The Science Behind Selling to Scientists

Have you ever tried selling to scientists? People who have spent their lives uncovering the unknown are often immune to most, if not all, marketing activities and that’s what makes selling to scientists that much harder.

In his book ‘Persuading Scientists Marketing to the world’s most skeptical audience’, Hamid Ghanadan– a biochemist turned marketer who dedicated his career to redefining life science marketing- mentions that the fundamental challenge in science marketing is overcoming skepticism. 

The book was recommended by one of our clients, OurResearch, a software company that sells to scientists and is an edifying experience as we look to grow in the area. We’ve helped them close $1 million in revenue, and are currently helping them plan the launch of their newest tool- OpenAlex. It will benefit research and scientific organizations, Pharma and HEOR, publishers and the community at large. You can read more about our success with them here

The book explains that most life science marketing efforts are wasted. With a lead generation process that has a 1% response rate, selling to scientists is harder than it seems. For instance, in life sciences, trade shows convert only about 5% of attendees as leads. With $250 million spent on marketing every year, the conversion rate in the life science industry is far below average.

Here are some of my major takeaways I plan on incorporating in our plans for clients moving forward.

1. Scientists Rely on Peers More than Buyer Segments

The trust and reliance scientists put in the opinions of their peers is greater than other segments, and far outweighs the branding voice most corporations use. We’ve also noticed this while working with OurResearch, where we often rely on our connections within the scientific community to build trust and awareness when selling our software.

2. It’s Not All About the Facts

Scientists are often viewed as rational decision-makers who aren’t swayed by emotion. However, researchers are trained to catalogue the truth with evidence, each researcher has their own subjective frame of reference they use to view objective data. So, marketers have to straddle a cautious line between the two.

3. Understanding the Scientist’s Mind

Hamid explains that a scientist’s mind is in a constant ‘dynamic flux’ between curiosity and skepticism. While curiosity is what drives them, it also summons skepticism and is rarely turned off, making selling to scientists a marketer’s worst nightmare. 

4. Messaging Matters

Through multiple interviews with scientists, the author and his team found that the use of facile terms like fast, reliable, and easy-to-use don’t have any effect. For instance, the word ‘easy to use’ almost instantly translates to ‘difficult to use’ in a scientist’s mind. Or, if you use that with ‘flexible’, scientists inherently know that ease of use and flexibility are antithetical attributes.

Selling Cyntellect to Life Ccientists: A new Approach to Content Adaptation

The author and his team were tasked with creating a marketing plan for Cyntellect, a start-up company preparing to launch its first product in the cell analysis market. To put things into perspective, scientists use different methods for cytometry- the study of cells- from microscopes to cell counters. 

Cyntellect’s product was very well-positioned against its competitors. However, the positioning that the company used a generalized value proposition, that it was a ‘low-cost, easy-to-use, automated in-situ cellular imaging platform for bright field and fluorescent analysis.’ It highlighted the instrument’s weakness- that it didn’t compete effectively against any single product category.

It’s important to understand how a scientist’s buyer journey is different from a regular buyer journey. It involves recognition, exploration, and evaluation while typical marketing messages promote product features and benefits throughout, failing to adapt their content to the buying journey of the scientist. This is why most campaigns fail in selling to scientists because their messaging is counterproductive. 

To achieve this alignment and its transformative impact, marketers should consider

  • Developing content specific to the phase the scientist is in and encourage progress along the journey with content. 
  • Include leadership in their marketing plans i.e., having a compelling point of view about an issue, followed by education which provides background info, and then persuasion
  • Mirroring the scientific buyer journey and the common practice of evidencing the truth among scientists.

Hamid’s team then repositioned the cytometer with honesty and avoided hyperbole. Their new statement for the was ‘The Adherent Cell Cytometer is the only instrument that minimizes sample manipulation of sensitive cell types with its unique ability for fast analysis of cells in-situ.’ The statement satisfied the market need for performing fast, specific analyses on large samples. The main takeaway here remains that when selling to scientists- lead with truth and conviction, build your content around the phase they are in, and build trust among the community.

Feel free to contact us if you want to learn what else we found out about selling to scientists and want to be part of the journey or would like to sell to scientists yourself.

The Science Behind Selling to Scientists