My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.
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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