Technical Sales and Marketing
Many trained chemists work as sales and marketing representatives to provide technical products and services to many industries. They may market the equipment and instrumentation used in labs; technical abstracts and journals.
- Most chemical sales personnel have degrees in chemistry (B.S., M.S., or Ph.D.).
- Courses in business, particularly ones in industrial sales.
- Languages are also important.
- Median annual wage: $74,970 (2012)
A career in technical sales lets you combine you science and chemistry knowledge with your people skills and business expertise. Technical salespeople enjoy using their science knowledge to understand the business and technical issues their customers face and to offer appropriate solutions. When purchasing technical equipment and solutions, customers expect their sales representative to be able to expertly discuss the advantages and disadvantages of different possibilities and to recommend the products and services that best match their current needs.
The scope of the product service line, size of the territory, and responsibility vary by the employer organization and the specific position. In a small company, you may be the sole salesperson responsible for all aspects of a particular product line all over the world. In a large company, you may be responsible for part of a product line in a single city. For particularly complex product lines, there may be a team of sales scientists (who know exactly how the product works) and sales representatives (who deal with pricing and contracts).
In addition to meeting with external customers, scientists working in sales and marketing work with the scientists in their own firm and provide a link between the technical staff at a company and the needs of the end users. They help to track the long-term needs of a market and focus the company’s research on these needs.
Sales and marketing personnel are involved in product development and in getting products in the market. Years ago, industry could afford to invent products and go out and find markets, but today there needs to be much more interface with business during product development. As a sales professional it is your job to be the devil's advocate with the technical side and to remind them of the customers' needs.
Sales scientists are needed for a wide variety of technical products, including:
- Scientific or analytical instrumentation
- Physical measurement and testing products
- Imaging equipment
- Biotech, life science, and pharmaceutical services
- Laboratory equipment and materials
- Scientific publications
- Chemical abstract services
- Computing software
- Medical equipment
Most chemical sales personnel have degrees in chemistry (B.S., M.S., or Ph.D.) and use their chemical training daily. Any courses in business, particularly ones in industrial sales, are good preparation for sales and marketing positions. Languages are also important: French or German for the European market and Spanish, Chinese, and Russian as business develops globally.
Many trained chemists work as sales and marketing representatives in the chemical industry. Generally, they market the products of a commodity or specialty chemicals manufacturer, or they may be employed by companies that use these chemicals. Opportunities also exist to represent medical products, scientific journals, and other nonchemistry offerings. Sales representatives are usually assigned a particular product line(s) and a territory. Traditionally, technical sales professionals have spent a good deal of time traveling and meeting with customers in their territory. Depending on the company, your territory could be as small as part of a major city or as large as the entire world. As travel costs increase and technology advances, many of these meetings with customers are now taking place over the phone or through webcasts and teleconferences.
Is This Career a Good Fit for You?
Many sales and marketing people describe themselves as extroverted by nature. Some say they felt unsuited to the life of a bench chemist and are happier now that they are traveling and meeting new people. On the other hand, much of their time is spent working independently out of a home office or on the road. They stress the importance of being independent and self-motivated. In many cases, the compensation is at least partly commission based, which can help with self-motivation.
In sales and marketing, it is important to be flexible and have a problem-solving attitude. You need to be able to bridge the technical and scientific side with the business side to be a great sales representative to your customer and a successful salesperson for your company. Sales people also need to work well with internal support people and adapt to a variety of customers.
- Technical background to understand the capabilities and limitations of the company’s products, and the willingness to continually learn new technologies
- Problem-solving skills - must listen to customer’s problems, and propose solutions that meet their needs
- Interpersonal skills to build relationships with customers
- Ability to be confident and persuasive without being pushy or aggressive
- Negotiating skills
- Self-motivation is required for technical sales people who work away from the home office for significant amounts of time
- Self-confidence, especially when working mainly on commission
Many entry-level positions in technical sales are inside sales jobs, where you answer inquiries from customers and potential customers who contact the company. Some technical support can also be involved, such as explaining the proper way to use the company’s products. Once you have learned the product line, you can transition into outside sales, where you are assigned a particular territory meet in person with current and potential customers. Rewards may come in the form of being assigned a larger sales territory or a higher commission rate.
Career advancement can include moving into a sales management position, where you oversee multiple technical sales people, or into product management where you are responsible for a particular product line. Technology transfer, forming alliances with other companies, Product management is another possibility for those with technical sales experience.
Product managers lead and manage the launch of new products and product life enhancements.
Product managers develop:
- product specs
- training materials
In addition to working directly for a manufacturing company, there are also manufacturer’s representatives who work in a defined geographic area and sell noncompeting product lines from multiple vendors.
Turnover in sales and marketing positions is more frequent than for scientists in the lab, and sales people tend to change companies more frequently during their careers.
Future Employment Trends
Sales and marketing representatives say the chemical industry is improving slowly. Sales are coming back, but companies are taking a much more conservative approach to hiring.
The Science of Selling: Selling Science to Non-Scientists
- ACS Division of Small Chemical Business (ACS SCHB)
- ACS Division of Business Management and Development (ACS BMGT)
- Sales Representatives, Wholesale and Manufacturing, Technical and Scientific Products, from Bureau of Labor Statistics