Do you offer value to critical customers?

November 1, 1999
Allison Swan

Pharmaceutical Representative

Improving your quality outcome.

Have you had the experience of working with an important customer who does not see the value in what you are offering? Today's health care environment presents serious challenges to the pharmaceutical sales representative trying to collaborate with their customer. Intense competition, rapid innovations in technology and sweeping regulatory changes have made customers more discriminating.

Developing a process to use in those customer scenarios that are critical to your success but are currently producing unfavorable outcomes will allow you to realize both your short- and long-term goals. This process may not be for every doctor in your call panel; rather, it is for the 20% that make up 80% of your revenues.

Understanding the customer

We have to retool the way we approach our high-profile customers if we expect improved outcomes from our selling efforts. This means setting aside strategies, even those that made us successful in the past. The following 10 steps will assist you in understanding what your customer values so you can develop strategies that allow you both to win.

Stop doing what you are doing. The strategy you are using may have been effective at another time, but if the customer is not responding, develop another approach. Continuing to pursue the same strategy will not only waste your company's resources, but you will also run the risk of putting the customer off further.

Forget your agenda. Your agenda is part of the strategy that has not been working. Take a step back and focus on the customer. What issues are they dealing with? What challenges are they facing?

Also, remember that your customer has a customer. Part of your discussion should focus on the doctor's patients and their concerns

Educate yourself on broad issues. Your credibility with the customer grows if you can speak intelligently on marketplace matters that affect them. These are the issues driving their concerns. If you are calling on a doctor in a health plan, educate yourself on the protocols and guidelines that exist. Understanding how this class of doctors has to interact with their colleagues in primary care will shed light on internal challenges facing them.

Read their journals and research their association Web sites so you can serve up specific references regarding trends facing this group of physicians.

Understanding the customer. Know everything about your customer. Every piece of information has the potential to unlock opportunities for you to bring solutions. Not only will the customer be flattered that you have such an interest, but every piece of information you gather builds on the one before, providing you with a road map that will uncover potentials for partnership.

Determine how you and the customer view success. In order to frame solutions, it is important to understand the customer's critical success factors. What are the three or four things the customer must accomplish in this calendar year to satisfy his or her job requirements? This step follows the others because it involves a personal discussion that you must earn the right to have.

Redefine your vision of success. You will spend numerous sessions with the customer understanding his or her issues and developing strategies that produce greater value. A key to managing your expectations and the customer's expectations involves an appreciation of incremental success versus closing on that call for a commitment to use your product. You will be closing, but it will be for agreement or permission to move to the next step in the discussion. Although the process is slower, the results produce better outcomes over the long run.

Consider what resources you have. Examine the resources available to build a solution to a problem. The resources needed could be manpower: the customer may require a team of people to deliver a particular message to their population of doctors. In this example, if the message requires customization, you may need access to marketing or legal resources from your organization. Considering these potentials up front will allow you to be more creative and prepared going into the solutions part of the process.

Recommend solutions. Frame the problem by reminding the customer of the way he or she defined success. Lay out a scenario describing the proposed solution and the win for each stakeholder. Suggest the resources necessary, a tentative timeline and responsibility ownership. Ask for comments. If the response is favorable, move to the next step. If the response is not favorable, query the customer as to what part of the proposal doesn't work. This implies that the core of your solution is feasible.

Collaborate: build a business plan. Produce a formal written plan of action in the body of a follow-up letter to the customer. The step forces consensus around a plan, ownership and timelines. As a customer signs a contract to purchase a product, this process holds the customer accountable to the process. This investment suggests he will work as hard as you will to bring about a successful outcome. The "you" in your discussion has just become a "we."

Measure the plan. Measurement provides evidence of your accomplishment. Share the successful results achieved with both sets of management-yours and that of the customer. Quantitative measures, such as an increase in prescriptions from a former non-user of your product or an increase in patient satisfaction indicators, are often the best because of their uniformity. However, in this environment we often rely on qualitative measures, such as the opportunity the initiative provides you to influence a larger population of physicians. PR

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