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All things Pharma

Cultural Intelligence

HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED why we select candidates for Medical Representative positions largely on their personality and potential ability to develop relationships with customers – and yet after the candidate is appointed there is little or no training provided on how to build and develop customer relations? Managers often assume that the 1 or 2 choice examples given to our cleverly-worded questions on customer relationship building are sufficient evidence that candidates are experts on the subject! Let’s focus on this key skill area further and see how Cultural Intelligence & Diversity training can help us be more focused on our key customers and provide that competitive edge we are always searching for.

Customer relationship building
We know that the essential role of a Medical Representative is to use his/her communications skills and knowledge to persuade the customer to prescribe our product rather then the competitors – that’s provided we have managed to overcome the many obstacles to seeing the doctor in the first place! But these communication skills are considered to be generic ones which apply to every type of customer, no matter what personality or background. In this modern, commercial and highly competitive world that utilises niche-marketing strategies, customer profiling and other market intelligence tools, can we really use the outdated ‘one size fits all’ approach?

Customer Relationship Management Systems (CRMS) are widely used in our industry but in essence they are only electronic versions of good contact notes. And these systems don’t prepare or coach reps on how to deal with the diversity of customers. Customers don’t behave in a predictable manner and are not convenient social stereotypes to which labels can be attached. If you have attended Social Styles training courses like I have, then you’ll know they provide convenient generic templates or neatly defined categories to fit people into. That’s a bit like carpet-bombing to hit a lone soldier! These courses never take into consideration the high number of ethnic or culturally diverse customers in the NHS. Why not? Perhaps they should when you consider 34%1 of the NHS staff are from a non-white background (South Asian – 27%1 origin) and if you look at a typical Medical Representative’s GP Target List, 50-60% are from a culturally diverse background.

Are people the same?
Are people all the same? Do we have the same values, cultures, languages, identity markers, lifestyle considerations, belief systems and expectations? I doubt it. Whilst we may have the similar economic needs and wants (remember good old Maslow’s pyramid?) at the emotional and cultural level I suggest we have different influencers on our lives. Within each region of England we have distinct dialects, historical and cultural variations that separate and identify people as different. So, again, why do we cling to the ‘one size fits all approach’ to people in organisations and their potential customers?

Diversity and cross cultural working – ‘Think the same but differently’
Globalisation and changing demographics in the UK means that most organisations have staff that need to be able to work crossculturally. In addition, the growing competition for talented people means businesses need to recruit from every possible pool to increase their chances of recruiting the best candidates possible. Many public sector organisations (e.g. Asda, HSBC bank, Sainsbury’s, BT, Marks & Spencer) have already implemented policies which encourage diversity and cultural awareness and have benefited in terms of improvements in recruitment and retention. But is the Pharma industry doing the same? Do Pharma companies train their staff – especially their managers – on cultural diversity and how to manage people from diverse backgrounds? If the answer is no, then we must ask why not? Think of the benefits such as skill and developmental improvements, recruitment from a wider pool of talent and the empowerment of people. Not forgetting to mention the tangible benefits of a happy, committed workforce with better staff retention rates.

‘To Change the world we first need to change ourselves’
That’s where the new approach of Emotional Intelligence (EI) helps by filling in the gaps in our understanding of people. EI provides valuable insights into human behaviour, or, with a more commercial viewpoint, important information on buyer behaviour. Cultural Intelligence recognises the differences we all have in terms of our lifestyles, languages, cultures, religious influences and practices and general ethnic backgrounds. In short, it helps us to understand our customer a little deeper so that our approach in communicating and selling is better focused, intelligent and culturally more sensitive. The end result will hopefully be a better appreciation from the customer and consequently a more lasting and fruitful relationship. Cultural sensitivity is also important for any caring employer in terms of the crucial issue of human resource utilisation. Retention of their most valuable resource (people of course!) is dependent on an organisation’s ability to recognise different cultural backgrounds as well encouraging individuality. A study from The Industrial Society (Jan 2001)2 found that 67% of UK managers regard diversity and equality as matters of high priority over the next two years. But significantly, only 45% of organisations responding to the survey have strategies in place to achieve this aim!

How is this relevant to me in medical sales?
As mentioned earlier, nearly a quarter of NHS staff are from a nonwhite background and these figures clearly suggest this group needs special attention in order to achieve the maximum penetration and results.

How do we do this? Well, there are several approaches to achieving this objective. As a Business Manager from an Asian background, I have always used my cultural knowledge to gain access (sometimes preferential access) and develop excellent bonds with doctors. Ask any Asian Medical Representative you know how they use their own knowledge to their significant advantage. So knowledge and training on this knowledge is the first step. In addition, we need to go beyond typical customer profile notes of prescribing habits, usage commitments, and the occasional interests/hobbies questions to more in-depth awareness of ethnicity, traditions, festivals, language, customs and key/relevant religious practices.

For example: do we know which of our doctors will be celebrating Eid, Diwali or Holi? Which of our doctors attending meetings will be requiring halal food and which will not eat beef? How can we tell from just the name of a doctor which ethnic background he/she belongs to and hence the pre-call objectives you should include in your visit? How do we avoid the potential religious/political pitfalls that lie in waiting when dealing with customers from a South Asian background? What do you think the response will be from a Muslim doctor if you send them the customary Christmas card? All food for thought. Such practical knowledge will enable us to be more professional, show to the customers that we have taken the trouble to understand them better, recognise and respect their values and religious/traditional practices. This will separate us from the other standard, often careless approaches made by other sales people. One of the key outcomes we are trying to achieve in sales is being remembered and what better way is there than showing that you are knowledgeable? This extra knowledge – and I have seen it first hand from my own teams – will make that extra impact you desire and get you remembered…and invited back!

Cultural Intelligence and Diversity training provides tangible advantages to all company employees, especially front line sales people. This knowledge will result in a more confident, focused and professional approach to customers from different cultures and consequently, more productive outcomes. Moreover, recognising cultural diversity at every level of employee development has real benefits to the organisation in terms of motivation, retention and utilising talent resources.

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