Science Market Update

7 Sales Lessons from the Volunteer Front

Posted by Jaimee Saliba on Fri, Nov 23, 2012

Most of us ate turkey with friends and family in a warm house yesterday. Today many are shopping. Meanwhile on Long Island, Staten Island and the Jersey Shore, volunteer organizations are still hard at work cleaning up the mess from Sandy and helping people move their lives forward. Instead of Thanksgiving at home with family, military veterans volunteering with Team Rubicon probably ate a donated meal with fellow workers or community members. Maybe they got to rest their muscles for a day.

As inspiring as the stories we’ve been hearing about continued rescue efforts are, they may leave us feeling like we’re missing out on the opportunity to contribute somehow. So here’s a thought: What if we were to apply some of the guiding principles of volunteer work (“service”) to the way we do business? As scientific sales professionals, these might be some useful parallels and lessons to take home:

1. Make Face Time

Nothing says “We’re here” like actually being there. In an age where so much communication can be carried out electronically (and valuably so), there’s something particularly special about making face time with a person, in person. It shows your commitment to being real, accessible, and ready to go the distance for your client. And like much volunteer work, being on the ground and in the thick of things (like being on campus for one of our tradeshow events) says you’re ready to learn from the experience as well.

2. Listen to What Your Clients Say their Needs Are

Showing up with frozen food when someone has no electricity probably won’t be very helpful. The best relief efforts get the right supplies and equipment to the people who need them. And being right there in front of someone with the opportunity to listen to them explain what they need is golden.  Of course, if you’re distracted by a cell phone or look like you’d rather be somewhere else, you may miss the chance to be the one who saves the day.

3. Make Your Presence an Asset

You’re more than a conduit, though, you’re a person. The ability to share in the “human experience” by doing something for someone else and bonding over it appeals to our humanity. It also builds trust like nothing else can. So be a person. Be a likeable, genuine person and it may be the beginning of a beautiful and mutually valuable relationship. The more they trust you personally, the more likely they are to reach out to you and your company when they need something.

sales front4. Break Bread Together

Eating together and sharing food are bonding rituals in almost every culture. They also speak to our basic needs so that we can go on to carry out higher pursuits without a rumbling stomach or light head. With that in mind, BCI makes sure the catering at our shows is top-notch. (Because crummy food may keep us alive, but it won’t make us cheerful like the spread at the right.) Being a gracious host is one of those things that feels good to do and strengthens bonds too.

5. Make Sure You’ve Got the Goods

You’re only as good as what you bring to the table. Bring the best, don’t make promises you can’t meet, and come back tomorrow with something even better. How’s your stock, by the way? How quickly can you mobilize resources to arrive where they’re needed? And what have you got for them to take home today (a sample? a goodie bag? something to remember you by?)?

6. Make Sure Your Infrastructure is Tight

One of our favorite Sandy relief stories involves Rubicon (military veteran volunteers, putting their training to work in relief efforts) getting paired with the “philanthropic engineers” from the ultra high tech big data solutions company Palantir. (Read their excellent blog entry.) The Palantirians sent in their team to work with Rubicon in the Rockaways, streamlining the data management (who needs what, where and when? who’s on the ground to offer assistance? where are the supplies we need?) to optimize the Rubicon response and allow them to manage even more volunteers, who often show up unexpectedly. How integrated is your supply system? Your customer service? Does your infrastructure both electronic and human work like a well-oiled machine? Nothing frustrates like inefficiency, and nothing impresses like getting business done seamlessly.

Palantir Gotham work request resized 600[Palantir Philanthropy Engineers' color-coded work request in Rockaway]

7. Let Them Know You’ll Be there Tomorrow

Being there for one day is good; being there from here on out is best yet. Let them know they can call on you any time. Your company is established, your product is solid, and you want to be in business together for a long time.


While we wouldn’t want to operate as if we were responding to a disaster every day (that would be really stressful, to say the least), we think volunteerism isn’t antithetical to good salesmanship. You don’t need to have a split personality from Sunday (the church warm coat drive) to Monday (promoting a product or service for profit). Take home the lessons of the givers on the front lines and make your life and that of your customers a little nicer. 

Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. is a full-service event marketing and planning company producing on-campus life science research tradeshows nationwide for going on 21 years. We plan and promote each event to bring the best products and services to the best research campuses across the country. Life science researchers, purchasing agents, and lab managers are actively invited to attend to see the latest products and equipment and discuss their laboratory tool and service needs.

See our Nationwide Show Schedule for 2013 here.

Tags: Northeast, New York, 2012, BioResearch Product Faire Event, Front Line event, New York City, Trade show, Biotechnology Vendor Showcase, Sales

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