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All things Pharma

Making a commitment The relationship selling approach

Are you in it for the long term or just a one hit wonder? Sales training expert Sean McPheat takes a look at ‘relationship selling’ or ‘key account management’ techniques – an approach that is particularly important for pharma sales executives today.

In such a heavily regulated industry, the sales people that excel in their field are those that can demonstrate outstanding strategic and key account management skills. Being able to excel in skills associated with managing accounts and relationship building can really separate the wheat from the chafe in terms of building long-term profitable partnerships with your clients.

Note how I say long-term partnerships! Your sales approach should not be geared around a one off sale, but around repeat business and for the long term.

This approach sits well with many of the people you are selling to as well. Many clients are sceptical towards sales people and being ‘sold to’. Therefore a ‘soft sell’ works best that is based upon long-term win-win solutions where both parties feel that they have got a great deal.

Relationship selling is just that: using relationships to achieve your goal to increase sales.

Some call it ‘relationship selling’ and others call it ‘key account management’, but no matter what you call it, it’s all based around the partnerships and the relationships that you make.

So how can you maintain and develop profitable long term relationships?

Consultative selling

Figure 1

Relationship selling is based around the consultative selling approach. This means that it’s based around understanding the needs of your prospects and clients first and then, and only then, do you think about how your products and services can help them.

This discussion normally follows the path of the diagram above, where you’ll analyse your prospect’s needs, offer solutions to them, discuss the benefits of your products and services, overcome any resistance and then move the sale forward by going for the order – or, in the case of pharmaceutical sales, this might be a commitment to trial the product.

Now while the process seems very straightforward, it can take several months. Very rarely is it a one hit wonder. Sales cycles are normally long so you’ll need to build the relationship all the way through the sales process through to them becoming a client and beyond for repeat business.

If you take a look at a typical relationship selling model there are various ‘touch points’, where you as the sales person have the opportunity to build the relationship with your prospect and this starts from the very moment that you first meet them or pick up the phone.

Become a business person

Relationship selling can give a powerful advantage and help you to differentiate yourself in today’s crowded markets. If we take the advice of executive level buyers, we will realise that our greatest success is in transitioning our approach from being ‘sales people’ to thinking and acting like ‘business people’!

Selling in a ‘big bang’ way will not work. Instead, you need to strategically think about what you need to do and how you are going to do it in order to influence decision makers. Whilst a linear approach from A to B is the quickest and most desirable way, sometimes you’ll need to go to point C, D E, F and then come back to B to achieve your goal.

So right from the outset it’s very important that you bare in mind that this is a relationship sale and your planning, preparation and approach need to reflect this.

So what will your prospects need from you in order to build up this relationship? Let’s look at some of the key areas:

TRUST – You will need to build up their trust in you from the outset. You can only do this over time by your approach, the way you do business and what you have done in the past both personally and as a company.

PROOF – So why should they believe a word you say? Social proof, happy clients and case studies go a long way to building proof that in turns helps with your credibility and helps to build trust.

EDUCATION – Inform them and educate them in something they don’t know. Can you help them without asking for anything in return? As a pharma rep, are there any results of clinical trials that you can give them? Are there any latest research reports? Be more than just an account manager/sales person. You need to be a trusted advisor.

SERVICE – Are you accessible? Do you turn around requests quicker than your competition? Unless you’ve got a real unique selling point they will be faced with hundreds of sales reps just like you and the one area in which you can really stand out in is the level of customer service and support that you offer.

WHAT MAKES YOU DIFFERENT? – Sometimes you don’t need to be better to get the business, sometimes you just need to be different. Put yourself in your client’s shoes. They might get hassled and hounded by some sales people and they may have a pre-conceived impression that you will be exactly the same. So what can you do differently to the rest? What makes you unique? Be different!

Lose yourself

If your prospects think that you are only out for your commission cheque at the end of the month then you are fried. You need to have a ‘you attitude’ and that means that you really need to focus on them. Listen attentively, not only to what they say, but also the latest industry news or articles that you come across. How can you help them?

You need to put yourself in the prospect’s position and think about their needs, wants and desires, even if there is nothing in it for you. In relationship selling, your behaviours and approach should be focused on your clients and not on yourself.

Making and maintaining these connections is essentially what relationship selling is all about. So what’s important in a relationship selling/account management model and how can you improve your skills in this area?

Have a proven sales model in place

Having great rapport building skills is not enough if you don’t have a robust sales model to back it all up. Do you have a systematic way to move your prospects through your marketing and sales funnels?

Keep an open mind

Is your mind closed off to ideas and signals or do you look at every interaction as a possible way of establishing another new potential relationship?

Rapport-building skills

We’ve talked a lot what you need to do, but what about those all important communication skills. After all, you’ll never build relationships without them.

Building rapport with your prospects and clients is easier said than done. To some it comes naturally, but to others it can be really difficult.

You need to put yourself in the prospect’s position and think about their needs, wants and desires, even if there is nothing in it for you. In relationship selling, your behaviours and approach should be focused on your clients and not on yourself.

Rapport is all about that feeling of being comfortable with someone and trusting them and that’s exactly how you need your prospects to feel about you.

It’s a crucial activity in any interaction, but especially in any ongoing sales interaction. It’s the first thing you need to establish and the most important thing to keep all the way throughout your relationship with the client.

Here are some ways you can build rapport:

  • Talk about common areas of interest (people like people who are like themselves), but don’t go overboard and sound sickly sweet when making small talk and conversation.
  • Body language – match and mirror their movements (but don’t make it obvious).
  • Language – match their tonality and the type of words that they use.
  • Learning styles – do they like the big picture or the detail? Match their preference – listen to the level of detail they talk in to work out which they prefer.
  • Representational systems – this sounds complicated but it’s about how they think. Some people think in pictures and are very visual, so drawing a diagram would be best for them, and others think in words and noises, so talking them through the options would work best for them. Listen to the words they use: ‘picture this’ or ‘look at this’ means they have visual preferences. ‘That sounds good’ or ‘I hear you’ means they have auditory preferences.

At the end of the day, think about your prospects and what they want from the relationship. Like with most relationships, you’ll probably find they want a long term partner rather than just a one night stand.

Sean McPheat is regarded as the UK media’s #1 authority on modern day selling. Sean is the Managing Director of MTD Sales Training, an international sales improvement company that has delivered training to over 700 different companies. Web: www.mtdsalestraining.com Tel:  0800 849 6732  0800 849 6732 .

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