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Keeping PACE with the customer



Customer engagement is a crucial aspect of sales – and in healthcare, where the customers are specialised professionals with complex priorities, it can be a difficult challenge. Performance coach, author and speaker Allan Mackintosh outlines a formula that can help you engage your customers quickly and productively.

Customer engagement is an art, and one that has to be mastered quickly if your working relationship with healthcare customers – whether consultants, hospital or ward managers or procurement specialists – is going to bring results for both customer and sales professional.

The healthcare sales professional has to make a quick and exceptional impression on the customer. With competition being fierce and customers’ expectations being extremely high, it is imperative for sales representatives to engage the customer at the first meeting. I have worked in a healthcare sales environment since 1982; having been a sales executive, sales coach and sales manager, I have seen many sales professionals in action – some excellent, some not so great. I have constructed a formula that can easily be learned and implemented, based on the skills of the best sales professionals I have seen in action alongside my own experiences as a performance coach. This is the PACE™ formula.

PACE™ is a four-stage process that involves a number of skills at each stage. It is assumed that each sales executive knows their own products and services intimately, because without that the whole process falls apart!

P – Personality, Professionalism & Priorities

Every sales executive needs to be aware of their own personality style and how it comes across to other people. Similarly, they must be able to work out their customer’s primary behavioural style quickly from their body language, then adapt their own style to be more like that of the customer. It needs only very subtle changes, such as matching eye contact and tone of voice – but by matching the style of the customer, it is possible to build a quick rapport and then define an approach that motivates and engages the customer to listen to what the sales person has to say.

There are many personality profile models and questionnaires around. Some are very detailed (and expensive); but I have found that even the most basic personality profile model, if implemented effectively, can be enough to make sales executives more aware of their own style and how best to identify customers’ styles, then adapt their personal style to match the customer’s. Every sales representative and sales manager should be trained in this area.

However, personality adaptation will not work in isolation. The healthcare sales person needs to take a professional approach to every call, making sure that their product and therapeutic knowledge is up to date and that they can converse on the same intellectual level as the customer they are working with and attempting to influence. They need to understand the customer’s priorities and the challenges they are facing, and plan every call to ensure that they are well prepared. Without a planned and professional approach, simply matching a customer’s style will not get the sales person past ‘first base’.

Similarly, having all the relevant knowledge but attempting to engage the customer based on your personality style alone will almost certainly mean that ‘different-style’ customers will not engage with you as fully as you would wish. Both personality adaptation and professional approach are necessary: neither will ensure success without the other.

A – Agreement

This is a must with long-term customer relationships. Too often, sales executives go straight into the sales call without first establishing what I call a ‘working contract’ with the customer. If you are selling on a ‘one-off’ basis and perhaps have no reason to call on that customer again, this may not be applicable; but if you are going to be calling regularly on a customer then it is well worth taking time at the start of the first sales call to explain who you are and where you come from, and to ask the customer what he/she expects from the relationship:
• What type of meeting do they prefer?
• What information would they like to receive?
• What are their priorities and challenges?
• What frequency of call do they prefer?

By listening to the customer and collecting all this information, the sales professional is not only valuing the customer but also gaining vital insights into their needs and motivations. These can be used to define future approaches that are more closely tailored to the customer, thus ensuring that future sales pitches are more effective and productive.

Very few sales executives do this ‘contracting’ with the vast majority of customers. They launch into the sales pitch without treating the customer as a person in their own right. By having a proper discussion and creating a working agreement, you can stand out from your competitors. And I bet you will still have time for a sales pitch!

C – Collaborate & Coach

Every sales executive-customer relationship should ideally be a collaborative partnership, designed to support the customer in finding solutions to their challenges. The role of the sales person is in effect to play the coach and help the customer to focus on their desired outcomes, identify their present reality and find options and solutions.

Too often, sales executives go straight into the sales call without first establishing what I call a ‘working contract’ with the customer. It is well worth taking time at the start of the first sales call to explain who you are and where you come from, and to ask the customer what he/she expects from the relationship.

Coaching ‘purists’ may throw up their hands in horror at the suggestion that sales people are coaches. True coaches are non-directive, so how can a sales executive who is promoting products and services be a coach? They may have a point, but I am a realist, and I have noticed that top sales executives generally took a coaching approach by asking questions and letting the customer come up with their own solutions – whereupon the customer would often say, “And do you have a particular solution to help me?” Only then would the sales executive be directive and outline the options that the customer had in relation to the company’s products and services.

Unfortunately, many sales executives tend to take a ‘one-way’ approach: armed with all their company’s product and service information, they proceed to ‘bombard’ the customer with facts that are mostly irrelevant to their needs and motivations. This approach does not exactly value the customer either!

If sales executives adopt a collaborative and coaching approach, they are more likely to get results. I believe that all sales executives should be trained in coaching skills. This would also prepare them for future management roles, because all sales managers coach effectively – don’t they?

E – Encouragement & Support

This is vital for a longer-term business relationship. Every sales executive worth their salt will provide consistent support to ensure that the products and services sold are used appropriately and correctly and that they are getting results for the customer. What this support will consist of should be discussed in the initial ‘contract’. Even when the company’s current emphasis is on other products in a different area, it is very important that key customers are still called on to check how the ‘old’ products are doing. Customers look for this kind of support, and if it disappears then you can be sure they will turn to your competitors.

One time when I was working in the healthcare industry, the company’s promotion moved from selling a product in Respiratory Medicine to selling one in Dermatology. Many of the sales team quickly forgot about the respiratory physicians to concentrate on the dermatologists, but the top sales people kept in touch with their key respiratory contacts (albeit on a reduced level). Two years later, a new respiratory product was launched – guess which sales executives quickly sold the most?

PACE maker

To be successful in healthcare sales, remember the PACE™ approach. Make sure you know your own personality style and can adapt it to your customer’s style. Take time to establish the working relationship by agreeing a ‘contract’ with your longer-term customers. When dealing directly with the customer, adopt a coaching and collaborative approach. Finally, in any long-term partnership, make sure you deliver the support needed by the customer. The results will follow!

Allan Mackintosh is a former sales executive and sales manager in the healthcare industry, and is now a performance coach, author and speaker and a Director of TeamBuilders International Ltd. He can be contacted by phone on 01292 671220 or 0776 416 8989, or by e-mail at allan@teambuildersinternational.com.


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