Much has been written on the critical skills, technologies, systems and methodologies associated with successful pharmaceutical selling. Bryan McCrae explains why consistent sales success involves much more.
At my company Sales-Motivations we’ve just completed research into the most critical factors for sales success. There’s been some very illuminating initial results. The two factors which we’ve found to be most important for high sales performance are resilience and intrinsic motivation. Strangely, given their importance, these factors rarely receive attention or development. It’s a sad fact that medical professionals often see little value in technological communications. Representatives now have only a few minutes or perhaps seconds to communicate and, in some countries, are prevented from seeing medical professionals altogether. Where contact is maintained, this is often driven more by sampling than the exchange of information. If current trends continue, then direct access to medical professionals may fade away altogether.
Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from setbacks and to keep going in the face of challenges. There are two main aspects to resilience.
The first is how badly a setback affects performance. It’s normal to feel down or demoralised if a major opportunity is missed. But does this result in just a small drop in activity levels for a short period or a major and long lasting drop in activity and performance? How long does this drop in activity and performance last for? It can vary from a few minutes to days, weeks or even longer. In some instances performance levels never fully recover. It is easy to see that the deeper the dip and the longer it lasts the more it will reduce performance. Resilience is vitally important to sales success.
The second factor is intrinsic motivation, which is the degree to which people want to work well in their jobs in order to achieve personal satisfaction and success. External motivators do work, but the effect is often short lived and not as strong for complex, technical or solution selling, compared to transactional selling. This link between intrinsic motivation and effort, persistence, productivity and staff turnover has been repeatedly and reliably demonstrated in many studies.
‘Will-do’ or ‘Can-do’
Together, these factors also explain the difference between ‘can-do’ representatives and ‘will-do’ representatives. This is often most obvious when there are major changes in the market or changes in the role of the representative – as is certainly the case presently within pharma.
Selling doesn’t come naturally to everyone. But by harnessing the latest psychology techniques every employee can become part of the wider sales team. The outcome? A boost to employee motivation, the ability to engage in selling and a boost to your bottom line.
A new approach
The playing field has changed with the recent changes in the NHS and budget pressures resulting in the market becoming a lot more competitive. Sales professionals now need to be able to sell themselves and their products more than ever, show what differentiates them from their competitors and use sophisticated sales and account management techniques to win and retain clients.
But even the words ‘sales or selling’ fill many representatives with feelings of dread as it conjures up images of pushy double glazing and dodgy used car salesmen with questionable ethics. However, this selflimiting belief can be addressed by using powerful proven psychological techniques.
Fundamentally there is an issue around the thoughts, feelings and beliefs conjured up by the words ‘sales or selling’. This is where a change of mind-set can be very helpful. Rather than think of it as selling, think of it as of the process of finding healthcare professionals who need your products to help their patients stay healthy. In return, they will want to stay aligned with your brand, rather than competitors.
By challenging one’s mind-set the lack of motivation commonly associated with doing something we don’t feel comfortable with can be addressed. In fact, there is no need for any pharma sales professional to feel uncomfortable selling. The skill sets used for sales share many of the skills found in many scientific professionals. With a bit of flexibility and creativity these skills can be transferred from use in sciences to utilisation in sales to great effect.
One approach that has been proven to be very effective is ‘structured self-coaching’. Just like face-to-face coaching sessions, this involves clarifying what a person wants to change then identifying, exploring and overcoming the psychological barriers to achieving these goals, followed by creating an action plan to implement it.
Taking the example of ‘I want to feel more confident when trying to get a client to sign up for a new brand’, a common barrier might be the belief that if you can’t get them to sign up quickly then you don’t know how to negotiate sales and you’ll inevitably lose the client as a result. This sort of thinking is obviously unhelpful and, if left unchecked, results in reduced motivation, the ability to recover quickly from setbacks and lower sales as a consequence.
But an approach called ‘thought challenging’ is very effective in breaking this sort of thinking pattern. It involves four specific questions:
Question 1: Am I making any ‘thinking errors’?
There are a common set of unhelpful thinking patters that we all fall into from time to time, such as emotional labelling, magnification and should statements. The word ‘stupid’ is an emotional label. Individuals magnify the consequences of not being able to answer a question immediately and the ‘I should be able to’ belief implies that there is some sort golden rule that is broken.
Question 2: What is the evidence for and against this thought or belief?
Do all effective sales professionals really know the answer to every question that a client might ask of them? How do I really know this? What proof do I have? Have I asked any accomplished reps if it is true?
Question 3: What are other ways of looking at this situation?
What would happen if you said: “I’m not certain of the answer, but I’ll get back to you within 24 hours?” Creatively generating several options at this stage is always useful. Pick one and give it a try.
Question 4: What am I going to do to generate a different result?
If you do nothing different then you’re very likely to get the same results. Sales professionals need to work out how to think, feel and behave differently next time to bring about improved results.
This structured approach, together with on-going reinforcement and practice, really does help people fine-tune their thinking and behaviour to be more successful. In fact, using these techniques has been shown to result in 20% more people reaching or exceeding their sales targets.
Do you know how resilient you, or you sales team, really are? One approach would be to take a resilience online questionnaire – there’s one at the Sales- Motivation website. Once you have completed our questionnaire, respondents receive a personalised six-page report describing individual motivation and resilience profiles and what can be done to maintain or improve them to boost performance.
Research from a recent study with more than 1,000 participants found that anyone in sales can increase their performance by developing their intrinsic motivation and resilience by a structured self-coaching approach.
It works with poor performers as well as helping others move from ‘good’ to ‘great’ and helping the ‘great’ to become consistent ‘superstars’. These really are the secret ingredients of sales success!
Bryan McCrae is a Sales Psychologist, Sales Coach and the founder of Sales-Motivations. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Sales and Marketing Management, a Founding Fellow of the Sales Leadership Alliance and a member of the British Psychological Society. For more information visit www.sales-motivations.com.