Researchers: if you want to get on – learn to sell


Researchers, as a breed, are rarely viewed as born sales-people. Although I have come across some who would beat the pants off an east-end used car salesman, most tell me that they would rather have their molars drilled unnecessarily, than make new business happen from a standing start.

Unfortunately, sales is just one of those areas — like complaining or public speaking — that we just have to learn. Anyone, at any degree of seniority, who thinks that selling does not form part of their job description, has not understood the dynamics of the marketing or social research industry – nor indeed, any industry.

Selling needs to be a part of every researcher’s career tool kit. After all, sales experience, together with account management form the foundation of the kind of roles which lead individuals to develop P&L accountability — and this is the fastest route to being taken very seriously as a valued member of the organisation.

And that is where researchers are at a disadvantage.

Researchers are trained from the start of their careers, to provide a highly technical service. What commercial flair they are encouraged to develop is usually focussed on how they interpret the data and how this is conveyed to the client. But, at this early career stage, they are rarely encouraged to get involved with generating or increasing revenue – that tends to come later.

That is not to say that a research agency’s business-model should be based entirely on sales without due regard to the quality of their work or to making sure that the client really does feel the benefit of informed decision making. Indeed, we have seen the recent demise of a research organisation which tended to work on a sales-led basis.

What I am really calling for is a mind shift, in order to develop researchers’ technical research skills in parallel with a more commercial approach to their task.

Selling does not mean brow-beating unsuspecting potential clients into using your services – that is never going to work in the long term. It is much more about making (and keeping) connections, conveying enthusiasm and gaining trust. A researcher who, at an early stage in their career, keeps a weather eye out for opportunities to connect, and who gets a kick out of developing a rapport with clients, has the sort of mind-set which will ultimately help to increase business. So use your innate social skills to develop your selling skills and start to increase your visibility within your company by increasing revenue and bringing customers to the organization.

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