There are many different positions within a scientific sales career; which ones are available to you depends on your experience. The following is a summary of the different types of lab sales jobs and their entry requirements.
If you have a degree with one year lab experience, possibly gained through a placement year, your entry point into a scientific sales career would be a telemarketing or customer services role. These positions are office based, working with customers over the telephone. They are good training grounds for moving into lab sales and will give you a route into the industry without having to put in a couple of years in a lab job first.
If you have a degree with 3 years lab experience, you could choose to go straight into laboratory sales.
Sales Representative. As a field based lab sales representative you are responsible for all sales on a given territory. In the eyes of the customers you are their primary contact, and so they will expect you to be able to assist them with advice about the products, troubleshoot if the product goes wrong, sort out any delivery issues etc, as well as be able to sell the products to them. The keys to success vary with different types of products, but in general they are: Building strong relationships with your customers, developing good sales skills and product knowledge; and being aware of and actively seeking new business; being well organized with good time and territory management. Many lab sales jobs are open to trainees.
Sales is the gateway to many roles within a company. Normally, you would need to gain 3-5 years experience in a sales role before moving on.
Typical job promotions from within lab sales are:
Senior Lab Sales Representative / Territory Manager. This is recognition of your seniority and experience. It can mean more responsibility for your own budget, territory and customer management, more autonomy in negotiating discounts and pricing, and in handling critical sales. More input to company management and a better position for future promotion.
Product Specialist. In this role you focus on a narrower product portfolio – sometimes only one product. It will involve you further in the technical and marketing support of you product(s), and give you greater responsibility for it's success. It usually involves coverage of a fairly large geographical area. It develops your technical and marketing skills as well as your ability to sell what is usually a more complex and/or higher value product.
Key Account Manager. This is essentially a lab sales job which you focuses on your selling and account management skills. It is a role that requires more relationship building with customers and more networking within large customer companies. It will develop your understanding of how the major customers buy and expose you more to professional buyers, tenders, and preferred supplier relationships.
Business Development Manager. This role combines senior level selling with field marketing. The essence of the role is to open up new market areas by identifying market opportunities along with the sales and marketing processes needed to facilitate accessing the new business sector. Development of key accounts and opinion leaders is also an important part of this role.
Product Manager.This is typically a promotion from a Product Specialist or a more senior lab sales job. It involves technical and marketing support for a product, and is a move away from sales. As a product manager you will typically have responsibility for tactical marketing, including production of marketing plans, product positioning, planning major and mini exhibitions, workshops and product launches;
Creative marketing such as production of brochures, fliers, catalogues, advertisements, press releases, and mailing campaigns:
And being “Product champion”, staying abreast of, and supporting your product against competitors, and training and supporting sales people on the product where necessary.
International Sales. These positions occur in companies, or in companies where the UK office functions as a European Head quarters. They involve maximising sales in other countries which can be achieved by selling direct, or more often through distributors or subsidiaries. The international sales person maximises sales by supporting the distributor with training, sales visits, technical and delivery information and help against competitors. The position usually entails spending anything anything from 30 – 70% of your time overseas.
Field Sales Manager. This is can be a promotion from any lab sales job, and is a role that is usually found in small to medium sized companies. In this role you have some direct line responsibility for all the UK sales people, although this is usually supported by a senior sales manager. You will maintain a small sales territory of your own, and will work with the sales team to maximise the total UK sales. This is achieved by prospect management, and by supporting the sales people through sales training and in handling key accounts, opinion leaders, and large business opportunities.
You are usually targeted on the performance of the whole of the lab sales team.
Regional Sales Manager. In larger companies, you would be promoted instead to a regional sales manager, where you may or may not maintain a territory of your own, depending on the number of sales people you have reporting to you. The responsibilities are similar to that of a Field Sales Manager.
You are usually targeted on the performance of you regional lab sales team.
These positions have progression routes to board level. Virtually all companies will have a Sales and Marketing Director and more Managing Directors come from sales than from any other background.
However, if a lab sales job is not for you, there are two parallel paths: Technical or Applications Specialist roles and Field Service Engineering.
Both these are technical roles where you provide a service to the customers. Both require a fair degree of flexibility as you will have to respond to customers as and when they have problems.
The Technical Specialist may also be involved in training, giving seminars and presentations. You work in both pre- and post-sales support assisting in product demonstrations, optimising customers' applications, and also in the office dealing with technical enquiries. You will usually support both the company's customers and the sales staff.
As a Field Service Engineer you will typically cover an area around where you are based, with occasional travel outside of this when need arises to cover breakdowns. You will handle routine and breakdown calls, and be working to target response times. You will also have planned visits to fulfill routine maintenance obligations. This position often carries the additional sales aspect of promoting service contracts (and consumables?).