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All things Pharma

THE MATRIX The Tell Sell! Customer Neurolinguistics!

Part 1

The impetus for this article came from a chance discussion with a moderately senior pharma company representative. They were explaining the benefits of being on a recent ‘advanced selling techniques’ course. What was interesting was that whilst they found the course fascinating, it was a shame that this course was not provided earlier in his career. The company’s policy it seems was to provide this course to selected individuals who were successful, but inevitably led to advanced selling skills to those who were senior enough that their face-to-face customer contact was far less than many others within the company below him.

The resulting paradox is a system whereby new representatives who’s entire role is to see customers receives less training in sales techniques than senior members who are often reticent to be called ‘sales reps’.

Why do so many ‘details’ and ‘calls’ go wrong? How many times do you come away from an appointment with a confusing perspective of the call?

The next few issues of the MATRIX looks at some interesting observations you may choose to employ in your next call.

The 1st meeting with your customer will probably dictate whether or not that customer will want to see you again. Not dissimilar from an interview, the decision will often be based on entry and exit of the candidate (paradoxically candidates peak performance is in mid-interview despite the fact interviewers impressions are strongest near the beginning and end of the interview)

I have an appointment with a NHS HDM/HBM from a Pharmaceutical Company. They have confirmed a few days ago, stated they are a bit nervous to meet me but that they are looking forward to having our 1st meeting, as she is new to this territory.

‘Hello’s’ and ‘Goodbyes’ follow simple social rules of salutation displays. They are intended to transmit friendly signals, or at least absence of hostility. This is why we hug/kiss and cuddle friends that we haven’t seen for ages – in the absence of daily contact we are ‘making up’ for all the little friendly greetings that would have been displayed. If you have someone you consider a ‘good’ customer who displays little or no ‘salutation’ display then think again on your appraisal of your customer relationship. Moreover I can think of a fellow pharmaceutical adviser who rarely gets out of their seat to welcome representatives at their appointment. That is a signal for sure!


The representative is showed to my door. We shake hands, chat a bit about her journey and difficulty in parking. She comments on my hairstyle and we exchange a joke. I offer to put the kettle on…

Whilst human beings should never be ‘pigeon-holed’ into boxes, there is an interesting exchange that occurs on the 1st planned meeting between 2 individuals.

The first observed action is the inconvenience display. This has already been expressed in some part before our meeting because it is apparent that the representative has traveled from afar to see me (and has awoken at a significantly early hour in the morning!) The inconvenience display may involve standing, moving out of my chair, and offering to take her jacket etcetera. At some point I will need to move out of my home territory and familiar position to welcome my representative – if that is, I want to display friendliness or courtesy.

Do you have customers who cannot be bothered to display such behaviours? Or worse still, they do not realise they are not displaying it. In this case they are leaking their attitudes to you/your company or your product.

The minimum inconvenience display is that of vertical displacement (stand up then sit back down). If I had known this representative or we were good friends, then the distant display (wave, nod, smile) which acts as a recognition may be all that is required (interestingly the hand wave stems from the open display of non threatening greeting in attempt to show one is unarmed).

Significant close displays after the initial greeting (embrace/cheek-to-cheek/shoulder clasp) goes some way to show further affection. Maybe you have met the customer previously. Maybe they really like you or have gained significant trust. Sometimes they are done ritualistically in certain circles.

Interestingly we have also reciprocated a grooming display. Animals do this quite literally (picking at one-another’s fur). Whilst I would be quite shocked (and she too probably) if this representative attempted to run her fingers through my hair, we all demonstrate groom talk – you are looking well today, did you have a good journey, I like your outfit etcetera. We often don’t even listen to the answer. It seems we give compliments and receive them, the precise nature of which is almost irrelevant.


Armed with 2 cups of coffee, clinical papers, sales detail and a fancy boxed gift which I am eyeing up expectantly we both take a seat. With the greetings and pleasantries executed, we start on business matters ahead…

There seems to be too many reasons why the meeting may break down and fail its objectives. The first is because the objectives of the representative are often different from the objectives of the customer. Furthermore, the objectives of the representative’s manager and even higher up, the company’s objectives and expectations may not be congruent with what is happening right here, right now in this meeting (think of how often you face the sales-versus-target argument alongside coverage-and-frequency expectations). Add to that a lengthy delay in obtaining the appointment and not a lot of time in which to convey your key messages – it’s a wonder any of these appointments achieve what they do.

The representative begins with asking me of my view of a certain disease. She rapidly moves to the impact of this illness to the NHS and how poorly we are treating this disease in the UK. After a few emphatic sentences on how ‘points means prizes’ she pulls out her paperwork. I seem to be on the receiving end of a one-sided conversation though she does stop at regular intervals, to see if I am nodding in agreement. But how does she know what I am really thinking? Are we both on the same wavelength? Or are we just going through the motions?

One of the observations you may want to look at is your ‘postural echo’. Your company probably mentioned it once at your ITC (remember being locked up for 6-8 weeks in a hotel with lots of new recruits wondering what type of car you would get whilst putting on a few kilos of body weight? well that was your ITC!) It seems that as we begin to share similar ideas and attitudes, the positioning of our bodies becomes more alike (also termed mirror-imaging). These actions are not deliberate – they are as a result of subconscious companionship.

There are many advocates of selling in this way – postural echo to reinforce a silent message of similarity between you and the customer. I don’t know if it works but one can see the value of taking notice of this during your sales encounter. Maybe more provocatively, postural echo may be used in an attempt to raise your own status when you feel you are meeting a difficultly dominant customer. I see this occur with patients. The GP can either help a patient relax by adopting a supportive, listening and understanding posture or they can fold their arms, stay well behind their desk in a dominant stance. I wouldn’t advise experimenting this at your 1st job promotion, but maybe your body echo could mirror the dominant person on the opposite side of the desk. Stay polite but don’t relinquish a sub-ordinate posture. The impact may be more powerful than you had initially intended and the consultant will throw you out for perching your legs on his desk and signalling him to put extra milk in your coffee!

Next month, Neurolinguistics Part II

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