Selling skills for dummies

pharmafield logo - pharma news


Maxine Vaccine, the pharma industry blogger whose body language is unprintable, issues a stern warning against pseudo-scientific cults posing as high-grade sales training.

While pharma industry professionals are usually sufficiently good judges of quality in a medication, they can sometimes be ever so slightly conned by people selling other types of product. As professionals we buy snake-oil that we would be ashamed to sell.

Years ago, I was sent by my company on a management training course. All but one of the modules on the course were relevant, purposeful and of value. The exception was a presentation on neuro-linguistic programming or NLP. The presenters advocated mimicking the speech patterns and body language of the person you are doing business with. Try that in real life, I thought, and you’ll be going home via the local A&E unit.

We were urged to ‘walk the talk’ in ways that reminded me strongly of Thunderbirds. Things got disturbing when a trainer suggested responding to a ‘dominant’ customer with a ‘submissive’ presentation, which he demonstrated on his knees. OK, he was slightly weird – but NLP is so locked into ideas about ‘personality’ that the line between practice and parody is easily crossed.

The core insight of NLP is that people have ‘styles’ of language that are either visual, auditory or tactile, and you will connect with a customer if you adopt their ‘style’. This is rubbish. What it means is that, instead of listening to what your customer is actually saying, you will listen only for those key words that give you a handle on them. Instead of doing your job, you will be indulging a power trip based in fantasy.

Medical sales is indeed about people. The people you are doing business with are intelligent experts with complex agendas. To work effectively with your customers, you need to understand their concerns, analyse their clinical, procedural and economic priorities and speak their language – not mimic their body language. NLP distracts you from doing business in an intelligent way by training you in egotistical mind games.

What’s going on here is that certain training companies know a nice little earner when they see it. Encouraging pharma firms to pay for some old nonsense that flatters their sense of being special, of having access to ‘secret’ knowledge, is both easier and more lucrative than researching and explaining how the pharma sales model needs to evolve in the demanding market of 2011.

The only thing NLP trainers are skilled in is parting fools from their money. If that’s what you think pharmaceutical sales is about, you’re in the wrong business.

Maxine Vaccine is keen to receive your feedback on these and other pharma industry issues. Be nice (but don’t be NICE)!