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Suzy CA USA

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Monday, January 18, 2038

In the past six weeks, I will have worked four scientific conferences as an exhibitor. It is exhausting work that saps my energy- mentally and physically. Although I dread working the booth at the conference, once I get there, I usually can put on a happy face and play the role of biotech cheerleader for my company. I really do love talking to scientists about their work. That is the only thing about tradeshows that makes all the work worthwhile. In marketing speak, when I use the term "tradeshow", I mean a scientific conference. For us it's often just called "a show". We usually do not have the opportunity to experience much of the science. It is strictly work: 8-10 hours of standing, handshaking, networking, and selling. I hate selling, just FYI. I'm good at it, but I hate it. What I LOVE is flirting. Yes- that is what I do at tradeshows. I flirt. Just selling is boring and exhausting- talking about features and benefits and why this product is better than everyone else's and how we can "guarantee it". Ugh. But, add the challenge of getting someone to smile or laugh or want to contact me later for help? Now we're talking! Flirting techniques are great skills for marketing and sales people, and scientists. How does it work? Here is how I do it. People reading this might see this as manipulation but it's not. It's just the way I am. I like flirting with men and women and I make it work to my advantage. I'll begin by saying that I have overall better results with men scientists over the women. My female flirting techniques are a work in progress. Women scientists seem to have some kind of guard up. Maybe it's a better bullshit meter? Or it might be that women already have their mind made up and are not susceptible to my amateur jedi mind tricks. But I treat everyone the same and I find it is a lot more difficult to get a woman to smile or flirt back. Men on the other hand are easy prey. It's rare when I can't get a man to agree with me. So this is a lesson in flirting with scientists. Hey, networking is critical in science and making people feel warm and fuzzy about you will take you very far in biotech. Even in academics, you want people to want to collaborate with you, so why not try a being a little flirtatious? My first rule of thumb is to always give undivided attention and full eye contact. I make the person feel like they are the only person in the room (or the booth in this case) and ignore anyone else impatiently waiting for their turn to ask a question. Every person you talk to should get complete unrushed attention. Along with the eye contact is a smile. Just enough to make the person feel that it really is your pleasure to speak with them. That there is no place else you'd rather be than talking to them in that moment. So being relaxed is key. A relaxed warm smile with direct eye contact gets most people to loosen up and start talking about their work. Next, I let them go on about their project (sometimes way too long), nodding or acknowledging, commenting when necessary, and giving the person as much time as they need to say everything they want to say before I make recommendations. The key to being a good biotech flirt is to know your science. It doesn't work if you can't ask intelligent questions and hold a conversation. Intelligence is a huge turn-on for all people. And asking questions shows that you were paying attention. So we'll discuss their project and I'll comment about how difficult it sounds or how exciting it sounds. By the time the conversation is finished, the person has agreed to try my product and gets my business card to contact me directly with any questions. Now, the best way to leave an impression with someone is to finish by shaking their hand. Regardless of level (grad student, postdoc, or PI), a hand shake is a sign of respect. If I've spent a lot of time with someone and want them to remember me (and our products), I'll finish with a handshake. There is a technique that I use sometimes when I really want to turn on the charm or if I find someone attractive. This is a touch on the arm or shoulder of the person I am speaking with. For example, if I want to show them something on a table on the opposite side of the booth, I'll just gently touch the back of their arm and direct them to where I want them to go. Or if we are talking and joking, sometimes I'll just lightly touch the persons arm. This always makes a person relax. I've had people use this technique on me before so I recognize immediately that they are putting out all the stops to convince me of whatever it is we are talking about. It works. I'm a sucker for an arm touch. And a smile. So now that I've shared my secret to chatting up scientists at tradeshows, perhaps one day you'll come to my booth and when I touch your arm, or warmly gaze into your eyes, you'll know it's me. I should tell you that not everyone gets my flirty attention. Some people really make me want to choke them out. There are a few seriously annoying behaviors that scientists sometimes do at the booth at a show. I am sure no one reading this does this, so I'll just share with you what types of things happen at tradeshows that we absolutely hate. 1. People who come to the booth to complain, and do so loudly. The booth is not the place to complain. Call fucking tech service. We spend anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 to be there and the last thing anyone wants is some loud mouth talking about how something failed miserably in a tone or volume loud enough for every other person visiting the booth to hear. The booth staff will help you but keep it down for christ's sake. Or don't do it. You got a beef with a product, talk to your sales person. Leave the booth staff alone. 2. Please, please, don't ask about a product in the booth if you really aren't interested. Like if you're just trying to pass the time and walking around, or collecting pens. I have to go through this freakin' sales pitch 2000 times a day. Don't make me pitch you if you actually aren't interested. So annoying. I've had people come up and ask about products and then after going through the spiel, they say "oh, I'm not interested, I was just curious what that was." Nothing makes me want to kill more than that. 3. Don't wait until the end of the day, when we are trying to pack up or shut down, to ask long complicated questions. This happens almost every time at every show. What the fuck?? Exhibits are open for 4 days and it is 6 pm on the day of closing, we are all dying to get packed up and rushing to make flights at the airport when someone comes up and wants to know about the new instrument or the new product. It's going into a crate and they want to know how it works. My feet are killing me, I'm tired, hungry, and cranky and I have no more smiles left. It never ceases to amaze me how people will come to ask questions while we are tearing down booth panels and packing boxes. 4. When telling a vendor about your project, just keep it short and to the point. Newsflash: the staff does not actually care about the details and in fact, most marketing and sales people have no idea what you're talking about. We have visitors who go on for 20 minutes about their dissertation or latest grant proposal when all we really need to know is "I want to isolate proteins from cells" or "I need an antibody for gene x." If you have a particular problem and the vendor has scientific staff, they are the better person to talk to about the details. Even when I said above how I give everyone unrushed time, if it looks like the person needs more help than I can give in a booth visit- if this is going to take more than 15 minutes, then I suggest we email each other so I can give them even more attention. Or I might suggest we meet for coffee later and talk further. For my colleagues in the booth who are not scientists, when someone gives too much detail, usually they have zoned out and are waiting for them to finally get to the end where they say "I need an antibody for x." As a scientist who often works the booth alongside sales and marketing folks, I unfortunately get most of the long winded and neediest customers passed on to me to help once the first few words have gone over their heads. It proves the fact that scientists are the most capable and valuable people in a company. So for scientists, it's a good skill to know how to sell, since you are inventing everything and no one knows the product better than you, who better to convince scientists what to use? If you really want people to warm up to you, try a little flirting next time and see if it makes a difference.

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Blog Comments

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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Great post. My personal favorite is when a female rep is wearing a wedding ring one week and then it mysteriously plays a disappearing/reappearing act. Although, living in Florida now, I saw my first ultra-tan short-short wearer. I was surprised that she considered it professional attire!

Suzy
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Well, you have to dress for the climate and can't help having a tan if you live in Florida ;-).

We have a rep like that and I am sure she does very well selling expensive capital equipment. We were going to buy this instrument anyway, so she didn't need to sell it to us, but when she came to set it up, all the staff were there to observe the demo. Half of them would never use the thing. She was a vision to behold.

Odyssey
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Nice description of what it's like on "the other side." I'll keep this in mind at future conferences...

Genomic Repairman
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I'm going to post tomorrow the reason why I shoulder never represent a company at a conference ever again.

Suzy
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Hi Odyssey- I think for most normal people, the first point is common sense. I think people who come to a booth and then get confrontational and abrasive lack social skills. Fortunately I work for a company with great products, but even still it happened just last week. We had a loud aggressive customer come to the booth to say he couldn't get something to work. The scientist working who had the misfortune of helping him handled it well. But another booth guest who had to listen to him carry on turned and said to her, "what a jerk".

Also- it is totally ok to just walk up to a booth and take a pen or giveaway if they are sitting out on a table. You don't have to listen to the sales pitch. We would rather save our energy for the people who really are interested. When there is a lot of anything on a booth table, it means you can just take it. Don't feel like you need to engage the sales people if you don't have real questions. We don't mind. And if the pens make it back to the lab bench, we are getting some exposure that way, so it's all good.

Suzy
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GR- sounds good- so you represented a company once before then? Some scientists should never be in the booth. It does take some finesse in the art of lying.

I have a close friend who worked for Applied Biosystems a long, long time ago and he told me that the marketing people stopped asking him to work the booth because he would tell customers the truth (such as "it works great for this but not so great on that" or "it only works half the time if the sample is low yield", etc.)
He invented a lot of core products that are still sold today but he didn't give everything the good ol' marketing spin.

I suppose that's one way to get out of it.

Genomic Repairman
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I had a brief experience with a biotech in college and they shipped a few of us out to a conference, only they picked the wrong conference.

Beth D.
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I always feel guilty for taking stuff off the tables, but I work for a very small company that doesn't let me buy anything, so I have lots of wandering time. I just get frustrated when I am interested in something and I ask about it and the booth person doesn't actually know how it works! As far as the flirting goes, as long as the person is still reachable later for questions and genuinely wants to help, there's nothing wrong with it. Friendly people make everything better.

Thomas Joseph
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1. I hope your handshake is firm. There is nothing worse than reaching out to shake someone's hand only to be met with a limp handshake. If that's the same kind of effort you're going to put into your products/business/work with me ... forget it, I'm not interested.

2. I don't take stuff off of the tables. If I'm at a conference, chances are I have enough of a budget to buy my own pen. Then again, Nikon had some really cool lanyards a few years back. I got me one of those. Then again, I bought a 200K+ confocal from them ... they sort of owed me. ;)

Thomas Joseph
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... he told me that the marketing people stopped asking him to work the booth because he would tell customers the truth ...

AB's loss. There is nothing I hate more than a rep who sells me a product knowing full well that while it works great in some instances, it falls short in others (and knows that in some cases, I will be using it for that 'other' instance). It all comes out in the wash sooner or later, and when I do add 1 and 1 together ... good luck in ever getting me to buy another product from you again.

I love sales people who are upfront and don't spin me the usual crap. Straight shooters move to the front of the line and get repeat business. I don't mind having two systems for two applications, both done well. It beats having one system that does one application well, but the other application piss poorly.

I guess there is a reason I earned the nickname "Bulldog" in grad school. ;)

Suzy
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Beth D. said:
I always feel guilty for taking stuff off the tables, but I work for a very small company that doesn't let me buy anything, so I have lots of wandering time. I just get frustrated when I am interested in something and I ask about it and the booth person doesn't actually know how it works! As far as the flirting goes, as long as the person is still reachable later for questions and genuinely wants to help, there's nothing wrong with it. Friendly people make everything better.


Hi Beth, don't feel guilty taking stuff. If you feel like you need to say something, some people say "I love your company's products" or "I use a lot of your stuff" (if they do). That alone is enough. You could also say "I'll take these back for the others in my lab." We love believing it actually does make it back to the lab. No one will deny you wanting to take their giveaways to the lab.
One time we gave away those Giant Microbe toys. Then all I heard was, "Can I have two? I have two kids and they need to have their own." That's not a good thing to say.

Many of the big company booths will have staff that really don't know the science. They only know what the scientists told them. So if they can't help you, they'll put you in touch with someone who can.

Suzy
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Hi Tom,
Agreed on the handshake. My biggest worry is that my hands get cold when the airc onditioning is high. I get a cup of tea or coffee to try and warm them up. If they are still cold, I'll apologize.
If the person is important to me i'll sometimes give a two handed handshake and use my left hand too. It is very meaningful to the receiver.

When there are tons of pens or things on the table, they are there for you to take. We would have to pack them up if you don't take them. Usually, on the last day of the conference when people stop visiting exhibits, the vendors will go around and start trading their booth gifts with each other when we have left over. We admire each other's choice in booth gift and discuss who had the best one and whose got them the most traffic.

Take the pens back to the lab. The grad students love them too.

Suzy
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Hi Tom,
Agreed on your second comment. I think what it comes down to is knowing how to say what you need to say in a way that is not negative. My friend didn't care how it sounded. I can tell you why I strongly recommend this product over that one without saying "because this one doesn't work 50% of the time." The truth was that my friend hated being stuck in the booth so he didn't want to make the marketing people's life easier.

He's not in industry anymore.

It's like in a restaurant when you ask the server which is better between two choices and they'll say "the halibut is my favorite dish here" rather than say "we get a lot of complaints about the tilapia."
Focus on the positive vs. the negative and still make sure your customer is happy with their choice.



Genomic Repairman
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If I have issues or need more in depth help that requires more than 30 seconds of conversation I prefer to meet with the vendor away from the booth or by email. I know I'm busy and so are they. Now if no one is around and they look bored out of their mind I might chat with them longer. But usually I stop by ask whats new, take some product literature and a card. If I'm not really interested, I'll take the literature and decline to speak with them so the vendor does not waste either their breath or their time.
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