Match your needs to your customers'

November 1, 1999
Evonne Weinhaus

Pharmaceutical Representative

Try the 'match and move' method.

Sales reps can't always cave in to others' demands, but, at the same time, they have to maintain good collaborative working relationships. The "match and move" method can help sales reps strike this delicate balance.

The method

What is the match and move method? It is a method to help you "match" the other person's point of view and "move" to a joint, win-win solution.

Figure out what you want. Many sales reps measure how well they are doing based solely on how the doctor responds. They only want to know, "Has the doctor started using my products yet?" These types of reps become easily discouraged because they put their feeling of value in the hands of the doctors. Instead, base your success on your actions rather than on someone else's response. For example, when you make an office visit, set up a goal for yourself that depends only on your behavior. Your goal may be that you want to learn something new, or ask probing questions or listen more and talk less. The beauty of this approach is that you, not someone else, are in charge of your feelings of self worth.

Match the other person's view. Matching simply means understanding the other person's viewpoint. The goal is to be empathetic to the situation, but not necessarily to agree with the other person's position. You want to listen attentively, ask probing questions, focus on the positive and summarize what you have heard.

An easy way to match a person's point of view is to first find something they say that you can agree with. For example, when doctors give you a reason why they like a competitor's product, agree with them about their point before moving to explain how your product incorporates that characteristic plus improvements.

Match and move cooperatively. Sometimes people become entangled in a no-win power struggle. They only want to prove they are right and others are wrong. Instead, focus on solving the problem together by using "I'm willing…" and "I want…" statements. For example, "Doctor, I'm willing to give you a certain number of days' free supply of product for five of your patients because I believe the results will speak for themselves. How does that sound? What I would like ("I want…" statement) is, if you get good results, start prescribing it based on your experiences."

Applying the method

Here is the way Nicole, a rep I had been coaching, applied the match and move method during an office call we made to one particular doctor's office.

Nicole thought the office rule was that Dr. Goode sees the first three reps, but the receptionist said the rule was that the doctor sees the first two reps. Nicole was number three. When Nicole gently tried to convince the gatekeeper otherwise, it fell on deaf ears.

While we waited to refill the doctor's samples, I asked Nicole if she thought she tried her hardest and whether there was anything further she could do to get in to see the doctor.

A few minutes later, after talking to a nurse about samples, Nicole took a deep breath and plunged ahead. "I thought policy was seeing three reps and I see it isn't," Nicole said. "I'd really appreciate if Dr. Goode could make an exception today because I have an outside consultant with me. One of the reasons she came with me today is to see Dr. Goode, and we planned our schedule around this visit. If it's okay, put me last on the list or those other two reps will kill me."

A closer look

Let's take a closer look at the exchange and see how it fits with the "match and move" method:

"I'd really appreciate if Dr. Goode could make an exception today ("I want…" statement) because I have an outside consultant with me. One of the reasons she came today is to see Dr. Goode and we planned our schedule around this visit." Here, Nicole directly asked for help. She told the nurse what she wanted and added a "because" statement that documents her reason for asking for an exception in the two limit rule.

"If it is okay, put me last on the list or those other two reps will kill me." ("I'm willing…" statement)

Sure enough, Dr. Goode saw us. All went well until the receptionist saw us. "Don't do that again!" she said. "The rule is the first two reps see the doctors. We are changing our existing policies about seeing reps because of incidents like this one." Nicole quickly told the receptionist about an effective, time-limited procedure that another physician's office uses and diffused the power struggle.

After the call, Nicole was thrilled but still shaken. "I was really happy he saw me," she said. "It was worth being chastised for, but I'm worried that I wrecked a relationship that has taken me two years to build up. I think I'll send her flowers."

I disagreed with that idea, because sending flowers would reinforce the belief that she had something to be sorry for. "Instead of flowers," I asked, "how about writing down a list of how other offices handle reps since they are actively seeking alternatives right now?"

Nicole thought about this for a minute, lit up and said, "Yes, it fits in exactly with my long-range goal of becoming a valuable resource to the doctors," she said.

Reps should not have to apologize for doing their job of introducing new products to doctors and providing them with up-to-date information. The long-range goal for both reps and doctors is the same – to improve the quality of patients' lives. PR