In the previous chapter, Mark J. Kuchner shared his definition, or rather, his “Fundamental Theorem”, of Marketing. But so far, we still have no clue as how this applies to anything. So this luxuriant chapter is dedicated to the topic of sales. Please be warned that from here on, the book is absolutely exhilarating to anyone into communication and marketing (whether or not for scientists). I daresay it is even one of the best books I have ever read on the subject.
sales is not strictly marketing,
The author warns,
It's the craft of directly convincing someone to buy something and then closing the deal. But it overlaps with marketing.
Maybe you don't have anything to sell, but you most certainly need to convince people to do things your way at some point. As a scientist, you might have to convince this colleague to share some of her resources with you, or that operator to process your data in a hurry, etc.
Sales is a more subtle art than what we usually picture. When you buy a car, for instance, you don't go and see your dealer and just say “I want to buy a red car” expecting him to answer, “certainly, that will be 20'000 please”. In actuality, it's more like a dance: You show your interest, the dealer makes suggestions, some of which appeal to you (but you don't necessarily say so). This goes on for a while, without either of you actually saying “deal”. But at some point the sale will have happened. As the author puts it,
In a sale, the actual decision point is an invisible, nebulous thing.
The whole thing is subtle in that, it also involves how both parties feel, not just what they think:
The charm and attention you get from a good salesperson meet a need from somewhere in the middle of Maslow's hierarchy.
So, what are sales really about, at the end of the day?
A story can enthrall you and make you feel understood in a way that no amount of straight-up academic prose could have done. For this reason, telling stories is a crucial sales technique, one you have seen used many times.
Again, the Mark J. Kuchner is not just any marketing nut. He is a scientist above all and loves to start with a good definition. So the next question, as you might have guessed, is:
What exactly is a story?
The author provides a few possible interpretations. Let's go with Ira Glass's take on storytelling (Ira Glass is a famous radio host in the US):
According to Glass, a story is based on two elements:
1. A sequence of events that are causally related. X happened. So Y happened. So Z happened.
2. Moments of reflection when the primary characters pause to digest what's happened so they can change their course of action.
And this is probably something you are not super-familiar with, as a scientist, when it comes to sharing your work:
Storytelling is different from the usual language of science. Encyclopedia articles or scientific journal articles, for example, are expositions-essentially lists of facts (...) scientific papers are largely written to deemphasize the chronology of events, as though the outcome were known from the start. Sometimes, if you scrambled the order of the sections and even the order of the sentences, at least the superficial meaning of a scientific paper would not change.
The opposite is true in a story.
Is that to say that storystelling is not suited for science communication?
But there is often no reason that a story can't communicate the same ideas that are contained in an exposition. It might take more words or more time, and may seem roundabout, or maybe even frivolous. But as I am sure you intuitively realize, people will remember the story much better. No matter how boring your material is, if you tell it in the form of a story, it can become captivating.
Storytelling is not just a way to communicate our experiences or sell our ideas. Stories are the fiber of the human experience. As Irene Klotz, writer for Discovery News said to me, "We are all storytellers, every one of us. That's ultimately all we have to do with the time we are here on Earth”.
I couldn't agree more. I will publish a blogpost on this very topic one of these days.
The author reminds us that, since we are basically a species of storytellers, people are telling themselves stories about everything. All the time. The people you are interested in communicating with are most probably already telling themselves a story about your work. And since the actual story is not out in the open yet, the one they've got is probably light years away from what is really happening. And it's a pity, because, according to the marketing guru Seth Godin, quoted in the book, the story the customer tells to himself is what really sells the product.
Unfortunately, you can't just pour your story into anyone's mind. As the author puts it:
But you can't feed people such stories directly. It only works if the customer writes his own story, starring himself.
Now that you know the author a bit, you might expect the next caveat:
This business of encouraging your customers to tell themselves stories, which might well be exaggerations, shall we say-well, that makes some scientists uneasy. And it should. We are servants of the truth; we must not encourage people to lie to themselves.
In short, the story could very well be an exaggeration, but it doesn't have to be.
You will have to judge for yourself how best to utilize this kind of storytelling.
We will keep this one short.
In general, salespeople are taught to pay attention to their appearances and taught to dress well. Making such an effort can probably help scientists as well, and there is even empirical evidence for it.
Sometimes having a good elevator pitch is not enough (that is, how to go straight to the point in describing your work in 30 seconds or less if you inadvertently happen to share an elevator trip with the decision maker who can make a real difference in your work). If you really want your idea to be understood at a glance, try using a prop
Props are the magical tools that allow us to start conversations with powerful people (...) If you want to practice crystallizing and honing your top-level ideas, prepare an elevator speech. But if you want to make a senator stop the elevator and get off at your floor, carry a prop .
Again, if marketing is not your universe, a definition might come in handy
Positioning, (...), the key quality that sets your product apart from its competitors, explained in a way that addresses the preconceptions of your potential customers.
In short, you need to explain how what you do relates to something the people you are talking to might know:
For example, I might say that I'm working on a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope
This will not only capture attention but also help to show how important your work is.
What's in it for me? This concept is considered so important in sales that it is often abbreviated WIIFM. WIIFM (pronounced "whiff-um").
The people you are trying to convince, no matter how interested they may be, view the world through their own eyes. So do you.
Let's say you are at a meeting and someone hands you a copy of his latest research paper. What goes through your head? You might wonder: Is this something I should pay attention to so that I can maintain my expertise in this field? Does this paper contain a result that affects my current research? Did this paper cite my recent paper?
These questions are WIIFM. If you can address them, this
is your first-class ticket into your customer's mind.
According to the author, it is not uncommon for scientists to have been taught that customer service is not their problem. Well... Maybe it is:
Customer service is the craft of helping your customers get what they came for and walk away happy
You want to keep people happy. And if you need a reason: Happy people come back.
For some reason, calling someone by name, rather than saying "hey you" or even "sir," just makes that person like you. It makes you seem confident and familiar.
According to the author, this is a skill that most scientists seem to have lost. Or maybe they're just afraid of sounding like a “used-car salesman”.
But there is a considerable distance between the used-car salesman and the typical absent-minded scientist, in terms of name usage. I think it's probably safe to say that almost all scientists could stand to increase the rate at which they use names. So I'm going to suggest the following rule of thumb: Use the name of the person you are speaking to whenever you start or end a conversation, and once in every e-mail.
The next - and last - 3 items on the author's list for describing what sales actually is about, are quite obvious (though often overlooked). No need to spend a lot of time on them, a quote from the book should be enough to remind us how important they are.
Here is a quote from Madeline Albright, that summarizes it all:
“You need to learn to interrupt. Ask questions when they occur to you and don't wait to ask. Also, you don't need to ask permission to ask a question.”
Good salespeople not only empathize with their customers-they also mimic them to some degree. Changing their communication patterns helps them project empathy and understanding. President Barak Obama is an extremely fluent code switcher.
If you're writing a proposal or applying for a job, and you expect you might have to impress a committee, your task might be more about eliminating negatives than about dazzling people.
When I have the right attitude, I feel the wealth of what I have and what everyone around me has to offer. I have a happy, comfortable feeling of being surrounded by peers and people I admire. Somehow, when we appreciate ourselves and the people around us, we receive more appreciation in return.
In the next chapter, the author will explore the craft of building relationships. Because, yes, this is what modern marketing is all about. And, no spoilers, but it is mind-blowing.
See you soon!
Category: science communication
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