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Why CX Starts in Sales
Delivering a seamless and positive customer experience starts with the sales rep
A quicker starter for ten: What is customer experience?
It’s a question that foxes many, but if there is one role in pharma that needs no definitions – who know what CX is instinctively – it is the sales rep.
In its simplest terms, CX is a series of interactions between customer and organization over the course of a business relationship, but it’s reach is far broader and deeper. CX is at once transactional and emotional; an individual or entity either forms a favorable enough impression to continue giving their custom to a respective company or they try their chances elsewhere.
As the concept of CX leads to real action on the ground, even the most hardened sceptics – who may once have seen CX as nothing more than a buzzword – are beginning to realize its power.
As a result, the concept and practices of CX are oozing out of the marketing department into their natural habitat – the sales organization.
“Medical reps are core to the concept of CX in pharma,” says Florent Edouard, SVP, Global Head of Commercial Excellence and Customer Engagement, at Grünenthal. “A good rep can ensure the appropriate patient will receive the right treatment and therefore benefit fully from the HCP interaction, with the HCP receiving in exchange the satisfaction of being successful in his treatment choice.”
According to Edouard, pharma – unlike fast-moving consumer goods, for example – faces a “unique chance” to use reps to “both shape and gather feedback in an objective way on the customer experience, which is a long-lasting and integrated capability”.
He adds: “We need to take the full benefit of it, but to do that, we have to convince the reps that we do not collect the CX data to manage their performance, but to truly improve patient outcomes.”
Yet, no standard CX delivery model yet exists for pharma, says Rafael Ramon, Commercial Excellence Leader EEMEA at Roche.
“Customer experience is a term on everyone’s lips, but unfortunately it is not equally understood,” he says. “It’s not only reps; many marketing or commercial professionals think CX is customer service, while other think it’s promotion. The issue is not the sales rep herself – the issue is that CX needs to be at the core of an organization. The entire organization must commit to CX, and doing so, communicate its vision for CX.”
What’s more CX has no universal standard – as Ramon puts it, “a generic company competing on price should offer a different CX than an innovative company focusing on orphan indications”. Consequently, reps need to know their own company’s view of CX before they begin to approach HCPs.
“Having a clear understanding of CX, bringing stories around the desired behaviors, will help clarify CX and its relevance for the company,” he says. “This starts by a firm commitment from the entire organization. If done properly, CX provides reps with clear guidance and increases the strategic relevance of their tasks.”
Reps Are Not Doctors
For Ramon, the best kind of CX is built on a deep understanding of the customers. While reps are perhaps not expected to have the same level of clinical knowledge as doctors, by immersing themselves in the healthcare environment they gain a greater appreciation of what their customers really need.
“Reps aren’t doctors, but if they can educate themselves about CX, it may help,” he says. “You can talk to doctors – it definitively helps – and you can spend time with them in their hospitals, shadowing if possible, letting them share their stories.
“This approach will generate the best insights. Sales reps that are close to doctors – and who are often the first contact point to the company – are pivotal for this approach.”
The good news for reps is that they are starting to be held in higher esteem by doctors, says Ramon. This because companies have changed tack from rep-doctor relationships based almost exclusively on product to one of mutual trust.
“On the ground, I have seen many sales reps well accepted by doctors,” he says. “This is a strong foundation to build on but not sufficient to allows the doctors to open their hearts and minds.
“The key to becoming a trusted partner is trust itself – the customer must know that you sincerely and genuinely care about their issues. If you fake it, they will know. Again, unless you have an organization-wide approach where everybody is committed to CX, the customers will know it’s only a buzzword.”
Sales reps are beginning to realize that they need an image makeover as the concept of the slick salesman no longer washes with customers, says Edouard.
“Reps need to become better educated medically so they can help the physician identify the right patient for a product,” he says. “They also need to be more aware of HCPs and account constraints to help them achieve their cost containment objectives.”
Edouard admits there is “still a long way to go” on this front. So, what’s holding reps back? “For now, it is about peripheral or superficial initiatives – in one country, one business unit or one company – that do not survive when a leader moved to another function,” he says. “What we need is a deep, profound re-engineering of the pharma model.”
In CX, customer needs always come first, so to enable reps to deliver on this, Ramon returns to the significance of a company’s “shared vision on CX”. In the end, it is always culture that dictates how reps approach CX.
“CX is about loving your customers’ problems, not your problems with the customer,” he says. “It sounds like an overused slogan, but it holds some truth. I have seen many reps genuinely caring about their customers. In my eyes, the key question is not ‘How do reps do this?’, but ‘How do we create an environment to enable reps to do this?’.
It is more about removing organizational obstacles and creating a shared vision on CX than it is about training the reps, he adds. “If you see your reps as ‘message delivery agents’ or ‘data delivery professionals’, then they are competing with Google. Good luck with that!
“Instead, reps will need new skills to shape a collaborative engagement approach. I see a need to increase customer understanding skills, such as probing, as well as storytelling skills to engage on a deeper level with their audience.”
The goal of CX is customer loyalty and, even better, customer champions who actively promote you to others. “What do people care about?” ask Ramon. “Themselves. If reps can pass on the message that ‘We –the entire organization – are here for you, and we care about your problems and support your objectives’, they will become the trusted partners of doctors.
“What do you do with a trusted partner? You recommend and promote them.”
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