Selling for Researchers – a force for good or an excursion to the dark side?

“So, are will you be a force for good – or will you be lured over to the dark side?”

And with these words, Philip Guildford introduced the “Selling for Researchers” course, run for the third year and delivered by Marcel Dissel, again to excellent reviews and feedback.

The challenge that Philip threw out, and the insights that Marcel shared drew the distinction between “consultative selling” and “manipulative selling”. In consultative selling you work with your industrial partner to develop a project (and a budget) that gives you both a win and can be the basis for a long-term relationship. Manipulative selling, by contrast, is the hard sell that leads to a slightly uncomfortable feeling on both sides and usually ends in disaster. It’s manipulative selling that gives sales such a bad name.

In fact, there was quite a lot of curiosity about the dark side – and this was explored during the course as well…Text box 1

What did participants want from the course? On the day it was to:

  • Develop confidence through having some frameworks and some practice
  • Understand the difference between selling to industry and selling to the research councils
  • Learn some selling techniques
  • Understand what industry cares about
  • Identify which person to talk to about what
  • Understand who are our competitors and how to address that
  • Understand how to close the deal

Marcel then presented a very simple model of selling

Fig 1and facilitated discussion around topics including

  • The difference between ‘farming’ (long term relationships nurtured over time) and ‘hunting’ (looking for new business’) which is the focus of this course
  • The realities of hearing ‘no’ a lot
  • How to avoid being a commodity
  • Thinking about your competitors (be they other universities, consultants or the industrialist’s internal R&D resources)
  • A simple five step process model
  • The role of open questions in finding out what really matters (as distinct from forcing your solution on the listener) (“What’s your role in the business?”, “Tell me about ….”, “What’re the challenges in your industry?” “Why might customers choose you over your competitors?”)
  • The importance of the 5 Ps (“proper preparation prevents poor performance” – i.e. “do your research before the meeting”) – as a way to keep leadership of the conversation and to cover the topics you want to discuss
  • And vitally importantly – the process by which a sales is made – see the diagram on the right
  • The importance of matching seniority between the selling team and the buying team – ensure their CEO can meet your Prof or Head of DepartmentText box 2
  • The value of demonstrators or prototypes
  • How to think about and develop your Unique Selling Proposition, and, of course,
  • The difference between consultative selling and manipulative selling.

Then the course turned to the elevator pitches and people’s chance to practice and rehearse their proposition and their pitch.   As usual the range of topics was truly amazing. We heard about

  • Screening techniques for diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia
  • How to make engineering simulators faster and easier to use, saving design time and minimising errors
  • Using monitoring systems in buildings to reduce through-life costs
  • How to reduce the costs of insurance fraud
  • A new technique for earlier detection of breast cancer
  • A new device to find missing objects (everything from car keys to patients with dementia)
  • How to dream up new products and services which are more ecologically sustainable
  • A service to find tenants for industrial zones in emerging economies
  • A faster cheaper way of making nanofibres – with an amazing array of uses
  • How to eliminate the need for passwords

Intense negotiationThe afternoon session enabled teams to explore how to sell and buy university research services by choosing some of the ideas from the elevator pitches and working them up.

And this little picture provides a simple map for how to plan and run a good meeting.

Fig 2

The feedback, lessons and discussions continued unabated

Feedback on the day

And then, finally, Marcel provided his famous “summary slide”.

Summary chart1

(And by the way, if you’d like to be put in touch with any of the pitchers to follow up their research then just contact cb683 (at)


Author: innovationcoaching

I consult and coach in innovation and its management, based in the UK but working nearly anywhere. This blog is just a few musings, observations and evolving thinking. I look forward to your comments

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