From The Editor | September 19, 2013

What Influences Your Buying Decision?

By Ed Miseta, Chief Editor, Clinical Leader

Ed Miseta

What most influences your buying decision? When presented with a buying opportunity, is your decision based more on the company, the product or service, or the salesperson? Do scientists evaluate products or services and approach buying decisions differently than most people?

Those are just a few of the questions that the Association of Commercial Professionals – Life Sciences (ACP-LS) hoped to answer via a survey conducted by marketing research firm Life Science Strategy Group along with SCORR Marketing. The survey questioned 220 scientists in the life science industry on the importance of a sales representative in the buying/decision process for contract research services. The results will be presented at the ACP-LS Annual Meeting September 19. Chuck Drucker, president of ACP-LS, provided me with a sneak-peek at a couple of the findings. 

“Our members work for the vendor firms that sell products and services to the scientists at pharma companies, government institutions, and academia,” says Drucker. “We felt this survey would be a good way to learn what our members are doing well, and what we can do to improve their skills and make them more effective at selling products and services to those scientists.”

The survey certainly reached the right people. 36% of respondents identified themselves as the final decision maker holding budget authority. Another 57% identified themselves as an influencer or someone that is part of a team that will make the decision. Five percent chose contracting or sourcing or procurement, while two percent selected researcher. There were 200 respondents in all.

The main thing the survey looked at was the buyers’ perception of the sales people that sell contract services. For example, do the sellers have the right knowledge of their own services, are they professional, and are they doing things that make it easier for customers to buy from them. The survey also attempted to determine if there were variations across different service offerings, such as clinical versus preclinical. Finally, an attempt was made to determine whether there were differences based on the seniority of the respondent or perceptions that the buyer may have already had about the company.

One of the major findings of the survey was that 50% of respondents felt the salesperson does have an impact on the choice of vendor. “That’s good to know, but it’s almost like a double-edged sword,” says Drucker. “On the one hand, it is good to see that our industry’s salespeople do seem to be having an impact on their clients. But on the other hand, if 50% of respondents do not think the salesperson has an impact, then there is certainly room for improvement. I feel this is an area we need to dig into a little deeper. For the salespeople who are not making an impact, we would love to know what the reasons are. In some cases it may be something as simple as the buyer having to abide by a preferred provider agreement. But if it has to do with the qualities of the salesperson, we would love to know what these scientists see as desirable qualities in their salespeople.”

What does make a good salesperson? When the salespeople were rated on key attributes, Drucker notes they were rated the highest on professionalism. One area where they did not rate so high was the ability to offer creative solutions and level of scientific knowledge. “This is where the results provide true value to us,” he states. “We can look at a result like that and create training courses and programs designed to instill in the salespeople the knowledge they need to create solutions and address scientific questions and concerns.”  

Another question asked respondents about the factors that most contributed to their buying decision. Responsiveness was rated the highest, which was not a surprise to me. Service and responsiveness are qualities I look for in customers, co-workers, and especially vendors. Someone once told me you can expect about half the attention from a salesperson after a sale as you got from them before it. What the clients are saying is, all else being equal, a salesperson that is responsive to their needs and gets back to them in a timely manner will generally get the sale.

One of the speakers, Hamid Ghanadan, is author of the book Persuading Scientists: Marketing to the World’s Most Skeptical Audience. “I believe his main point is that these are scientists, but that scientists are people too and they have the same thoughts as others,” says Drucker. “However, there are specific ways they go about analyzing decisions, simply because of their education and training. That certainly affects the way they buy.” At the meeting, Hamid will discuss the psychology of the scientist and how that impacts the buying process.

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