Stumped in Your Sales Calls with Healthcare Providers? Ask These 6 Trust-Building Questions

“What questions can I address for you today?”

A question like this seems simple—and it is—but it’s also powerful when used in your sales meetings with healthcare providers (HCPs). How you interact with HCPs and the questions you ask lay the groundwork for building trust and, ultimately, help you win sales.

In this article, I share rapport-building questions to help you connect with HCPs, find out what's happening in their world, and understand their challenges and the needs of their patients.

Keep in mind that both virtual and in-person meetings are a good fit for these conversations and you’re likely to experience both scenarios. Seventy-nine percent of physicians preferred in-person meetings with sales reps before the pandemic. But that’s dropped to 49%, according to McKinsey & Company1.

Certainly, it can be challenging to build rapport in a virtual meeting where it’s less natural to check-in before starting the meeting agenda and there’s no physical interaction. So, you’ll want to pay close attention to how your virtual interactions with HCPs influence rapport and trust. More on that later.

4 Key Principles of Building Rapport

Trust: It’s essential for selling. If you don’t establish rapport in your sales meetings with healthcare providers, you may put that trust at risk.

Consider the four principles of building rapport. We call them EASE.

  • Empathy. Be curious. Listen. Get the healthcare provider talking about what matters to them and their patients.
  • Authenticity. Be genuine. They’re more likely to like and respect you as a result.
  • Similarity. Find common ground. You can do this by interacting with healthcare providers in the ways they prefer, such as by video call.
  • Shared Experience. Interact. Create a conversational flow, which makes the conversation collaborative. A bonus: This approach builds ownership in the solution.

Here are six questions you can ask to build trust with HCPs:

1. What questions can I address for you today?

This is a great way to set expectations with an HCP. They may have requested the meeting when they were facing a challenging clinical situation with a patient. But that was weeks ago. Starting off the meeting with this question allows you to address any developments since the meeting was scheduled.

Of course, this question assumes the HCP requested the meeting. If you requested the meeting, you can ask, “As I mentioned earlier, I’d like to share a few success stories that may help you make a decision regarding this therapy for your patients. Before we get going, by the time we’re done with this meeting, what else might you like to cover?” This is a good way to check in before you start talking to ensure the meeting is valuable to them.

Plus, asking this question is a great way to make the conversation interactive, which is a powerful way to build trust.

2. How is the patient we discussed during our last conversation?

This is a must-ask question. For one reason, HCPs entered the medical profession because they want to improve patients’ lives. That is their day job. But the second reason this question hits home is it’s all about the follow-up in healthcare.

Caring for patients is why every single clinician and employee shows up to work at the hospital or the physician practice. By asking this important question, you’re showing you care and you understand the world of healthcare.

Authenticity helps build trust. Here are two practical pieces of advice to ensure you’re expressing yourself with authenticity:

Smile slower. A 2006 study2 in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior revealed that the act of slowing down your smile transmits authenticity to the people you’re meeting.

Don’t overdo it. You can tell when someone is over-friendly and being saccharin-sweet—and so can the healthcare provider you’re talking to.

Still, virtual meetings can make authentic conversations a challenge. Choosing a real meeting background, instead of a digital rendering, while you’re on camera can help.

Also, always keep your video on, even if the healthcare provider has theirs turned off. Best case, they change their mind and switch on their video. Even if they don’t, the healthcare provider can respond to you as a person, not just a voice—and that’s important because you’re trying to build rapport.

3. How was your weekend?

This is a great way to create rapport. A 2021 survey3 from Medscape revealed that 66% of physicians report doing activities they enjoy as a way to reduce or manage their stress. Exercising (at 65%) and spending time with family and friends (63%) are two additional ways they’re trying to strike a healthy work-life balance. This question gives you one way to find common ground and similarities.

But use caution here: If you’ve spoken a few times, this question could be a great way to get the healthcare provider to open up to you. However, if you don’t have an established relationship, it’s a good idea to ask questions focused on their practice or their patients instead.

4. What external factors are influencing your prescribing or treatment plan decisions?

Carve out time to hear the healthcare provider’s response to this question. Be quiet after you ask it, so they can talk. This question can kick start a conversation about topics such as treatment costs, a health insurer’s formularies, and market access. That’s precisely the insight you need to understand the challenges they may face in prescribing a particular treatment plan.

This can be a heady conversation. But it’s a great way to create rapport and build trust.

And if the healthcare provider continues to talk, let them. This is a valuable opportunity to learn about them and the daily challenges they face, which helps you position your offering for success.

5. What kind of opportunities do you see for improvement in this area?

Simply put, there is no better question to uncover aspirations and afflictions. This single question gives the healthcare provider space to talk about opportunities for improvement. Better still, they may seize the chance to talk about their vision for what could be (aspirations) and problems or challenges they’re facing (afflictions).

This is an example of creating a shared experience between you and the healthcare provider—and that engenders trust.

6. I’m sure practicing medicine during the pandemic is nothing like you expected. Tell me: What keeps you motivated?

Asking this question is a great way to connect with an HCP through empathy. And here’s why: Just like the rest of us, doctors and nurses couldn’t have foreseen how their lives would change with the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. Many HCPs have been called to the “front lines” to care for patients, which can increase both stress and the real-world impact of their daily work.

An HCP who answers this question is opening up to you. Of course, you must demonstrate a sincere interest in their responses and make sure to follow up on the stories they share with you.

Selling isn’t easy. But building rapport with HCPs—creating and nurturing meaningful relationships with them—creates trust, and that can lead to better sales outcomes. It can also create more meaning in your workday since you know you’re making a real difference in the lives of patients and HCPs.

When you know you’re making a difference, it shows. And that makes you authentic. That’s a virtuous circle, indeed.

Erica Schultz, Chief Marketing Officer, RAIN Group

1 https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/life-sciences/our-insights/omnichannel-engagement-in-medtech-the-time-is-now

2 https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2007-10089-004

3 https://login.medscape.com/login/sso/getlogin?wcode=102&client=205502&urlCache=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubWVkc2NhcGUuY29tL3NsaWRlc2hvdy8yMDIxLWxpZmVzdHlsZS1oYXBwaW5lc3MtNjAxMzQ0Ng&sc=ng&scode=msp#4