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The Ultimate Medical Rep's Guide to Communication That Translates to Sales

Updated on February 7, 2019
Ella bonor profile image

Emmanuela is a pharmacist with 7years sales and marketing experience and 3+ years experience in coaching and managing sales representatives.

What's In it for All - Patient, Product and Practitioner

This comprehensive guide for medical reps provides in-depth information on the art of sales and selling in the Pharma Industry. As a medical representative, you are tasked with the duty of selling pharmaceuticals or diagnostic devices. You serve as the link between your customer- The Health care Professionals(HCPs) and the end user- the patient.

HCPs here means doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and all other health care professionals who provide diagnostic and therapeutic services to patients.

Your objective for each call should, therefore, be to provide value for the patient, your product, and the practitioner.

Patient: Since the patient laws in most countries do not allow you to interact with the end-user directly, you have to create the means to get the HCPs to picture clearly what's in it for the patient. Why should the patients use your brand over dozens or hundreds of other drugs or devices out there that perform the same function? In other words, what new value do you bring to the table?

Practitioner: How would using this device or medication benefit the practitioner?Would using it increase his success rate with managing patients for the disease? Would this make it easier for them to perform their tasks, reduce their workload, give them better quality time with their families? Your message also has to provide value to the practitioner as well.

Product: Apart from providing value to HCP and patient, you need to clearly define what's in it for your product and ultimately your company. How will selling to this practitioner help you achieve your overall budget?

Another important factor you need to also bear in mind is your attitude, as communicating with the right attitude is vital to the success of your sales call.

As a Medical Rep, you are unique because, not only does your job involve promoting your brands, it also involves providing up-to-date information on current trends for your customers.

Go in to each call with a three-fold Mission.

Your objective for each call should be to provide value for the patient, your product, and the practitioner.Apart from providing value to HCP and patient, you need to clearly outline what's in it for your product and ultimately your company. How will selling to this practitioner help you achieve your overall budget?

The Ultimate Medical Rep's Guide

Whats in it for the patient, practitioner and your product?
Whats in it for the patient, practitioner and your product?

Practitioner-How well do you know your customer?

As a Medical rep, I'm certain you've been apprised of the importance of thorough research on your client before going into a sales call. Ofttimes, med reps are quick to label certain customers difficult and may end up giving up on viable leads. The problem is they failed to utilize all the resources at their disposal to get to know this customer well. Another challenge is that they do not individualize HCPs and promote a 'one-size fits all' formula for marketing their brands.

  1. What is this customer's preferred style of communication?

    There are several articles about communication methods for different customer situations. The one, which proved the most beneficial to me as a sales rep is the Hermann whole brain model system. Based on the Hermann Brain Dominance Model, there are four distinct thinking preferences, which determine individual learning and communication styles. These styles are represented by four brain quadrants and each quadrant is assigned a color code. Notwithstanding that most people are a mix of two or more thinking personality styles, there is usually one that dominates the mix. To uncover an HCP's dominant thinking preference, listen to the kind of questions they ask:

  • Blue dominant HCP: They typically ask fact-finding questions like what evidence do you have for this? Present these customers with irrefutable proof to back up any claims you make. Be logical in your presentation and avoid making assumptive statements.
  • Yellow dominant HCP: This group needs to see the broader picture: where are you going with this? what results did you achieve? The worst thing you could do is to bog them down with details. Dominant yellow personalities demand to know why. Why should I use your brand? How is your brand better than what I prescribe to my patients, currently? Show them the benefits of using your brand, both short-term and long-term.
  • Green dominants are logical, detail-oriented and organized in their thinking and communication. They ask questions to elicit details- How did you arrive at this conclusion? How many patients were part of this study? Take them step-by-step through all the stages of your presentation and be ready to elaborate.
  • Red Category: This HCP is the most likely to offer you a cup of coffee when you call on them. They are always talking about the patient. HCPs in this group ask questions like what will this do for my patient? How affordable is your brand for my patient? Show them the cost-effectiveness of your brand and also, the emotional and physical needs that it will fulfill.

    2. What's the customer's change behavior?

    A lot of times, so-called difficult customers are just slow to adapt to innovation and often wait for the majority before they make a change-decision. To know if your customer is an early adopter or late adopter, check the kind of medications they prescribe. A doctor who is years behind in their prescription pattern is not likely to jump on-board with the latest innovation. Does this mean you should give up? Absolutely not! There are several tips that could prove useful in helping you win with these laggard-types.

  • Understand and empathize with their behavior. Use words like 'I understand why you may be hesitant to make a decision".

  • Minimize the risk of change. You could ask them for the minimum commitment like prescribing your medication for one patient and then follow up to know how well that one patient fared.

  • Leverage the power of sphere-of -influence: Get a brand-advocate within their sphere of influence to share his experience. You could also set this up as a formal/informal presentation where this brand advocate gets to speak to other HCPs. Be careful though to ensure they speak as objectively as possible, as a presentation that is strongly biased in favor of your brand may have the opposite effect to what you want.

  • It's best to be prepared for several calls with this customer and each call with something new before you can gain a commitment.

  • Use your human resources- your manager, someone higher up in the organization, or even another colleague who has been able to make headway with this Hcp.

3. Is this the Right customer for your brand?

That's the first question you need to ask before you start targeting the client for potential sales. A lot of medical reps do not properly segment their customers and end up wasting company resources as a result of this. Ask the right questions to determine the potential( number of patients seen) and the propensity ( affording category). Proper segmentation will help you define the 20% of your HCPs that can give you 80% of your sales. Focus on these ones first.

  • Your high potential-high propensity and your medium potential-high propensity Hcps should constitute the majority of your 20%. Once you've been able to identify these HCPs, focus the bulk of your resources on them. Divide your budget among them to achieve as much as 80% of your sales target. They will keep your sales running smoothly while you focus on the others.

  • Your high potential-low propensity HCPS are your next targets. A lot of times these doctors form the bulk of customers you see. Most organizations would argue that this group should be number one on the list because of the sheer number of patients they see. Even though this could be true to a certain extent, however, potential alone should not be the determinant of the volume of resources(time and material) allocated to HCPS. Target this group to maximize your resources based on the propensity for your brand and not their potential. For instance, if a doctor sees 5000 patients daily and only 50 can afford your medication, would it make sense business-wise to target the doctor with 5000 resources?

  • Your low potential-low propensity customers. Without being said, you have no business seeing this kind of customers.

  • Your Key opinion leaders and Key decision makers often fall into the category of low-potential customers. However, this is one category of non-users that you must cultivate a relationship with, as their influence may come in handy. The Administrative head of a hospital or pharmacy falls into this group.

Your customers' personalities are as varied as the colors of the rainbow- adapt your message to fit.
Your customers' personalities are as varied as the colors of the rainbow- adapt your message to fit.

Patient and Practitioner- What's in it for them?

As a medical representative, your messages should communicate your brand's value to the patient and practitioner with your opening statement, throughout your call, and in your closing remarks.

  • Begin each call with a value statement rather than a brand name. Let's suppose you sell chronic disease medications. You could start your face-to-face call by saying something along these lines - Hello, Dr.M. My name is Jane from Rich-pharma and I'm here to help you improve the quality of life of your chronic disease patients and ultimately, add value to your practice.
  • Paint word pictures using patient scenarios that the physician can relate to. Don't tell a story about high-income patients to a physician who sees only middle to low-income patients. For instance, if your HCP is a GP practicing in a rural area, it wouldn't make sense to sell them a story about a banker who needs your products. Even if they see such relatively wealthy clients, they would probably be only a handful out of their patient pool. One creative way I got around the affordability issue was to open up the doctor's eyes to the possibility of relatively well-to-do caregivers. It's possible that elderly patients who are not on health insurance have relatives like children and siblings that can cover their medical expenses.
  • Link each pain point you uncover to the impact of not addressing it. Continuing with the example above, let's suppose you uncovered the physician's challenge with poor customer adherence to their medications. You should highlight the impact of not taking the medications on the patient - deterioration in health, poor quality of life, loss of life or limb; to mention a few.
  • Highlight the impact of poorly controlled disease management on the physician's practice
  • Tailor your brand message to each need. Link each message to the benefit for your HCP or their patients. Avoid selling too many product benefits in one call especially if they don't all answer the needs you uncovered.
  • When closing, summarize all the value messages your brand will provide to the HCP and patient, and then ask for the business.
    • Be specific in the action you want the client to take. The number of products you want them to buy and how soon you would like them to make a decision.
    • Some reps get a little anxious at this point because they are scared the customer may not give a positive answer. You can check my tips on 'how to be assertive' to learn how to word your closing.
    • An effective way to minimize the risk of a negative response is to make an initial tentative closing. You can ask the HCP if there is any reason why they wouldn't use your brand. If they raise any objections, address these properly and confirm that they are satisfied with your response before going ahead to close the call.
    • There's also the possibility that you that you may not get the sales in this first call. Remember, its a journey and you're trying to build a long-term relationship with this HCP. When you have to reschedule, book a definite appointment there and then. When leaving, hint the customer about the agenda for the next meeting, and drop a few reminders of your visit.

Close with a definite call to action.
Close with a definite call to action.

Product-What's in it for You?

You've profiled this customer and are sure that they will help you meet your sales target. The next step to getting the sales requires a lot of planning and foresight; smart work and not hard work.

Create an A-B Shift Plan.

First, you need to outline long-term goals for this customer and break these down into smaller goals that build up to your ultimate objective. In other words, create an A-B shift plan for your customer. Point 'A' is where they are currently, and 'B' is where you would like them to be. The steps you need to take, to get them from A to B is what will inform the agenda for each visit.

  • What specific, measurable, realistic, and time-bound goals have you set for this customer? Your goals need to be specific so that you can measure them against your over-all budget and know how you fare. They also need to be realistic and ideally, should be tailored to the customer's capacity.
  • Specify all the resources you would need to take this HCP through all the stages of the customer journey. Adapt your message to fit each stage; from brand awareness to relationship building, and all through to when they start using your brand and thereafter.
  • Divide your long-term goals into short time objectives and assign reasonable timelines to each.
  • Be ready to make adjustments to your plan based on current reality.

Create a Pre-call Plan for each incremental step

  • How do you intend to open the call: You could either use personal or professional touch-points to create a rapport. One creative way to build a quick connection is to get the HCP to talk about something that interests them. Look them up on social media to know what their interests and hobbies are. Check around their consulting rooms to see their recent awards, family pictures, anything that would help in breaking the ice. Once they've loosened up, you can then move them to the purpose of your visit.
  • What messages do you want to pass in this call: It's always better to limit it to a message or two per call so you can always have something new to talk about in subsequent visits.
  • What questions would help you effectively uncover the need for your brand? Practice the art of asking leading questions that will get your customer to talk more. Ask 'what'questions like "what is your biggest challenge with managing your diabetic patients? What are the must-haves for you in any anti-diabetic medication?" Structuring your questions this way will help you get all the required information to tailor your communication to their specific needs.
  • What is your edge over the competition: You should be able to differentiate your brand, and communicate its unique value by using effective comparisons. One way to achieve this without bringing your competition into the call is by comparing your brand with the Industry average. For instance, if your brands' selling point is efficacy, you could say something like it's 50% more effective than other medications in its class.
  • What obstacles could the customer bring up and how will you handle them: There are several steps to handling objections and this book on objection handling provides invaluable tips.
  • What materials do you need for this call: Data, samples, and drop-cards should be tailored to the purpose of your call.

You're better off over-prepared than inadequately prepared, as this call may be the only chance you get to make a good impression.

It's always better to be over-prepared for your calls than to be taken unawares.
It's always better to be over-prepared for your calls than to be taken unawares.

Image is Everything

The first impression a customer will form about your brand is likely a reflection of your attitude and this could affect their buying decision. In a lot of cases, customers do not buy because they like your brand; they buy because they like you.

Communicate with the Right Attitude

Your Brand image is everything and that Image is you. The first impression a customer will form about your brand is likely a reflection of your attitude and this could affect their buying decision. In a lot of cases, customers do not buy because they like your brand; they buy because they like you.

Be mindful of your Customer's time and space:

You should invariably begin your calls by asking if it's a convenient time for the client. If it’s not, you can either secure an appointment for a more appropriate time or ask if they can spare you a few minutes. If they grant you a listening ear, try not to exceed the time even if you are unable to get the sales in that call. Remember, it's always better to book another appointment than to prolong a call and end up irritating your customer; closing the door to future opportunities

Be assertive but not aggressive:

You've probably heard many times that one of the key characteristics of great salesmanship is assertiveness. Unfortunately, most reps interpret this to mean being a ‘pest.’ Assertiveness means displaying your confidence and belief in what you are marketing and at the same time considering the point of view of your customer. Aggressiveness means asking them to buy your product regardless of whether it addresses their specific needs or whether you've been able to address their valid objections. To give an example to differentiate between both styles of approach: Statements like 'what do I need to do to make you buy this product now? are aggressive because they put pressure on the customer to make an instant decision whether they want to or not. Rather than frame your question as ultimatums, you could give the customer options. 'Could you give me a specific time you will make your decision regarding my product'?, 'Is there any other point I have not addressed which may be causing you to hesitate in making a decision?

Be Confident, yet humble:

Project confidence and communicate your belief in your brand. Try not to show nervousness or anxiety to your customer. Fidgeting, not making eye contact, hemming and hawing are all signs of nervousness that you need to avoid as much as possible. Demonstrate your humility in your willingness to be objective and possibly learn from your customer.

Be authoritative, yet diplomatic:

It's great to show you know stuff, but you have to be careful not to sound condescending while at it. Avoid starting with arrogant sounding phrases like 'did you know, or, are you aware'?Rather than begin your statements with such phrases, you could start by quoting an authority on the subject. For instance, if you are selling an anti-diabetic medication and you want to show the burden of diabetes as a disease globally, you could say something like: "The CDC data shows that as much as 438 million people will have diabetes by 2030. From my discussions with some of your colleagues, based on the average number of diabetic cases they see monthly, I found out that this prediction is entirely accurate."

Communicate Trust and credibility:

Marketing is selling a perception but this doesn't mean you should try to pass a roach off as a shrimp to your customer. Be honest about what your brand can or cannot do. Keep appointments you schedule with your clients. In the unfortunate event that you have plausible reasons to miss an appointment, call ahead to reschedule.

Communicate by listening with 100% attention:

How well do you listen to your clients? Do you watch for non-verbal clues that may indicate doubt, disapproval or boredom? To master the art of effective communication, you need to practice active listening.

  • Pay 100% attention to your client and listen with all your five senses.
  • Look out for subtle signs like the customer folding their arms, fidgeting, making side to side head movements and other signs that may indicate a negative response to your message.
  • Take care not to display negative non-verbal expressions like disappointment, impatience or annoyance. Be aware that the same way you are checking out your client, they are probably checking you out too.
  • You could check that the customer is still listening to you by letting your voice trail off into silence, once in a while.
  • Listen to understand first and Clarify appropriately before responding to any question or comment.
  • Check for acceptance at every stage of your call to ensure you are both still on the same page.
  • Never interrupt your customer. Not only is this kind of behavior rude, but it also comes across as not being receptive to their views and opinions.
  • Switch off or mute your mobile devices, as there is nothing more distracting than phone interruptions during a call.

Communicate Empathy and Optimism:

Let your statements be optimistic even in the face of challenges. Always refer to the cup as half-full rather than half-empty. When the customer disagrees with a statement you made, rather than try to counter directly, use empathetic statements like 'I understand why you may think this way'.This does not necessarily mean you agree; it just tells the customer you can see it from their point of view. However, be firm and unapologetic about getting your message across.

Avoid getting into heated discussions with your clients.

Learn to remove your personal feelings and emotions from your calls and even if the client says something negative about your product, try not to take it personally. If the conversation begins to get heated, there are several tips to help you calm the situation down and come out of that call with the best possible outcome.

  • Keep calm and don't react. Take deep breaths, count to ten in your mind; anything that will help you keep your cool.
  • Paste a smile on your face to show that you are completely unfazed.
  • Ask Questions to clarify what the client's grievance is. It could be that they are just having a bad day. It could also be that they may be reacting to something you said or may have had a previous bad experience with your brand. If the former is the case, you may have to make a swift decision on whether you can still make headway with the call or if it would be better to reschedule. You can decide either way by posing the question to the client. Based on their answer, you should have a pretty good idea which option would be better.
  • Sometimes the customer may not respond to your fishing for the cause of the negative reaction. Try to backtrack in your mind to the thread of conversation that led to that negative response. It could well be that you didn't pick up on some negative cues from the customer. Hopefully, by backtracking, you can pinpoint the exact cause of the cold reaction.
  • One way you can try to defuse the tense situation is by making a joke at your own expense. Try to have a few lighthearted jokes in your arsenal for situations like this. You must bear in mind though that it's quite possible this may not work especially if the customer is naturally difficult.
  • Always bring the focus of the conversation back to the value of your brand to the customer.
  • Avoid apologizing for a perceived wrong if it's not your fault as this could sound insincere. Instead, show empathy and direct the customer towards an amicable solution. However, if the customer has a genuine grievance with your brand or company, take full responsibility for the unfortunate experience and don't try to downplay the customer's reaction. Try to respond to the customer's situation as soon as possible and if need be, escalate to someone higher-up in your organization.
  • If despite all your attempts to remain calm and steer the call away from muddy waters, you still do not make headway, reschedule. Whatever you do be polite yet firm, but do not take insults or abuse from any customer. You can always concede a battle so long as you have your sights on winning the war.

Communicate with the right attitude
Communicate with the right attitude

Build Trust and Credibility.

Marketing is selling a perception but this doesn't mean you should try to pass a roach off as a shrimp to your customer. Be honest about what your brand can or cannot do.

© 2019 Emmanuela Onyemenem


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