One of the things it is sometimes easy to forget or overlook is just how many “things” there are in the world actually being sold. I think we tend (at least I know I do) to think about “stuff” when we think about sales. Stuff like cars or houses or vacation packages even. There is however a whole subset of more specialized sales activities that take place in the world of finance (which I am not in much of a position to talk about) and science/tech (which I am and will).

I would venture to guess that things are a bit different and probably not in a good way in the tech and finance worlds but at least in the hard sciences sales is a very different animal than what I think most persons envision when they reflexively dismiss all salesmen as inherently unethical. The very premise of the article I am currently commenting on suggests that this belief is pervasive and wide spread.

In technical sales in science the salesman is ultimately constrained by the fact that in the end he is dealing in fact. He is in fact, selling fact. He needs to make the case that his piece of “equipment/diagnostic test/science thingie” (heretofore referred to as thing) is better than the other guys for reasons that may, and most likely will, be put to the actual test at some point. You might think why would you even need sales then? If it is simply a matter of the most “fact-aptic” thing wins then everyone should buy that thing and be done with it. In a different world then this that might be possible however in our actual world it is simply not feasible nor do I believe it is necessarily desirable.

In most cases there are an array of attributes that are of value to the scientist when making purchasing decisions for any particular thing. These attributes will vary greatly among individual scientists, even those in the same disciplines, depending on a huge number of factors. The job of the science thing salesman is to understand those differences and use them to his advantage to “sell” any particular scientist on the advantages of his thing with respect to those attributes compared to someone else’s nearly identical thing. In my view there is simply not enough “space” for patently unethical behavior in this kind of sales activity. A flat out lie with respect to performance and/or attributes will almost always though not always, (see roadside bomb detectors in Iraq for counter example) be found out very quickly by testing with serious negative repercussions for the salesmen involved. Shadings of the truth even will generally be discovered in short order.

If he ever chose to the science thing salesman simply could not act unethically for long without serious negative repercussions. Most technical salespersons understand this and therefore the temptation to lie or cheat is greatly diminished. In fact, I would argue it is actively dissuaded more so because technical salesmen usually start out as bench scientists before moving into sales roles. They understand as well as the people they are selling too exactly how what they say will be evaluated. It had better be accurate and most would not risk their reputations and thus careers on pushing something they did not truly believe could stand up to that kind of vetting.

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Research scientist (Ph.D. micro/mol biology), Thought middle manager, Everyday junglist, Selecta (Ret.), Boulderer, Cat lover, Fish hater

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