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Things it took a career in sales to learn


Pharmaceutical Representative

Everyone makes mistakes, but it's learning from them, and changing the way we do what we do, that make us successful.

Experience is the name we have given our mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, but it's learning from them, and changing the way we do what we do, that make us successful. Here are some of the things it's taken me a career in sales to learn:

• The best selling skills in the world are useless if you can't get face-to-face with the decision maker.

• A salesperson who is nice to the customer but indifferent or rude to the gatekeeper is usually sitting in the waiting room or standing in the unemployment line.

• Learning and using the names of prescribers and office staff helps dissolve invisible barriers - and it's free.

• The most important attire that you can wear really is a smile. The second most important attire is a pair of comfortable shoes. Without the second, it's hard to wear the first.

• Never start a call or presentation with an apology. If there are glaring issues that must be addressed, acknowledge them only after a pleasant opening.

• The start of the call is often poorly thought out and yet is vital for getting attention, setting direction and earning the right to probe.

• Know what differentiates your company, your products and yourself in the eyes of every prescriber.

• The number of calls you make or the hours you work are meaningless if the sales results aren't there.

• People buy from people they know, like, trust and respect. Ask yourself how you're doing in each of these aspects with your most important prescribers.

• Asking prescribers what they expect from your company, and from you specifically, is vital to success. You can't hit the target if you don't know where it is. Conversely, you may inadvertently hit negative hot-buttons and never know it.

• Probes that find out what prescribers want and value can be more important than finding out what they need. We all need food, but we don't get excited about going to the grocery store nearly as much as buying some new luxury item that we really want.

• Learn to 'zip it' after asking a good probe. The silence may seem unbearably long, but prescribers need time to consider their response. Unless a prescriber's face and body language signal confusion, don't interrupt his or her thoughts with multiple-choice answers to your own question.

• If you're too busy thinking about how to answer objections, you aren't listening to the customers, and they can usually tell. The take-home message is that you don't care about their concerns, but only about trying to prove that they are wrong.

• One of the most powerful forces in the universe is a happy customer who likes to talk. Perhaps more powerful, however, is an unhappy customer who likes to talk.

• There comes a time when you should stop expecting your boss to understand how difficult your prescribers, territory, marketplace, etc. are and just own your turf. Those who take the attitude that they are chief executive officers of their territories become top performers and managers.

• There is a very fine line between outgoing and obnoxious.

• There is an even finer line between providing diligent and persistent follow-up and being a pest. This line is different for every customer. The key is discerning what is seen as a service from what is seen as a nuisance.

• Always believe a person's body language, tone of voice and inflection more than his or her words.

• Realize that objections mean that the prescriber is interested and often is just looking for a good reason to buy what you're saying or selling. Don't blow it by becoming defensive or argumentative.

• Being too cool to wear a name badge, use a sales aid, or put the product into the customer's hands will cost you and your company money.

• While different words can have the same meaning, the connotation can alienate or motivate. Learn to use language that motivates, and choose your words wisely.

• If you can't articulate key points quickly and in persuasive sound bites, you've lost the customer's attention.

• Let angry prescribers vent. Never interrupt them or try to make excuses. Keep asking "what else?" until they run out of steam. Ask how you can make it better and then deliver.

• Pre-call planning and post-call analysis are perhaps the most important and least trained and practiced of all sales skills. While it's sometimes difficult to find the time to do them, they differentiate high performers from low performers.

• Asking prescribers what they like about a competitive product that they are currently using only helps to further convince them of their good choice.

• If you fail to brand yourself, your company and your products, you could be selling for your competitor by proxy.

• Salespeople tend to soft-peddle product benefits because they are so clear to the salesperson that he or she feels that saying them is stating the obvious. It isn't.

• Stating product features and benefits is important, but not nearly as powerful as selling the therapeutic and business benefits that are meaningful to the individual prescriber.

• You close a door - not a sales call. If you simply close the call, the door may never open again. Get real commitment for action, even if it's only to see you again. Make an action assignment for yourself and be sure to follow up.

• Never celebrate a hospital conversion until the first order is placed … and is being dispensed.

• Beware the customer relationship comfort zone. Many salespeople reject the role of salesperson when they think they've become 'buddies' with the customer. While they are busy with social calls, the customer is a target for competitors who clearly provide therapeutic and business benefits.

• Strive to find out how you are perceived by prescribers, peers and management. Then change what can hurt you.

• Never take call notes into customers' offices if you use descriptive terms to remember people's names.

• Analyze sales data as if you were looking for a diamond in a coal mine. It's in there.

• Avoid looking stressed-out to customers and management. Like the swan, glide gracefully across the surface while you're paddling like crazy beneath the water.

• Understand the difference between urgent and important. Never let the urgent stuff throw you off-track from doing what's important.

• Use your windshield time wisely. Play self-development tapes, listen to National Public Radio for current events or dictate your post-call notes.

• Avoid talking about your product's proprietary information or business strategy in public places. You never know who's listening and who they know.

• Never tell a prescriber that something took a while because you were busy. The message will be that you were busier doing more important things for more important customers.

• Nobody cares about your track record. What are you doing today?

• Find an innovative way to add value to prescribers, even if it's something like sending them a news clipping about one of their hobbies.

• Learn how to write a succinct business plan that is aligned with the corporate sales and marketing plans. Be prepared to explain expected return on investment for every dollar spent. Once written, post the quarterly tactics in a visible spot to keep them at the top of your mind.

• Throughout the day, ask yourself, "Is what I'm doing or about to do helping me to meet my sales goals?" You may be surprised by the answer.

• Send thank-you notes to everyone who provides a kindness or service to you.

• Accept that sales and marketing are usually at odds with one another, and celebrate when they aren't.

• Clinging to skills and behaviors that made you successful in the past puts you at risk of becoming a sales dinosaur. Keep your eyes and mind open for better ways of doing things. Eliminate the phrase, "That's how I always" or "That's always worked before."

• Be careful when invoking the name of a well-known advocate to sway a fence-sitting prescriber. You can shoot yourself in the foot if the fence-sitter despises the advocate, or considers him or her incompetent.

• Selling to decision makers by title can be disastrous. Find out who the influencers, stakeholders and real decision makers are.

• Companies, hospitals and large office-based practices are political microcosms. Gather and cross-reference as much information as possible.


• The difference between a professional and an amateur is that the professional is paid to do the job, while an amateur practices the vocation as a hobby. But being a professional doesn't just mean collecting a paycheck. 'Pros' never finish sales training. They dedicate themselves to mastering the art and science of their chosen craft. PR

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