How to network in life science

Raman Sehgal
By Raman Sehgal

It’s almost March (already), and that means Spring is inching closer. For people in our trade, however, there’s one season that really matters: Event Season.

Yes, it’s the time of year when we gather en masse at events like DCAT week, the BioProcessing Summit, MassBio, or that old seasonal favourite, CPHI. We pack ourselves into big barn-like rooms to promote our wares, see what the competition is up to, and above all, meet lots of people.

We network.

If you’re naturally gregarious, or good with people, then great. If not, then you might have to work on your gregarious impression.

Anyway, to help you get through Spring “Networkaggedon” here are a few pointers to help you make the right impression; achieve the results you’re after, and – you know – be a good human being.

Be that social saviour

Have you ever been at a networking event where you’ve stood, drink in hand, on your own, bereft of friends and devoid of any form of human contact? Yep, that was me at Pharma ChemOutsourcing back in the day. It’s horrifically awkward and frankly, hard to live through.

Then, suddenly, Lo’ and behold! A kind-hearted person emerges from the crowd, possibly bathed in light and accompanied by ethereal music. As your eyes adjust to the light, they move towards you, hand extended in friendship, and say, “Hello.”

Instantly, this person – this Industry Guardian Angel – becomes your saviour. Hallelujah! They’ve connected you into the social circuit. If it weren’t for the HR implications, you could kiss them. Right there and then.

But here’s the question: Why are you not that person?

Make an effort to look out for people who might be feeling a bit awkward, and be inclusive when the situation allows for it. Engage with folks in as natural a way as you possibly can, without coming across as insane.

That last bit can’t be stressed enough.

Meet nice people

Some bristle at the word networking. It’s such a shallow, corporate, pharma word. To get past your initial reaction or pre-existing thoughts on the concept, let’s just call it “meeting people”. Much nicer, isn’t it? Much more palatable.

“My golden rule is to be yourself, but adapt to who you’re speaking to. And ask lots of questions – make them feel like they’re the only person in the room.”
Emma Banks, CEO of ramarketing

The point is, to get ahead in business – or whatever field of life sciences you’re in – it pays to create opportunities and achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself. You need to forget the idea that building connections is only for the sales guys.

Build a real network of real people. Not just thousands of random, empty LinkedIn connections for vanity purposes but real relationships.

Even if you’re the traditional introverted Scientist type, who cares? Genuine passion for a topic, harnessed correctly so as not to be annoying, is like having a curiosity magnet attached to you. Get your head up and relentlessly meet people.

Match the image you have in your head

Think about the impression you want to make. Depending on the nature of your “brand” and the personality of your business – if that’s what you’re trying to put across – you should also be a walking, talking extension of your values.

If you’re a cleanroom business, then don’t look like a slob with your dinner splattered down your front. If you’re an investor trying to woo a CEO, then think twice before going for the shirtless blazer look, with the accompanying medallion. Comb your hair and brush your teeth. You have set the right tone and present yourself in the right way – but try not to force anything. Be natural and confident.

Why? Because you’re alright. You know your stuff, and you’re a nice person (probably).

Make sure you match the image you want to create.

“I approach prospects expecting there’s a problem I can help solve. The conversation is to uncover what that problem is. Once I know that, I have a basis for following up on things I know can help, even if we don‘t sell that solution. I’m not selling. I’m helping solve the problem.”
Jeff Sternstein, Head of Customer Success

Embrace the fabulousness of serendipity

Whenever the chance arises, embrace the fabulousness of serendipity.

Keep your eyes, ears and mind open when you’re out and about. Every conversation you have is a learning opportunity, if you approach it with the right mindset.

The next person you talk to at one of these events might be in need of something your team can offer. Or they might know someone else who does… If not there and then, eventually something might crop up. All on account of your successful bit of networking.

It’s a pretty small world in a lot of ways, and a lot of great opportunities leap out at you from unexpected places.

The “New Person” checklist

Along with being open to new connections, you also need to be intentional and deliberate in maintaining them. You should prioritise staying in touch and being thoughtful about the conversations you have with people. If this is an area you struggle with, here’s a five-step checklist for every new person you meet and want to stay in touch with:

  1. Capture any notes about the person (personal and professional) in a digital note keeper like Evernote. Do this immediately after you meet them to ensure you don’t lose any of the nuanced, special details.
  2. Connect on LinkedIn with a personalised message. Never ever attempt to sell them anything.
  3. Send a “nice to meet you” type email often with a mention of something you’ve learnt about them or an item you said you’d share like an article, contact, restaurant recommendation, etc. Again, this is where your after-the-moment notes are crucial. After a five-day conference meeting hundreds of people and possibly having a few drinks along the way, it’s hard to remember all the tiny, but important details.
  4. You COULD – if you’re particularly confident – also send a personalised video with links to additional resources. This kind of thing really reminds people of both your voice and your face. Again, in doing so, please don’t come across as unhinged.
  5. Schedule any follow-up actions, meetings and so on in your calendar.

You can take all of this to the next level and add everyone to a spreadsheet, a fancy customer relationship management system, and/or scheduling follow-ups.

Just don’t annoy people, and DO NOT be weird.

Build relationships by being helpful and generous. Assuming they connect on LinkedIn, the nature of the content you typically post and share will begin to layer upon the initial impression you left. So again, make sure it’s purposeful, relevant, and consistent in style. Make it about helping them, rather than you.

This is what builds rapport, respect, and reputation.

Clumsy Bonsai Tree analogy

For many of us who work in major pharma or the life sciences industry – where projects and business relationships have a long old life span – the whole process is applicable to gardening. Or tending to a particularly delicate bonsai tree that’ll die at the slightest hint of neglect. It all takes work, it all takes dedication, and it all takes patience. And maybe some water… You have to keep hydrated.

Point being: The value of these connections only blossom after years of nurturing and purposeful upkeep and maintenance. And then they bear fruit.

Keen to learn more about networking like a pro?

Listen to a recent Molecule to Market podcast episode to hear ramarketing’s Founder and show host, Raman Sehgal talk about firsthand networking experiences that have shaped his personal and professional development in addition to surprising results:
Episode 106 – Network like a pro

Fancy networking with the ramarketing team?

Meet our Head of Customer Success, Jeff Sternstein at DCAT Week in New York, March 20th – 23rd 2023.

Want to hear more about this topic

Listen to episode 106 of Molecule to Market

Listen now

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