4 Great PhD Careers In Sales And Marketing (Don’t Overlook #3)

Like many PhDs, you may think that Research and Development is the only department in industry that hires PhDs.

But the reality is, your skills are needed in every area of industry. That means that every single department within a company is seeking PhD-level candidates.

In fact, there are five core industry career tracks that can provide PhDs with meaningful and rewarding work: Information and Data Management (this is a broad category that includes everything from Patent Analyst and Informatics Specialist roles to Medical Writing and Data Scientist roles), Research and Development, Clinical and Regulatory Affairs, Classical Business (e.g., Management Consulting, Business Development Manager), and of course, Sales and Marketing.

By far, the career track that is overlooked the most by PhDs is sales and marketing.

PhDs often dismiss this sector of industry because they either think that sales positions require previous experience or that being in sales and marketing is not a good use of their expertise. Many also shun the field because they think that salespeople are manipulative and being on the commercial side of industry requires you to “sell out”.

This is so far from the truth.

Many PhDs that find themselves in either a sales or marketing position are surprised to find how well their skillset aligns with the job description and how much they enjoy the work.

One Cheeky Scientist member describes how happy she was with her decision to go into sales and marketing:  

“I’m in sales. I didn’t expect to be in sales, but once I learned the day-to-day of such roles as a technical sales engineer or an applications scientist, I realized that was where I wanted to be.

I have since become the Director of my company’s Sales and Marketing Department. I also have the title of Director of Science Outreach. In these two roles, I’ve gained insight into what sales and/or marketing positions can be for PhDs.

These types of positions are very client facing. They are interesting. And they are valuable.”

Sales and marketing departments are highly diverse – encompassing a wide variety of exciting roles – and provide a dynamic environment that allows you to do work that has a real impact.

Why Employers Are Currently Seeking PhDs For Sales And Marketing Positions

In the past, PhDs were rarely hired for sales and marketing positions.

However, as biotech and pharmaceutical products become more technically complex, more sales and marketing departments are seeking out PhDs for their technical expertise.

PhDs are particularly well positioned for roles in sales and marketing due to their ability to learn complex systems and communicate their knowledge effectively.

So, why should you consider a job in sales or marketing?

I’ll give you three reasons.

First, the sales job market is consistently growing. A past assessment conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that employment in this sector will grow by 8% between 2020 and 2030.

Second, employees in sales and marketing roles are some of the highest paid people. In fact, the Wall Street Journal and the Labor Department report that, on average, people in specialty sales positions earn almost twice that of other employees.

Sales and marketing positions also allow you to establish and maintain professional relationships with researchers, healthcare professionals, and other business entities. Even if you’re unsure about remaining in sales and marketing for your entire career, it is a great place to start.

Sales and marketing roles open doors that other jobs simply can’t.

To illustrate the range of job descriptions included under sales and marketing, I will highlight 4 roles that PhDs find both challenging and meaningful.

4 Top Sales And Marketing Jobs PhDs Should Consider

Almost every sales and marketing department in industry has Application Scientists, Project Managers, Marketing Research Analysts, and Capital Equipment/Technical Specialists.

While the job descriptions may vary, all share some basic qualities; all require strong communication skills, keen problem-solving skills, an ability to build long-term relationships, and a willingness to collaborate with both clients and other members of your team.

1. Application scientist, application engineer, and other application specialist roles

Application roles are responsible for supporting a product in the field, effectively acting as a liaison between the company and the client. As an application scientist, you would be working closely with the sales and marketing team along with research and development, providing both with feedback from the field.

For example, Application Scientists generally have large territories which means that you would be travelling frequently.

In this role, you would spend much of your time interfacing with clients and key opinion leaders – listening to their needs, educating them on your company’s product, and helping them apply the product to their own research or business. You would also be offering support services and assisting with troubleshooting.

This may seem like a sales position, but really, what application scientists do is determine how a company can best meet the needs of their clients. This information not only helps companies improve the products that are already on the market, but it also informs what direction companies go in the future, making it a critical role in any company.

If you enjoy interacting with people from different backgrounds, traveling for work, or teaching others, then Application based roles may be a great option for you.

2. Project management roles

As PhDs, we tend to only think of project management in terms of research and development – but project managers are needed in all departments, including sales and marketing.

Project managers are the central hub responsible for coordinating all the departments involved in product development. They lead new products from inception all the way to launch while also supporting products already on the market.

In this role, you would be responsible for creating product plans that result in the highest profit margin possible. This means you would be following market trends, implementing product development strategies alongside the research and development department, and coordinating with market communications to craft compelling product messaging – all to help improve the product’s position in the marketplace.

Project management is incredibly cross-functional and allows you to see the entire lifecycle of a product.

And while this role sits on the commercial side of industry, it still provides opportunities to interact with the more innovative components of the company.

If you enjoy being close to the transactions that occur between a company and the client, project management can be a fulfilling and exciting career for you.

3. Market research analyst roles

Market analysts help support the sales team early on in the product development process. They offer a bird’s eye view of the market, offering insight into the areas that new products can gain more of the market share.

In other words, analysts determine where a company’s product fits into the current market and help guide sales decisions based on the trends they observe. For example, if there are three products competing for similar space in the market, an analyst would identify what needs are not being met by the three competitors – this, in turn, helps companies prioritize products that are able to fill those unmet needs.

If you find yourself more interested in analyzing experimental data than in the experiments themselves, you may find your niche in market research analysis.  

4. Capital equipment and technical specialist roles

Let’s get this out of the way early – PhDs in these roles will get paid more than PhDs in any other role available in industry.

Why, you ask?

Practically, because of commission. While the average base salary of a capital equipment specialist may only be $120,000 in the U.S., the commission for this position for someone who excels in the role can double or triple this base, which means a PhD in this role can walk away with $240,000 to $360,000 depending on how successfully they sell.

Less practically, these sales positions pay the most because of the high risk-reward nature of the role. In sales, you are given a quota to hit – this can either be a revenue benchmark or a product-based goal. If you miss your quota by too much or too often, you will not be in this position for long.

In industry, the closer you are to the actual transaction of value (product for money) and the more you directly influence it, the more you will be paid.

Capital equipment and technical specialists are the people turning a profit, and are therefore, critical to the success of a company. Because of this, companies hold specialists in high regard, making them some of the most highly paid employees on the payroll

If you have ever attended an equipment demonstration or spoke with a company representative about purchasing a product, then you have most certainly interacted with a specialist.

Like the application scientist, specialists cover an assigned territory; however, territories for specialists tend to be smaller and typically involve less travel.

Capital equipment specialists sell large equipment – sequencing equipment, flow cytometers, microscopes – that cost upwards of a million dollars.

Sale cycles for capital equipment specialists are significantly longer than that of technical specialists – a sale can take anywhere from 6 months to a year to close. This is because purchasing large equipment often involves a large group of people and many facilities must apply for a grant to cover the cost of the equipment.

On the other end, technical specialists sell smaller products and are often responsible for a larger portfolio. The products are typically lower cost, and the quotas are generally higher than that of capital equipment specialists, but the overall sale cycle is much shorter.

PhDs are highly sought after for Capital Equipment and Technical Specialist roles because they have first-hand experience with the products.

During your PhD, you used a variety of reagents, kits, and complex equipment. You may not have known it at the time, but you were gaining work experience just by being a customer.

If you enjoy interacting with people, like some travel, are motivated by a commission-based salary, or have a talent for convincing even the most skeptical among us, then a role in equipment and product sales may be the challenge that you are looking for.

Concluding Remarks

Sales and marketing departments offer PhDs a wide range of exciting positions including Application Scientist/Engineer/Specialist, Project Manager, Market Research Analyst, and Capital Equipment/Technical Specialist. These positions are, by far, some of the most client-facing roles in industry and require strong communication skills, keen problem-solving skills, and an ability to build long-term relationships. PhDs that excel in these roles are most often extroverted, enjoy traveling, can adapt quickly, and want to work closely with both clients and team members. Once you have identified the career track that best fits your professional lifestyle, you will be able to make more informed decisions throughout your job search.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

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Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Isaiah Hankel, PhD Chief Executive Officer at Cheeky Scientist

Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of the largest career training platform for PhDs in the world - Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by 3 million PhDs in 152 different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published two bestselling books with Wiley and his methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

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