Scientific skills were important for the first job – a career portrait
Welcome to the career portrait series where we look at the careers of DDA Alumni. Here Sofia Salö tells us what her position as associate consultant entails and how she made the journey from Postdoc to positions in sales and marketing and how she then discovered her love of business development, enjoy:
Associate Consultant within Life Science
I work as associate consultant at a firm in Sweden called Ny Consulting. We work with medtech, biotech and pharma companies to help them move their innovation from idea to the market.
Position: Associate consultant
2008-2012: PhD from Lund University
Quote: "networking can be as simple as not sitting by the same table with the same people every day at lunch."
Working with Business Development for Life Science Companies
In general, clients’ needs differ depending on where they are in their product development.
1) Identify market potential
Who is the customer that will pay for the new solution, and what is the market value of this segment?
2) Uncover a go-to-market strategy
What requirements on the market needs to be fulfilled to succeed with the product market introduction?
3) Create a business strategy
What are the optimal steps the company can take to create the most product value?
Varied workdays as consultant
Each project lasts approximately 8-12 weeks where I analyze the market, summarize findings in a written report, and present the result to clients during a final delivery meeting.
My days involve close communication with innovator teams, independent market research by the computer, interviews with market stakeholders over the phone, as well as sales meetings with new potential clients ranging from early startups to capital investment firms.
Not a straight path from academia to business development
My CV may look deliberate on first sight, but the truth is, it has felt random and confusing at times.
"Through each position, I have gained experiences that have propelled my career further"
Through each position, I have gained experiences that have propelled my career further based on both new skills but also, newfound areas of interest that I have wanted to pursue further.
Following my Postdoc, I took a position as project leader within sales for a young publishing startup company where I was responsible for building a new life science edition.
Aside from my research background, the job depended heavily on being able to work independently as project manager and being good at writing. Fortunately, those are particular skills you really develop as PhD and/or postdoc!
Wanting to continue within sales and marketing, I applied for a position as marketing & project coordinator at a startup company that worked with a technology to improve emulsions in food, pharma, and the personal care industry.
This company was situated at a scientific incubator, and I found out about the position from a friend working in another company within the same hub.
Selling a company is a lot of work, which is fun
While working as marketing & project coordinator, the startup company got acquired by one of the largest companies in the US. Being a small company, everyone working there was heavily involved in the divestment process.
It was an eye-opener, where I first got introduced to the processes involved and got to analyze the company market potential, market strategy and business strategy in much more detail. I found the process really interesting and wanted to explore this part further.
Eating lunch lead to my current position
Having proclaimed my newfound love of business development over lunch with yet another colleague at the incubator, she proposed I contact the CEO of my current company.
He was not actively advertising for a position, but the combination of project leader, sales, marketing and business development landed me my current role.
Project management skills learnt from research is a steady foundation
Project management was really important during my first position, aside from having a research background. These are experiences that have been important for all my positions, and further skills within sales, marketing and business development have been acquired along the way.
Advice for PhDs interested in a similar position
My advice would be to not shy away from the sales positions. I feel ashamed to admit that I thought those positions would be “below my academic degree” after a PhD. I now know: They are not.
For people with a pre-clinical PhD degree, such as mine, the most common pathway to business development is to start within field sales. That is, any company selling equipment/services to academia and hospitals such as Agilent, Thermo, Merck, etc.
From there, people advance their careers first within the company, for instance, becoming key account managers, and then sometimes changing corporation. My particular path is less common, but it almost always involves having previous positions within sales.
Sales is the foundation of all companies, and you need to learn why and how
"Sales is one of the best steppingstones to enter a company"
Sales is one of the best steppingstones to enter a company because gaining a proper understanding of sales is very, very useful.
All companies need to sell a product (even Novo Nordisk) and having an understanding of what drives sales, how you market sales and what companies need to improve their sales, will be almost necessary to pursue a path within business development.
All of these are skills you will begin to develop working within field sales, or similar positions.
Not sitting by the same table every day at lunch count as networking
According to my experiences so far, networking is excellent to find jobs you might not know to look for: Life science incubators in particular.
Note, networking can be as simple as not sitting by the same table with the same people every day at lunch.
Startup companies let you develop new skills as you go
Often in startups, everyone will need to help out and perform a wide variety of work-related tasks to reach successful sales.
Remember, the product itself does not necessarily need to match your individual research expertise. But perhaps, try to find a life-science angle. And get sales experience!
Step outside your comfort zone
Last but not least, do not be afraid to step outside your comfort zone.
My first job, I literally stuck my head through their door asking about their job posting. I knew about them only from passing by their window thinking they looked like they were having fun (also, the company broke up three months into my employment).
Little did I know those few months of intense sales training would set the foundation for my entire career, so go ahead and trust in the process!