Illustrate your points with visual imagery

March 1, 1998

Pharmaceutical Representative

Use metaphors to simplify complex ideas.

Steve, a Chicago sales rep, explained his account management philosophy to a physician: "I consider myself a welder who joins my pharmaceutical firm and your clinic together in a strong bond, with the sole intent of furthering your health care excellence goals."

Steve used a metaphor to communicate his role. Metaphors are colorful graphic figures of speech in which an idea, concept or physical object is likened to another idea, concept or object.

An imaginatively constructed metaphor transforms a complex idea into an elegantly simple and memorable one. For example, the common metaphor "surfing the Internet" doesn't imply that you are literally using a surfboard on your computer. But it does create the visual image of skimming the surface of a deep body of information.

Claire, a sales rep in the Midwest, told one of her customers how her company reinvented itself to be more productive and efficient. "Just last month we had a huge organ transplant in our research and development organization," she said. "Some of the more exotic but less promising projects were taken out and shelved, and they were replaced with healthier goals that we believe will result in breakthrough treatments."

Simple, easy-to-understand metaphors that are tailored and targeted to the audience stick in people's minds and hearts. Poignant metaphors offer fresh insights that help others view situations from new perspectives.

A new pharmaceutical sales rep called on the manager of a busy clinic and discovered that she had not seen a sales rep from his company in months. The office manager blurted: "Your company messed up too many orders last time we dealt with you. What good is your miracle drug if our doctors can't get it when they need it?"

The sales rep deftly countered: "You're absolutely right! Our company's growth, impressive as it was, unfortunately caused us to choke on all of the order processing. We performed a Heimlich Maneuver on our entire automated system and made three significant advancements that will make dealing with us easier."

The sales rep's metaphor - that of the Heimlich Maneuver - invoked a visual scenario of a life-saving, urgent and proven action.

Dennis, a sales rep from southern California, was inches from closing a lucrative order from a large biotechnology firm with whom he was developing a lucrative relationship. Then the sale stalled for no apparent reason. Not wanting to appear unprofessional, but frustrated, Dennis quipped to his customer: "Alan, we've been at this for almost four months. As a result, I'd now describe my selling style as a nervous breakdown in slow motion."

The metaphor caused the customer to laugh, but more importantly, it expressed Dennis' real frustration in an amusing, non-threatening way. The sale went through shortly thereafter.

Think about how you can use clever metaphors to describe situations, take advantage of opportunities and communicate in a persuasive and compelling way. Make your metaphors simple and easy to remember; then add interest and humor to them. Think about how every day terms, sayings, concepts and objects can be linked to your sales points and strategies. Ideas are everywhere if you observe and listen with an open mind. PR

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