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Brad Dombaugh of Colorado Springs, CO, is a cardiovascular specialist and business unit trainer with Roche Laboratories. He has been in pharmaceutical sales since 1991.
Practical advice on how to overcome closing fears.
The scenario: You have an appointment with one of your most influential and demanding physicians. Your sales presentation is winding down and you know you're supposed to ask for the business. Your district manager is with you and you've been told your closing skills need some work. As your heart begins to race and your palms sweat, your brain races as you attempt to transition into some type of close. With your anxiety level high, you ask this closing question: "Doctor, what would it take for you to write my new hypertensive medication for the next 20 patients you see?"
This is not a closing technique you have tried before, and, quite frankly, it does not fit your selling style. There is an uncomfortable silence as the physician considers how to respond to your close. Fortunately - because your district manager is with you - the physician bails you out by saying he will try your new hypertensive medication, although he has no intention of doing so.
If this scenario describes you, or could describe you on occasion, you are not alone. Most sales representatives, regardless of the industry, have made regrettable closing statements to customers, while other sales representatives avoid closing altogether because it makes them uncomfortable. According to Linda Richardson, author of "Stop Telling Start Selling," most salespeople who don't close share two problems: a fear of rejection and a lack of sales skills. Remember that closing is part of the selling process just as openers, questioning, and features and benefits are. The trouble is that many salespeople attempt to categorize the close as a single event and, in doing so, handle it much differently than the rest of their sales presentation.
Why is closing so stressful and difficult? Are there some practical suggestions that can be explored in order to make the process less stressful? Let's examine a few possibilities.
Prepare for the close. You must first agree that closing is an essential element of the sale, just like openers, features and benefits or asking the right questions. And when you prepare for sales calls with your physicians, it is equally important to prepare for the close. Keep in mind: Closing is more than something that happens at the end of a call. Closing actually begins before your sales presentation, when you establish your call objectives. So prepare for your close as you would for any other sales skill.
Know your physician's personality type. Attempt to read the physician's personality or temperament. If the physician has a Type A, or Driver, personality and you challenge him or her - "Doctor, is there any reason in the world why you wouldn't use my new hypertensive medication as a first-line agent on all your hypertensive patients?" - your close may actually cost you business or win you a personal escort to the front door. Instead, you might ask a Type A physician: "Doctor, based upon the clinical benefits of this new hypertensive medication, can you think of patients where this product would provide a clear therapeutic advantage?" This close may be more appropriate for this physician's personality. Just as you tailor your presentation to meet the needs of a physician, tailor your close as well.
Focus on a patient type. Keep in mind that physicians treat patients, not diseases. Focusing on a specific patient type is key to keeping your sales presentation focused. Asking questions surrounding a patient type and addressing how your product's features and benefits could work for a specific patient type will subsequently allow you to logically close the call (provided you have done a good job of selling the patient type and your drug). The presentation will then flow, and the close will fit as part of the selling process rather than as an independent event. For example, a closing statement focusing on a patient type might sound like this: "Doctor, we've been discussing my new hypertensive medication in your elderly hypertensive patients with congestive heart failure. Based upon the product's clear advantage in this patient type, would you be willing to prescribe my product?"
Close up front. Making a closing statement in your opener can help you overcome the closing jitters. Opening a call with: "Doctor, before I leave your office today, I am going to ask you to try our new hypertensive medication in your elderly hypertensive patients." In this case, you have set the stage up front for the close, and it takes the guesswork out of what you want the physician to do. Once again, provided you have done a good job of selling the benefits of your product, simply ask the physician to try your new hypertensive drug in your closing statement.
Keep it simple. When presenting your product, talk about one indication or disease state at a time. Keeping the presentation focused will help you when it comes time to ask the physician for his or her business. Otherwise, the sales call can become disjointed and soon unravel to the point where closing is not an option because the presentation was everywhere, but nowhere. Remember, focus on your call objective and make sure the objective is attainable and reasonable. Closing a physician by asking him or her to prescribe your new drug for all newly diagnosed hypertensive patients is not reasonable, nor is it likely to be effective.
Test the water. Trial closes are a great vehicle to ensure the physician is buying your message. If closing is difficult for you, start with small steps. After you present a feature and benefit of your product, ask the physician whether this benefit is important. Doing this serves as a barometer to determine whether the physician is buying your message. With enough positive reinforcement from the physician, closing becomes a simple, less stressful task in the flow of the presentation. If the physician isn't buying your trial closes, that's all right too. Now you have a resistance you can work to overcome.
The ABCs. The ABCs of closing stand for Always Be Closing. While closing is not an option on every call, especially when you have 10 seconds to remind a physician of your product, closing is the job of a pharmaceutical representative, not the physician. In many respects, physicians expect us to close as they realize we are salespeople. When we fail to close, it's as if we left an important ingredient out of our recipe for sales success, and our effectiveness soon becomes suspect. Therefore, prepare to close on every call. You never know when opportunity knocks.
Most sales representatives are afraid of rejection and failure. Asking for the business can make us vulnerable to hearing the dreaded, "No, I don't agree." However, hearing "no" is not the end of the sale. In fact, the resistance you receive may open new doors for further selling opportunities. Reluctance to close is not unnatural, nor does it mean you are not suited for sales. What it does mean, however, is that this aversion must be conquered if you are going to be the best salesperson you can be.
So, the next time you feel as though closing is not your strength, remember these key points and you may soon find that closing your doctors is not as stressful as you once thought. PR