman from Biotix came in and was trying to sell one thing. She knew what we were doing in the lab, she knew what mattered to us, and she was confident that what she was selling would make our lives easier.
She was confident that her product was better than anything else on the market, which is rare. Her pitch was that Biotix makes pipette tips, they only make pipette tips, and they are the best pipette tips. That’s a pretty big difference from, “We sell everything. Try this. It’s marginally cheaper.”
Her pitch made me want to take 15 minutes and understand how her products were going to affect my lab.