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All things Pharma

Learn from your customers

Building a strong working relationship with your NHS customers requires empathy and a readiness to learn on your part. Helen Stockill looks at how the customer care ethos can guide the sales process.

Whatever job you do – whether it is direct sales, marketing, training or support – your role is to influence people. There are many books you can read and courses you can attend that will all help to build your skills in the art of influencing, and each of these will add to your current knowledge and skill base – but it’s still essential to learn from the people on whom your career really depends: your customers.

Have you ever had one of those days when no matter what techniques you used, you just didn’t seem to get your result? Some people would argue that we all can have ‘bad days’, and that some customers are just ‘resistant and awkward’ no matter how good we are with our communication. That view can give us comfort and an excuse for not achieving the results we want to achieve. On the other hand, have you ever had one of those days when you could do no wrong? Everything you said seemed to have the desired result. Naturally, on this day there is no need for excuses or reasons: today it’s all down to your skill!

Like it or not, you are the same person on the good days as you are on the bad days, and it is unlikely that your product range has changed that much or your customer base has altered massively – so what is the difference? The difference is your underlying approach: how you use your language, how you carry yourself, what attitude you take into the sale and, of course, how you view your customer.

Focus on the customer

Suppose we imagined our customers not as people we must crowbar into agreeing with us but as specialists and experts who, in every way, are teaching us how to influence them. Do you ever walk into a sale worrying about how you look, whether your new presentation is up to scratch for this level of customer, whether you have enough product knowledge and whether the customer will buy a year’s supply if you ask them nicely? I’m sure you do: it’s human nature to want to be liked and to seek acceptance and agreement.

The problem is that we can end up throwing all of the mental focus on ourselves and not on the customer in front of us. We all know how annoying it is when a salesperson selling to us is so internally focused they are no longer listening to us or really communicating in any way: they are simply ‘telling’.

So what can we learn from the customer to switch the focus back in the right direction?

• Adopt active listening techniques while the customer is talking.
• Avoid thinking about what you are going to say next – instead, repeat what the customer is saying in your mind to make sure you are fully focused.
• Pick up on points the customer is making to clarify your understanding and to show you are listening.
• Ask open questions to make sure the customer has an opportunity to interact.
• Get the message – if the customer has said they have 10 minutes between patients, then respect that and stop within 10 minutes. The customer will be happy to see you again and build an ongoing relationship if they know you respect their time.
• Ask for feedback at the end of the sale.
• Always remember the one expert in selling to a particular customer is that customer – so why not ask them how they prefer to be sold to?

Selling to clinical specialists
A few key points for better customer service:

See their concerns. Be sensitive to your customer’s concerns as regards time pressure and the relevance of the sales call. Think about what your customer is looking for, what information they want and what factors will govern their decision.

Meet their needs Think about what you can offer the customer by way of information services, back-up and general helpfulness. A relevant website link or journal reference will be appreciated more than a free biro.

Speak their language Be aware of the customer’s vocabulary and priorities. If they are preoccupied with direct patient benefits, weight your sales pitch in that direction – likewise clinical test data, costeffectiveness or ease of use.

I once used the last idea with a customer I had previously struggled to build a rapport with. At the end of one particular call, I asked what I needed to do to influence her and have her buy my products. I was very pleasantly surprised when she took me through all the things she hated about salespeople (and I had committed quite a few of these ‘crimes’) and what she liked to see from a representative. She became one of my best customers – and when I think about it, one of my best teachers.

Selling requires flexibility

I love the old saying: “If we keep doing the same thing, we will keep getting the same results.” That’s how a lot of salespeople sell. They develop a script, they design the presentation, they plan the close, and off they go… and then they wonder why their strategy works with some customers and lands on stony ground with others.

Suppose we imagined our customers not as people we must crowbar into agreeing with us but as specialists and experts who, in every way, are teaching us how to influence them.

In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “It is unwise to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.” Rather than selling in the way you would like to be sold to, how about selling in the way your customer would like to be sold to?

In order to learn from the customer, you need to be flexible:

• What you think are the customer’s priorities may not be. Ask, don’t assume.
• Sell on the customer’s required outcome, whether or not that fits with your view of the product’s benefits. In real terms, there are no benefits to anything you sell unless the customer has identified those benefits as being needed.
• The power of rapport is essential to a sales call – by thoughtful, unobtrusive matching of your vocabulary and focus to those of the customer, you can build rapport with even those customers you perceive to be ‘difficult’.
• Language creates a mental image. Make sure you are putting the customer in the right mind-set to buy your product by using positive language that communicates images and feelings.

For some people, relying on the customer to guide them though how the sales call should proceed may be a little scary – but in fact, by allowing our customers to show us how they prefer to be sold to, we can make our sales role more effective and more fulfilling.

Helen Stockill is a professional business coach with Resolutions Unlimited. For more details, phone 01925 712100 or visit www.resolutionsunlimited.co.uk.


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