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Selling to Scientists and Engineers: B2B or B2C?

July 13, 2017 - Marketing -
By: Yolanda Fintschenko

A Case Study: The Consumerization of Scientific Instruments

I have always classified my marketing activities as business to business (B2B), because I have always created materials for selling into what on their face look like businesses. Scientific equipment sold into scientists’ labs. Software-as-a-service sold for businesses to use. Fabrication services sold to companies that need machined or molded products. Content-as-a-Service sold to companies that need highly technical content. All of this qualifies as selling into businesses, right?

Sort of. In one respect, all marketing and sales is people to people (P2P), so classifications seem kind of moot. I still have this niggling question, though: Are certain kinds of selling into businesses becoming B2C?

In the area of lab equipment, I have become fascinated with this question, because now individual contributors (not CEOs or CTOs) make a lot of purchasing decisions. Prepare for the purchasing of scientific instruments to be transformed similarly to the way IT changed from enterprise to consumer-driven—i.e. consumerization. Two recent consumerization trends—the consumerization of information technology (IT) and the consumerization of medical technology (including diagnostics) are conspiring to make the consumerization of scientific instruments an inevitable result. In other words, scientists are going to take something they are using for themselves and take that into the lab. In fact, they already are. The only twist is that right now they are modifying their personal technology for the lab and for profit. One day, they will buy it with the modifications as their lab instruments.

This has already begun with smartphones. One of the biggest objections to handling scientific inquiry via smartphones and other consumer devices that are ideal for point of sample analysis has been that scientists need to be able to view, manipulate and analyze their data with more computing and visualization horsepower than a consumer device microprocessor can handle. But because of cloud computing, that’s no longer true. The server space necessary to handle a lot of data and manage your own data cloud can be outsourced as a service thanks to companies like Rackspace. With Apple’s open source ResearchKit, it is now possible to construct a human subjects trial in a couple of days.

So what? As I have said before, point-of-sample analysis is being driven by consumers. And there are important instances where smartphone technology is being developed into lab equipment for scientists. With examples like Biomeme turning a smartphone into a real-time PCR reader for about $1,000, the need for expensive infrastructure is declining. As price points drop, the decision maker is more likely to be a graduate student, post-doc, or other individual contributor low in the business hierarchy. Which means individuals, not institutions, are exerting even more influence on what type of laboratory instruments are purchased. What does this mean for marketing and selling laboratory instruments? It will look a lot more like B2C with the customer contact occurring primarily through a web search rather than a trade show. White papers and information will still be important content to provide, but so will making sure the content is searchable, shareable, and linked to multiple online distribution and purchasing channels.

While university infrastructure may still be necessary for administrative purposes and legitimacy of academic research and getting academic grants, companies will be able to do more and more with less money, people and gravitas. Eventually even academia will be impacted, which means that selling to scientists may become more like selling to a very specialized kind of consumer. (And with hackerspaces sprouting up all over the world, the definition of a scientist very well may change.)

The Takeaway

At Fixate.io, we serve companies that need to offer highly technical content to their customers. In tech, as in science, we see a blending of what is personal and what is professional. The power of influencer-generated content is amplified when the influencers are S&T practitioners. We may classify this as B2B selling now, but appealing to the technical mojo of your customers may mean this is a B2C play, with the customer using her company to make purchases based on her influence within the company as a practitioner.


Yolanda is a scientist, writer, marketer, coach and avid runner who lives and works in Livermore, CA.  She founded Common SciSense, a marketing company for technical products, and co-founded founderTRACTION, lean marketing services for startups.