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All things Pharma

A piece of the action



A piece of the action

Medical devices are active technologies, and selling them calls for a strategy that actively engages the customer. Andy Beech of OTD discusses the power of action-based call objectives.

Imagine there are 99 sales representatives and account managers from the medical technologies industry lined up in order of their sales skills, from lowest to highest. You have to join that line. Where would you put yourself? Confidence and belief in yourself and your products are essential for a really successful career. Confidence becomes even more powerful when coupled with a realistic awareness of your own abilities and a desire to improve.

So now you are standing in a line of 100. What is your desire to move up that line and leapfrog the competition? If your desire is low, then over time people will start to overtake you. By doing nothing different, you will be slipping down the line. Doing nothing is doing something!

We have worked with thousands of sales people and hundreds of sales managers over the years – and while everyone’s strengths and development areas are different, there is one core skill that if developed further is most likely to make you the one moving up the line. It is a simple skill, but if used well and consistently it will have a significant impact on your business. What is it?

Ready to go

To begin with, how long should we spend preparing for a customer call or meeting? Of course it depends on the situation. You need as long as it takes in order to consider and write down the following:

  • What problems may our customer have that we can provide solutions for? Why do they have these problems? What is likely to be important for them?
  • If we have seen this customer before, what is their preferred communication style? What excites and inspires them? How might I need to adapt my style to connect with them more effectively?
  • What would be good outcomes from the contact from the customer’s point of view? Why would these be helpful to the customer?
  • Why am I seeing this customer? What specifically would be good, better and best outcomes for me and my company? (These should be actions that your customer is going to take, there and then or once you’ve left depending on the situation. Keep them short and action-based.)
  • What resources do I need to take with me into the call?
  • What state of mind am I in? (Give yourself a score out of 100.)
  • What state of mind do I need to be in?

Don’t waste your breath

Let’s consider a case history. Tony was a sales manager for a company making ventilators for use in hospital care. Competition was tough, and there were few clinical differences between the competing brands. Differentiation was based on service levels and discount levels.

Tony had recently taken over a new geography. On his first field visit with sales representative Chris, Tony asked him what he wanted to achieve in the next call. “To find out when they are due to upgrade their ventilators and show them the benefits of our new model,” he said. Chris was an expert when it came to product knowledge, and he took great pride in being knowledgeable about his customers. He spoke enthusiastically about the world-class service and potential discount structure. They came out of the call without an order.

For the rest of the calls that morning, the objective was the same as before. So was the result. But when measured against the actual call objective, Chris was being successful! He knew exactly when the customers were likely to purchase new equipment, and his customers knew about the features and benefits of the new model.

After lunch, they agreed to try a new approach. For the next call, the objective was “To gain a commitment to purchase their model of ventilator the next time they were considering adding or upgrading their equipment.” They spent a few moments closing their eyes and imagining what real success would sound like and look like, then went in. They came out with an agreement that the customer would undertake a full trial of their product starting next month, with a view to purchasing three of them in six months’ time.

Over the next six months, Chris continued to have clear action-based call objectives. His sales performance went from the bottom of the sales league table to mid-way, a huge improvement.

You get what you wish for, so make your wishes good ones.

You get what you wish for, so make your wishes good ones. How clear are you on the customer actions that will move your business in the right direction?

Make it happen

In a complex account where there are multiple influencers, decision-makers and gatekeepers and the sales cycle is lengthy, this principle becomes even more important. How clear are you on the customer actions that will move your business in the right direction? Your customer or call objective should be:

  • in line with your account plans
  • imagined by you and then written down
  • action(s) that your customer commits to taking by an agreed date.

Let’s consider a few actual customer call objectives that we have heard from account managers and sales people in our development programs and on field visits. Tick the ones that pass the customer action test.

Let’s consider a few actual customer call objectives that we have heard from account managers and sales people in our development programs and on field visits. Tick the ones that pass the customer action test.

1. To find out what products they are currently using.

2. To get them to agree to a call back/ another appointment.

3. For them to be committed to writing product usage guidelines and circulating these to the relevant departments by the end of the month.

4. Customer will sign an order for a year’s supply of X at a discount of 5% or lower.

5. Customer to be committed to speaking to a specific colleague about their good experiences of using your product by the end of the week.

6. To get the customer to agree to a product demonstration within the next month.

7. To inspire them to agree to undertake a two-month trial of your product, making a full assessment at the end of the trial period.

8. The customer will put in a proposal by the end of the month to the relevant committee, recommending that they purchase your product.

9. I don’t need an objective, as it’s just a courtesy call to build the relationship and see how they are getting on with our product.

10. (Insert your next customer contact objective here.)

Do they pass the test?
1. Knowledge is important, but it is not action.
2. There is no customer action here.
3. Yes.
4. Yes.
5. Yes. Can you be sure it will happen?
6. No. What do you want them to do?
7. Yes. You will need to flesh out the details.
8. Yes. Can you see it before it is submitted?
9. We have actually heard this one!
10. You tell me.

Where will you be standing in the line by the end of the year?

Andy Beech is a Director of OTD, a company that provides bespoke learning and development solutions to the healthcare industry. Its motto is ‘Inspire & Grow’. Andy can be contacted on 0845 224 1775. For more details, visit www.otd.uk.com.


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