Tom Warwick has held various sales and marketing positions throughout his career in the scientific laboratory instrumentation market. Having worked his way through the ranks with companies such as Uson, Oxford Instruments and Veeco Instruments, Tom has gained considerable experience in a range of product/application markets in most parts of the world. Here, he talks with Peter Booth and shares some of that experience.
PB. How did you get into the Scientific Instrument business?
TW. Funnily enough I was a successful recruiter like you Peter, back at the end of the eighties. However, I wanted to use more of my strategic planning skills, promote technical products rather than services, and work in a bigger, European or global arena.
In short, I joined one of my client companies who took a holistic approach of developing the person. I handed back the keys to my yuppie BMW and took a significant reduction of earnings and picked up my bag and became a UK sales engineer for an Analytical Instruments company.
PB. Your career spans more than 20 years in this industry. What would you say are the most significant changes over that time?
TW. Interesting question Peter, all about connectivity and communications. When I started, I literally hand wrote communications which were typed out by a secretary and then faxed. I sent out 20-40 targeted letters every week to potential customers and then followed them up with a phone call a few days later. It was all a lot less immediate. I am now remembering “The Bat Phone” which was car battery sized and could not only make calls from the car, but from a meeting room as well!
I do argue that email is no longer a viable means of business communication, but early on, it was amazing to be able to break through gate keepers and get directly through to a Tier I Professor for example. Now emails carry such low value, that you can not count on them being read.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for a salesperson however, is that today the customer is so much better informed about your products than they used to be. Back in the day, it was the salesperson plus technical person who had to provide the product information, and a printed brochure. Now they have often already done the research via the web, peer reviews and by connecting with users, before they even speak to you.
PB. You mention that customers are much better informed. With this in mind, how do you see the role of the salesperson evolving in the lab. equipment arena?
TW. The smart salesperson will be working hand in glove with the marketing department. While we have noted that the prospective customer is better informed it is imperative the class-leading salesperson stays a step ahead. By carefully tracking trends available through web analytical packages the salesperson should be able to cut through the superfluous and deal with enquiries in an educated and informed manner, in some cases preempting customer needs and questions before they even realize they have them. The best salespeople will be aware of market trends and inform the client, while joining the dots and helping them with networking and more efficient securing of funding where possible.
PB. What advice would you give to a new salesperson starting their career in the laboratory equipment market.
TW. I read the One Minute Sales Person twenty years ago, and then a decade ago. I had become that person. I don’t know whether it was conscious or because that is what works, however it certainly works for me. Take the two hours to digest the 90 pages, it will be the best investment you can make.
In short however, in terms of practical advice; number one, ask questions and listen. Customers love talking about what interests them, i.e. their work. Then only address with your responses what is of interest to them. A good sales person is ethical and trustworthy, always think of the next sale, not just this one. Never make assumptions, find out where you really stand, not where you’d like to believe you stand. No one can win 100% of orders, but unless you find out what potential objections are, or what the competition is saying, you will never be able to get the deal back on track if you are losing it.
PB. In our industry, sales and marketing are generally separate, and often estranged departments. Where do you stand on this issue?
TW. Yes, we had an interesting discussion on this one Peter. Certainly when it comes to Product Management, there can be teams of factory based marketers who are clearly not in a sales department. But they absolutely must get out in front of potential customers and key opinion leaders, it is a shame when the regional sales guy is too protective of his customer to let them in. However, in a distribution model, there is a dichotomy between sales and marketing. One is longer term strategic the other shorter term and tactical. The common goal is driving the top line profitably. Sales need marketing for leads, marketing need sales to sell the products they have specified.
As long as the two work together with shared strategic goals and commitments the world is a happier place. In environments I have worked in this really hasn’t been an issue at all. However, for some organizations a bigger issue is the battle between “factory” and “field” but that is another discussion.
PB. I’m sure there are plenty of highlights to come, but when you look back, what would you describe as the most satisfying time of your career?
TW. I have enjoyed the opportunities I have had to work overseas, both in France and the USA. It gives a grounding perspective of the UK as well as seeing how another culture really works
I have enjoyed building teams and particularly building the careers of colleagues and helping people to be successful. I was proud to have given out three ten year long service awards to people I brought on board. It is really pleasing to have the CEO send personal notes to your team members congratulating them on their performance and to be able to promote high performers.
PB. What challenges do you see ahead for suppliers of scientific instrumentation?
TW. I alluded earlier to the fact that customers are better informed than they ever used to be. As certain products mature in the market place it will likely be less easy for manufacturers to load so much development cost onto the cost of goods and people will wonder whether they should be spending six-figure sums on pieces of kit which have been around for twenty years. I am as a small business owner in the lucky position of being flexible enough to be able to embrace disruptive technologies and products, something a larger corporate can not do with their current cost structure. While I have never wanted to visit a customer and say “buy from me I am your cheapest option” I would like to give value and charge a fair price.
PB. You are in the process of establishing a new distribution company. Tell us about your plans for BlueScientific and why that name?
TW. It is fair to say that many of our target customers don’t actually like dealing with salespeople, and have an even greater distaste for distributors or resellers as they don’t see them providing any value add. However, the beauty of instrumentation is that you are selling challenging equipment to the most demanding and sophisticated customers out there. Both my partner and I are very well connected globally in this space which is Physical and Life Sciences and we understand our customer applications. If our product isn’t a good fit for their needs, we will tell them.
For the manufacturer, we will apply big corporate Best Practices, including strategic marketing, pro-active selling (i.e. not passively sitting there waiting for a web enquiry for a quote for one of a mass of products) and professional forecasting. In short, they will have the same transparency as if they went direct.
For the customer, we will ensure that we will be an ethical company and build a brand which is trusted. We will focus on strong scientific support. In fact, written into our company charter is that we will give back 5% of our profits each year to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education.
For the employee there will be not just profit share, but coaching, mentoring and third party training. There will be a career path and prospects normally unheard of in a distributor company.
Why BlueScientific? Well, Blue stands for Trust, Intelligence and Wisdom. Blue Sky research is another term for Basic Research, which many of our systems are targeted at and Blue is also associated with Cambridge University. Our registered office is at the St. Johns Innovation Centre in Cambridge, UK.