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Joshua Suarez is a sales specialist for Tokyo-based Sankyo Pharma Inc. Besides selling, he is involved in mentoring and has created a national training segment for his company entitled "Selling to the Foreign-Born Physician." He has personally presented it to hundreds of advanced trainees all over the United States, and he plans to write a book on the topic. Suarez also has won Sankyo's Gold Cup and Platinum Performance awards.
Ensuring an effective close by starting with a good beginning.
Janus, in Roman mythology, is the god of doors and gateways, and also of beginnings, which the Romans believed ensured good endings. His principal temple had doors facing east and west, for the beginning and end of the day. As the god of beginnings he was invoked on the first day of January, the month named after him, to start the new year. His statue is usually portrayed with two faces facing opposite directions.
What I call the Janus principle in sales is the idea of ensuring an effective close by starting out with a good beginning. Sound beginnings are the gateways to great closes or conclusions. The Janus principle also applies to all of our human interactions, including those outside of business. Long before we get to the successful conclusion of our transactions, we must prepare each step of the process to increase the likelihood of the desired result. Let us analyze how we can use the Janus principle when closing sales.
Closing is not just asking a customer or prospect for the business. It is also the natural conclusion of every transaction. Every book or movie needs a conclusion. So does every call on a physician. As a former direct salesperson, closing, to me and to thousands of quota-driven direct salespeople, meant a signed purchase order. You knew you had closed the business when they signed. You knew you hadn't when they said, "I'll have to think about it." Signed purchase orders were the evidence that you had closed the business. Period. Anything else was a promise or a brush-off.
In pharmaceutical sales, we don't get purchase orders. We often get a promise, an agreement, a sneer, a grunt, a token nod or maybe a brush-off. Pharmaceutical salespeople have no physical evidence of the doctor's commitment. Our closes are as intangible as the thoughts of our customers. This is why it is imperative that we give our closes a thorough analysis to make sure they are effective and persuasive.
As a salesperson and sales theorist, I have looked at closing from many perspectives. I have read many books by experts, trying to be a better salesperson and to have a clearer understanding of the process. I have seen it through my own eyes as a pharmaceutical sales representative, through conversations with doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, through my past experience as a sales executive in direct sales, through interviews with salespeople from other fields, and in mentoring and training others. For the record, many doctors I have interviewed view closing negatively, saying that it makes them feel uncomfortable, set-up and manipulated.
Based on my observations, I would say there are two general forms of closing: I'll call these two types "method closing" and "Janus principle closing." These two differ in their approach and tone. However, they can be effectively combined to increase your success and improve your closing ratio.
This method-driven, technique-focused style is what many award-winning power closers in the direct sales field use. All conversations end with the salesperson asking for the business outright. The salesperson usually uses more directive speaking, leading the transaction to its desired conclusion: the close.
In the quota-driven direct sales field, closing is the very essence of the salesperson's day-to-day communication with prospects and customers. It is the bread and butter of the truly successful salespeople who rise to the top and breathe that rare air found in places such as Met Life's "Millionaire Club," Cadillac's "Crest Club" or Pitney Bowes' "Sales Leadership Conference." These salespeople are known to be heavy hitters because they are power-closers. They have mastered the elusive art of closing effectively. They constantly refine and adapt their methods to suit their particular industries and personalities, and they all ask for the business outright.
These methods are well-known and come under different names. Some common method closing formulas are: the problem-solution approach, the ask-and-receive principle, the understatement close, the emotional-versus-logical close, the maximizing-on-objections close and the what-if closing technique. Other styles include the Columbo approach, the Ben Franklin close, the indirect-question close and the feel-felt-found matrix.
Let's see how the "feel-felt-found" method closes on an objection. In this example, the prospect puts up the universal price objection:
"John, the price of this new equipment is so much higher than what I want to spend. I can't buy it."
"Ms. Smith, I certainly understand how you feel because this premium product comes at a premium price. Do you know Mr. Jones, one of your competitors?"
"Mr. Jones felt the same way, until he found that the labor and time savings that this machine gave him upon trial more than paid for it. Knowing that you need those benefits, would you approve the delivery papers right here for the trial equipment?"
This formula can be applied to pharmaceutical selling situations:
"Joshua, your new lipid product has no evident practical advantages over what I use right now."
"Dr. Smith, I understand how you feel. Your partner Dr. Jones felt the same way until he tried the product at my urging. He found that there is greater efficacy when it is used in combination, rather than titrating one of my competitors. And to top it off, because it is nonsystemic, there is the added medical benefit of safety without additional liver testing. Would you try the medication to see these benefits for yourself?"
As you can see, this method follows a set formula and directly asks for the business in the end.
The Janus principle focuses less on these formulaic methods and takes into consideration the general tone and feel of the conversation, being careful to begin well to close well. Done correctly, it becomes more like consultative selling or a true two-way dialogue that ends in persuasion. To be successful, we must learn to look more closely at how we word our presentations and learn more about the psychology of human nature. Rather than "probing" our customers, I like to use the phrase "discovery of motivations." In order to discover our customers' motivations and responses, we must learn to listen to what they say, and pay attention to other factors that affect our conversations with them. Let's start with "probing" questions.
Candid conversations with doctors yield an interesting point about their feelings regarding sales closes. Some have mentioned that they feel "set-up" when we start "probing," because they feel the questions are designed to lead to a final point that reveals that the salesperson's drug is the answer. They feel, as one doctor put it, "pimped" by these questions. Some resent it, and so they try to thwart our designed probing questions. Here's a doctor's explanation of pimping:
"In medical school there is a hierarchy of students based on seniority. The practice of 'pimping' happens when upperclassmen ask first-year students questions that these poor souls couldn't answer by reason of their status in the academic food chain. The questions are asked to expose the freshmen's lack of knowledge and uphold the upperclassmen's superiority of status."
Thus, when we come in with our questions, some sense a set-up and feel resentful.
To make our probes less threatening, we must be genuine in our approach. Our goal must be to discover, rather than to trap someone into a corner. Be careful with leading questions such as "What product do you use for this patient type?" because the doctors are afraid they will be pimped when you show them your product is the answer instead of what they actually use. Some play along and say they use your product, and some get defensive. How can we minimize the risk of defensiveness? How can we begin on a genuine tone?
Here's a three-part suggestion:
1)Â Begin with the patient type in consideration, and acknowledge that many good doctors use your competitors for good reason. This is less threatening and gives the doctor credibility for his or her decisions. The doctor won't feel stupid or pimped later, because you acknowledged the status quo in the beginning.
2)Â Ask, "Where do you think my product fits, based on the following benefits?" and proceed to explain. This allows the doctor to listen and analyze every benefit closely and come up with positive remarks for your side. The doctor thinking is better than you saying.
3)Â Then acknowledge the doctor's expertise and show appreciation for his or her comments. Validate every point he or she made, and then add other key points that you want to bring up.
Humans are motivated by words. Look at history's great leaders, and you will see that they moved people to action with powerful words. Napoleon conquered most of the world with the help of his verbal skill. As the pyramids stood before his army, he said the following to motivate his troops:
"Soldiers, 40 centuries are looking down on you! I will lead you into the most fertile regions of the world. There you will find flourishing cities, teeming with riches." They believed him.
Psychologists say seven out of 10 people respond to suggestions better than to directions. It has been said that 80% of our buying decisions are made emotionally, and we use logic to defend those decisions. Like us, our doctors are humans who want to be in control and are more open to suggestions than orders.
Let us go back to the example of John the representative as he winds up his conversation using the Janus principle:
"Doctor, where do you feel (rather than think) my product's benefits fit in your practice?"
"Well, John, I feel this would fit very well with my elderly patients."
"I agree with you wholeheartedly. Your concern for their safety is very evident. Not only will my drug ensure your patients' safety, but it will also enrich their lives by allowing them to enjoy daily activities pain-free. I am glad to be part of that. I'm sure you will find wide usage for my life-enhancing medication. May I suggest that you start out with the low dose first?"
Did you notice that John closed without asking for the business outright? He didn't have to, because he applied the Janus principle. He began with "discovery" rather than "probing"; he used reassuring and motivating words; he chose to ask how the doctor felt, rather than what she thought; he complimented the doctor indirectly by saying he was glad to be a part of the patients' care; and most importantly, he made a suggestion and never used the word "should."
As professional salespeople, we need to continually hone our communication skills. Increase your vocabulary and remember this advice: When you have little time to make an impression, use distinctive speech. This doesn't mean we should use $5 words every time we speak. It means that we should speak professionally and memorably. Plan all your conversations so they flow more smoothly. One thing I learned in direct sales is that tomorrow's closes are created today in your mind. Think about your customers' feelings before you think about your market share. Talk to them with respect, ask them for their comments and listen earnestly.
Seek their ideas, rather than telling them what you think. Close hard, using proven method closes when you have to. But sometimes you don't even have to ask for the business directly if you start the dialogue right. Remember that our customers do not make snap decisions and usually stew over things before they feel confident. Use the Janus principle. Be like the ancient Romans; they looked to a good end by acknowledging that it must have a good beginning. PR