Putting Relationships into Sales

In todays uncertain pharma world, we need to rethink the practices that arent working. Key among these? Focusing on sales by throwing untold numbers of sales reps into the field. As were all realizing, this type of sales orientation concentrates on the wrong things, prizing volume over value, efficiency over effectiveness. The tactics are all wrong.

But perhaps it goes further than that. Perhaps focusing on sales as the key to business solvency and success is flawed. Ringing up the cash register seems a tiny step in the complex processes surrounding pharma in todays environment. On the way to the final sale, patients and physicians must continually, consistently select your product as their drug of choice.

What should our focus be in order to keep our business afloat? In this article, we examine the idea of relationships as a driving force behind pharma interactions, and the phenomenal benefits companies can gain in the process.

Relationships Over Sales
With our day-to-day focus on sales, and the old tactic of putting a massive sales force in the field, something is missing. How can we ensure that our prospects become customers, that our customers stay customers and the word spreads? The key is engagement. By engaging with customers, creating value for them, and in the process crafting long-term relationships, business benefits. A focus on people drives sales, marketing, reputation and much more.

In the book Sway, Ori and Rom Brafman contend that investing your time in customer engagement is one of the best investments you can make. No matter the industry, no matter the product, no matter the audience, no matter if its a straight up sales situation, customer engagement and strong relationships are critical. To make their case, they look at some unique demographics and case studies:

Injured Patients. Malpractice suits may seem inevitable in cases of injury. But in fact, people don't sue doctors if they believe they were treated fairly. If they spend a good amount of time with their doctor, and believe their interactions to be high quality, they are likely to feel an equal participant in a fair relationship. When something goes wrong, the doctors arent the culprit, and many sticky situations can be avoided.

Venture Capitalists. What makes VCs trust the entrepreneurs and keep their investments with them? It might seem a matter of hard-headed figures, such as the ROI of each investment. But in fact, while this mattered, the Brafmans discovered that Venture Capitalists place more trust in entrepreneurs who bolster the relationship with timely and thorough updates. With a healthy back and forth, a long-term future that benefits both parties is more likely.

Convicted Felons. Not surprisingly, the quicker their trial and the shorter their sentence, the more likely convicts are to believe they got a fair shake. However, the Brafmans found that "felons who had more face time with their lawyers considered the process more fair than other felons with the same outcome".

What do people do right in all of these situations? How do they avoid lawsuit, maintain investment and promote a sense of fairness? By investing the time in creating relationships. And by doing it BEFORE that relationship is put to the test.

Creating Engaged Consumers
Engagement in pharma relationships are critical for long-term company growth and industry survival. A focus on people promotes sales, fires up marketing, builds a good reputation, and much more. Moreover, a focus on people brings the pharma company back to its starting place: providing patients with improved quality of life.

This idea that engagement with pharma customers is highly powerful and highly beneficial is not just a feeling or suspicion. A research study of the effectiveness of pharmaceutical sales forces has found evidence that personal relationships between sales representatives and physicians are a strong predictor of physician engagement in what reps have to say. The study, which was conducted by PeopleMetrics Rx, measured the effectiveness of sales forces from AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Janssen, Eli Lilly, and Pfizer.

The review included 500 regularly prescribing psychiatrists and primary-care physicians from the atypical antipsychotics market. The research measured key functional and emotional dimensions of the physician interaction with the pharmaceutical sales representatives, and identified four segments of physicians: Fully Engaged, Engaged, On The Fence, and Disengaged. Overall, 31% of physicians surveyed were Fully Engaged or Engaged, while more than half of physicians, or 53%, were On The Fence.

What would happen if more physicians were fully engaged or engaged? According to the study, Fully Engaged physicians spend more than twice as long speaking with their reps on a per-visit basis and meet with them twice as frequently compared with their disengaged counterparts. In turn, this has a positive impact on the duration and frequency of meetings and physician prescribing patterns. The entire business benefits from a stronger relationship and more engaged participants, and as such, the study analysts emphasized that sales representatives must develop personal relationships with their physicians to achieve the highest levels of engagement.

The hallmarks of a truly engaged customer base and strong relationships can be gathered from this study. A fully engaged physician means a doctor that enjoys his or her relationship with the rep, would go out of their way to continue to meet with their sales rep, actively recommend the rep to others, and, given the choice, would keep their rep assigned to their practice. Engaged relationships dont happen immediately, but instead are developed over time, typically over an average of four years. Disengaged relationships, meanwhile, are characterized by frequent rep turnover and barriers to relationship building.

After concluding that physician-engagement affects sales productivity, the study analysts sought to identify which elements (both functional and emotional) would most affect a physicians engagement level. The company tested more than 100 potential drivers in its study. Multiple linear regression analysis reduced this set down to 23 key drivers that significantly affect physician engagement. Factor analysis revealed that the 23 key drivers fall into three general dimensions:

The Relationship. This dimension includes drivers focused on the personal interaction between the sales representative and the physician. Friendship is essential here; physicians who consider their representatives to be friends have much higher levels of engagement. In addition, physicians prize their sales rep relationship based on other qualities including sincerity, sales rep effort, and conversation skills.

The Offering. Is the product high quality? How well is the clinical information delivered? What is the reputation of the company that markets it? Together, the physician judges the rep and their engagement on these factors, as well as how the rep can help the physician improve the quality of patient care.

The Experience. A fully engaged physician becomes engaged depending on the reps approach to each meeting. A confident, trustworthy rep who enjoys his or her job and makes the best use of the physicians time is a great partner in a relationship. On the other hand, a rep thats very aggressive with sales tactics or who asks for specific orders of prescriptions will turn physicians off.

Engagement is important for productive, powerful relationships with physicians. The same could be said for patients. A company that makes a concerted effort to engage with prospects and customers, through continual communication, through education and adherence measures, and through other contact, will find a devoted consumer base, one that results in sales. But more importantly, engaged patients will bring REPEATED sales, a direct reflection of their trust and partnership with the company.

By changing the pharma focus from numbers to people, a major shift occurs. By aiming to engage physicians and patients in meaningful, valuable ways, the brand benefits. And by swapping a sales orientation for a concentration on relationships, the business remains strong and even grows for the future.

Dr Andree K Bates

For information on how to analyze people mathematically to understand the elements that winning sales people possess and how to cultivate them, please contact Dr. Bates at eularis www.Eularis.com for more information.

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