In a prior article, I shared the story of Dr. Hengst, who grew up in Washington, Illinois, a population of roughly 16,000 people. From the rural countryside of Illinois, he went to a small, liberal arts college, Eureka College, and ultimately became a PhD. and multi-millionaire by co-founding, building, and selling a successful biotech firm.
In the first article, I shared the path that this small-town boy, with limited resources followed, to become an inspiration to many. One of the most fascinating things I learned in my conversations with Hengst is that, although a scientist by training, he sounds like a marketer. Below, I share his insight regarding what he learned about marketing over the course of his career.
Kimberly Whitler: I know you are a scientist, but what did you learn about marketing along the way?
Dr. Jim Hengst: There are several lessons.
Lesson #1. Listen to the Customer: I received formal training in my Boehringer days. I created a rule there anytime anybody traveled (including myself), we’d spend an extra day and visit customers with the local sales reps.
Lesson #2. You Must Spend Time Selling your Products: Also, anytime I hired a new hot shot scientist, I’d take them to a trade show and they’d work the booth – yes, I would make them sell. I used to tell them when you stand toe to toe with a customer and try and sell them something you created, that’s when you learn what this business is all about.
Lesson #3. The Most Innovative Inventions Come from … the Customer: People ask me where I get ideas for new products and I tell them they aren’t my ideas they are my customer’s ideas. By observing, listening, and trying to sell products, I would learn about the problems that customers faced. My most innovative inventions came from customers having problems.
Lesson #4. Inventors Focused on their Product and not the Customer are Doomed to Fail: I’ve dealt with a lot of people who have said “look what I’ve invented”. I’d ask them who was going to buy something like this and rather than answering the question, they’d say something like “it’s so cool, who wouldn’t buy it”. I knew they were in trouble. They were in love with their product and not solving customers’ problems.
Lesson #5. You Have to be Willing to “Let Go”. I’ve dealt with other inventors who had amazing, breakthrough technologies and couldn’t let go. They never became a success because they couldn’t let go of a bad idea.
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