Posts Tagged ‘sales’

I think two of the hardest lessons to internalize as a parent are to roll with the punches and to still get done what needs to be done. Perhaps the third is learning what actually NEEDS to be done and what we WANT to be done. I’m not sure that I have internalized any of these lessons, but as time goes by you either get better at them or you crack.

This morning I had my January Goals all mapped out and then life happened. See my tweet from early yesterday morning.

After this tweet another kid came downstairs still sick and was definitely not going to school. Oh, and we had a two hour delay because it was cold. Cold. So, while my plan was that after starting out my morning with a great workout, I was going to drive over Duke to see existing owners of our EVOS microscopes and to speak with several people interested in buying a system. By now though, half the morning was gone, my 1v1 call with my manager was moved from yesterday to today, I had two sick kids at home, and my wife had three video conferences calls today. So, I rolled with the punches and worked from home. I managed to work for several hours before anyone but sick kid 1 was awake, in-between warm drinks and comforting words. Then, after the other kids were gone I figured out who I needed to email at Duke and who I could go see in a couple days, then I spent the rest of the day getting ready for my trip to Nashville today. Oh, and took care of the sick kids and picked up the other kids from Afterschool.

Roll with the punches? Yeah, I think.

Get done what needs to be done? I think so, because..

What needed to be done versus what I wanted to be done? Yes. This is why I do what I do. My position has flexibility built in to take care of my kids when they need me and to be a partner with my wife. I took care of the kids most of the day today, but now I am on an airplane and she will have them all day tomorrow. What I NEEDED to do was get work done to find new business while still being a Dad. I accomplished that today.


Resolutions are amorphous. They are feel good changes that are designed to last a full year and through that process, change the person for a lifetime. There is a reason these fall to pieces. They are too broad and too easy to break. This year I am focusing on monthly goals. For those goals that involve personal changes, I have worked with my wife. We have figured out our schedules for January and how we can schedule our goals to match our work and carpool duties. We are also going to sit down on the 28th to review how things went and what changes we need to make for February.

I am trying to make these SMART goals.


For instance, in my personal fitness I don’t just want to “work out”, my goal is to complete 29 of the #2018vday40 working in January and to make 5 of those outdoor rides for 200 miles. My goals are all overwhelmingly achievable, which is key. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Small victories. They are relevant to me being a better Me in 2018 and they are time limited because I am only focusing on January.

I won’t go into too many more specifics, but these are the areas where I have tried to make achievable goals for January.

  • Personal/Physical – using Twitter to keep track of my workouts #2018vday40. Also, given the temperature and a week out of town for meetings, I am shooting for 5 rides for a total of 200 miles in January.
  • Personal/Family – Setting aside time to do things that each person in the family enjoys. See the family forest that have been hidden behind the trees of housework, carpools, and homework. One specific is to spend 20 minutes each night in one of my older child’s room reading. Not to them, but next to them. They have lost their love of reading and I want to rekindle that in them as well as meeting my next goal.
  • Personal/Mental-Spiritual – Two parts. One is to read 26 books this year. Second, to continue teaching Sunday School in January. Reading and teaching/coaching make me happy and feel centered.
  • Work/Personal – Going to use 20% time and try not to turn it into 120% time to focus on learning our image analysis software, Celleste, in January.
  • Work/Customer – I have been creating Excel sheets of every system in my territory and I will aim to meet every available customer at the sites I visit for new sales activities. I want to make sure they are happy with the EVOS they have and that they know how to use it correctly.
  • Work/Sales – People are going to be buying things in January and I want to make sure they have a chance to see our offerings. I will be walking the halls to meet new faculty members and to promote our promotion on Varioskan LUX plate reader.

One reason I wanted to write this was to make myself accountable. I will check in and let myself/you know how things are going.

I left academia in 2009 after 20 years of research as a student, grad student, postdoc, faculty member, and core director. That was also about the time that the ACA changed some aspects of the Anti-Kickback Statute [42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7b(b)]. This seems like a good place to note that I am not a lawyer or compliance expert. Just an average person offering some advice. For as long as I have been in sales I have been dealing with the Anti-Kickback Statute. When it first came out, it froze companies, since in its broadest interpretation it limited not only buying meals and handing out pens at shows, but doing demonstrations. I have been taking the mandatory HR training on Anti-Kickback and other statutes every year since then. So, imagine my surprise when I heard a physician having this conversation today:

MD: Hi, I wanted to talk about the trip you were offered to send me on, and unfortunately, it appears that it breaks the rules for our university and our state. Were you aware of these rules?

Unheard company response, I assume it went something like this: scramble, scramble, everyone does it, something something

MD: Well, I was told pretty clearly that this was a violation and that the only way I can attend this meeting is to pay myself. That would be an expensive trip….

At this point the MD walked away from my table where he had been standing having this conversation.

There are two reasons I bring this up. First, you might be tied to this rule closer than you think. The law states that anyone associated with a healthcare organization is covered by these rules. That means you basic researcher in a medical school/hospital environment. Or, maybe not. It seems that everyone interprets the law differently. That is why some states, like Virginia, seem to outlaw taking anything from anyone at anytime. No lunch & learns, no coffee meetings, no lunches.

Second, in the past when a company was found guilty of some criminal business activity they were held accountable, but the MD/scientist was not. That is no longer the case. The poor MD above, if he had gone through with the trip, could have been found guilty under the Anti-Kickback Statute. Doubtful, but possible. If so:

Criminal penalties and administrative sanctions for violating the AKS include fines, jail terms, and exclusion from participation in the Federal health care programs. Under the CMPL, physicians who pay or accept kickbacks also face penalties of up to $50,000 per kickback plus three times the amount of the remuneration.

Two points.

  1. Be aware that the laws are complex and innocent mistakes are going to be made. However, there are also reps out there that have been doing it differently for a long time and might think these rules don’t apply to them. You have to look out for yourself.
  2. There are lots of legitimate exceptions to the law, including those covered under the “safe harbor” regulations.

In the end, you should probably pay attention to the compliance training you receive every year. Figure out who your compliance officer is and reach out to them when you have any questions. I do.

I previously wrote about how to assess needs for large equipment purchases for a group. Today I wanted to touch on another issue I run into while working with PIs. Specifically,  the PI who has received funding from an internal or external source to purchase a microscope for their own lab, then finds themselves without enough money to purchase the scope they need.

microscopeIn this case, I am talking about anything from a $5K tissue culture scope to a $60K fluorescent scope.

I have worked with a number of PIs who need a microscope, but who are not microscopiest. They came up with a funding line based on discussions with friends and colleagues or single quotes from a familiar source. However, when the funds come and they start looking around to make a purchase, they find that the system they need is too expensive.


In my experience, the people who find themselves in this situation were often faced with last minute budgeting and raced to find a number, any number, to put into their submission. I recall when I was submitting grants massive amount of supporting materials that are required. If you aren’t prepared for this, then you might find yourself struggling with Biosketch formatting at the same time you are looking for last minute quotes. Hey, Joe down the hall uses microscopes, he could help me out with a budget for a cell culture scope. Next thing you know, your budget of $3000 is trying to buy a $6000 microscope.

So, here are my two tips for putting equipment in a personal grant or for internal submission.

  1. Start early. Just as you will be thinking about your Specific Aims from the start, spend some time over your morning coffee thinking about what equipment you will need to achieve each Aim.
  2. Put the burden on the vendors to educate you. Google the type of equipment you are looking for and then Cut and Paste your needs for that equipment into the quote request form for each and every supplier. When you are inevitably contacted by the vendor, send them a canned response that you would like a quote for a grant submission and Paste the needs into the email.
  3. If you aren’t familiar with the equipment, do a series of short demonstrations. Two subpoints: 1) just because you do super-resolution doesn’t mean you know what you need in a tissue culture scope 2) the demonstrations can be short and sweet, but make sure the vendors proves they can meet your needs. For instance, tissue culture scope demonstrations can last 15-30 minutes. Here is our scope, here is how you work it, here is what your cells looks like, here is how you capture an image if you want, here are some cool features you might like – you try it.
  4. You need to make the decision, not your graduate students or postdocs. I often hear how “the lab” will be making the decision because they are the ones who will be using it. However, “the lab” is not the one who is applying for funds that will determine whether or not they have jobs next year. Also, “the lab” might not know the nuances or future directions you are considering. Their input is essential, but your name is on the door for a reason.
  5. Budget twice, cut once. Ask for everything you might need and get a list price quote for the equipment that best meets your needs. You won’t get all the money. Don’t ask for steep discounts when submitting the grant. Wait until you receive 75% of what you asked for, then figure out what kind of system you can buy for that price.


Okay, those are my thoughts. What did I miss? Where am I wrong? I welcome your input.

Last time, I added that title as a joke to my blog post on how to keep people from breaking your equipment. The take home message was to make people feel comfortable coming to you with questions or concerns and to let them know that this stuff can be complicated so it is okay to forget and need help. So, the obvious joke was "okay, now how do i get them to stop asking me for help!"

That's an honest question to a real problem. Any of us who have run cores or who do training for a commercial product have had those users/customers that just won't learn the system. They come to rely on the core director/manager/product specialist to answer any and all questions. These users quickly wear on you because before long the questions start repeating themselves. If you are working with someone that is exploring new functionalities each week, then you can excuse continuing questions because, again, this stuff can be complicated. But, about the third time someone asks you how to save data or export files or put in a sample – you can be excused for getting annoyed.

So, what to do with users that keep asking for help.

  1. Ask yourself, why aren't they valuing your time? First, you need to be clear whether or not it is your job to be on call for every little thing. If the answer is no, then why do they think you are on call and how do you make them realize your time should be valued as much as their own. One possibility is that you haven't made your role clear.
  2. Clarity is king. If you are in a commercial role, did you clearly lay out what the process would be after the sale and install? Did you include the words "independence" in the description? If you are a core director, did you start out your training session by explaining what you would be doing over the course of several sessions and how the final goal was independence? Be clear up front, let the user know what will be expected of them or better yet what they can expect – understanding and independence.
  3. Be honest with yourself, your training might suck. At some point, if this is a recurring problem then you have to ask if you are doing a good job teaching. Being a core director, assistant, or an Application Specialist is not the same as being a scientist, just as being a good postdoc is not a guarantee to be a successful PI. Are you teaching users how to become independent or are you just dumping information in their general direction?
  4. Charge them. When all else fails and someone refuses to value your time, then you have no choice but to charge for your time. This should not come out of nowhere, there should be an open and calm discussion with the user concerning the expectations you laid out and that hands-on time requires a fee.

These are my thoughts. What are yours?

First off, I don’t think I have blogged two days in a row since those halcyon days of political blogging in the late ’00s. Maybe this will start a new habit for me, maybe not. Yesterday, I wrote about the satisfaction that one gets from making eyes pop with a new and better way of doing something. There is no better feeling when you are working on the commercial side of science. I thought it would only be fair to treat the other part of this emotional roller coaster and one that is much harder to deal with – making your customer’s eyes burn with anger. Here are three examples that are somewhat specific to equipment sales, a brief description of mistakes made, how I handled them at the time, and lessons learned.

  1. We don’t do that anymore.” Early in my sales career I found that our organization promised a manual tweak to an instrument for our customer. Once the system was delivered and installed and it was time for the tweak, those of us in the field were informed by the office that we didn’t provide that service anymore because of the implications of new FDA regulations. There was anger and righteous indignation. We did as much of the work ourselves that was allowed and then found a third party vendor that would finish the tweak. Lesson Learned – try to ask for clarification internally about any process or promises with which you are not familiar and that are not written out clearly in the quote. If you are a customer know that anything quoted is under contract, but anything promised is possible or probable, but not certain. Priorities change. Economics change.
  2. What do you mean it won’t scan that fast?” I walked into this situation where a previous sale had been completed without a demonstration – not my sale. It was insinuated that the system would scan a sample at a certain frame rate. The system arrived and it would not do that frame rate under normal conditions. Eyes burned with hatred, venom was throw, spittle was spittled. At me, because I was the guy who showed up. After walking through what they were looking for, I showed them a super-secret hidden feature that could be activated in the .ini file that would allow for faster scanning at a lower resolution. They were only looking for intensity data and not images so this fit their needs. Hugs were exchanged, backs were slapped. Lesson Learned – try to know your product inside and out and if you don’t, then have some good people on speed dial. If you are a customer, see the result you want or talk to someone who is doing the same type of work.
  3. He doesn’t work here anymore.” The downside of having a great support person is that they don’t always stay with the same company. People want to recruit them away. In one case, we made a sale that was at least partially based on an awesome application specialist, who then left the company before the system was installed. It happens, but it is never a fun conversation. There isn’t much you can do except to put the customer in contact with whoever will be filling in the gap while a new person is hired. Lesson Learned – the goal for company and customer should be a clear path to independence with some occasional technical help around complicated experiments or analysis. Don’t ignore the technical expertise of the company that is selling you the equipment, but don’t rely on it long-term either.

Going through this list reminds me of an article at HBR about character traits shared by top salespeople. One key trait was conscientiousness. Make sure expectations are clear on both sides. Don’t risk confusion after the sale because you don’t want to rock the boat during the sale. Rock the boat, make sure everything is in the open.