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Why the Emotional Sell is More Critical Than Ever


Whether a brand is preparing to launch a new product, or taking a reinvigorated one back to market, it is widely accepted that those who form the emotional connection with customers are most likely to succeed.

The role that emotion plays in the sales process is often underestimated. Whether a brand is preparing to launch a new product, or taking a reinvigorated one back to market, it is widely accepted that those who form the emotional connection with customers are most likely to succeed.

Why is it then that sales reps are often completely removed from the insight and strategy process? Brand insights teams go to great lengths to perfect detail aids and concepts (key tools used on the front line) with customers, but often this only leads to refinement of materials. Seldom does this process engage the sales reps or prompt a change in selling story, allowing them to forge an emotional connection with the customer.

So, are pharma brands missing a trick by ignoring those at the coalface – leaving key insights out in the cold and the brand foot soldiers disconnected from knowledge which could help improve sales?

Establishing the connection
Undoubtedly the emotional link between sales reps and the customer needs to be continuously nurtured.  A lot can be learned from consumer marketing theory when developing an emotive selling strategy. Behind all the complex facts and figures about any therapy is a customer with a choice of brands that often have very similar profiles and product offerings. So how is the decision made to use one brand over another?

Gut instinct and habits are both contributing factors to selecting a brand, but ultimately it is emotion that drives brand choice. Whether it is a physician choosing a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis or a consumer choosing a fizzy drink, we cannot underestimate the emotional drivers behind this decision.

There’s lots of research to reinforce the view that emotions have a huge bearing on the decision-making process. For example, studies on subliminal affective priming by Winkelman, Zajonc & Schwarz (1997) clearly demonstrated the impact of linking a positive emotion with arbitrary symbols. Arbitrary symbols primed with a smiling face were rated more positively than those primed with frowning faces or neutral stimuli – this was both on initial and subsequent reviews. These findings showed how linking a positive emotion with something arbitrary can indeed prime consumers to think positively about something they previously had no opinion of.

Applying this theory to real world marketing has shown similar effects. Through their review of 880 studies, advertising experts Binet and Field (2007) discovered how advertising campaigns that aim to drive an emotional response deliver the greatest return on investment. These are even more effective than those that are designed to drive both an emotional and rational response – the rational diluting the emotional connection. Once a product is linked with an emotion, the affect heuristic is hugely influential on customer behaviour as cognitive load and time-pressure encourage us to use those brands that come to mind more easily.

What this means for pharma sales
The emotional sell is more critical than ever before. With a wealth of treatment choice in most therapy areas, what will make a physician prescribe one brand over another? Rationally we often want to believe it is the data, however, in reality this is just getting brands through the door. To secure the sale, the physician needs to connect with the brand on an emotional level, and in order to execute this, there are three main points the sales rep can leverage:

  • Remember: physicians are people - We all respond better to seduction than persuasion, so lead with emotive benefits and bring to life the impact the treatment / device / service will have on the patient and the physician

  • Don’t be overly technical - Engaging a customer on an emotional level means that we can limit the need for a detailed discussion around facts and figures. These are hygiene factors in the majority of cases and unless ground-breaking will not readily incite endorsement

  • Frame the ‘sell’ - Be outcome-focussed and ask ‘what value will this bring to the doctor, patient or carer?’ Don’t lose track of the story or overall objective

In order to sell emotively and credibly, there needs to be a real connection with the brand. It needs to be authentic, with a clear call to action and resonate with its target audience. Far too often in pharma we shy away from building the kind of bond with brands we know all too well as consumers.

But this needn’t be - it’s as reasonable to build an emotional bond with a brand that will relieve your medical symptoms as it is one that relieves thirst. As pharma professionals we are missing a trick when we don’t take this leap, so it’s time we started including sales leads in the insight and strategy phase. This will not only ensure they have the most relevant and up-to-date knowledge for the customer interactions but also input into the emotive story they will ultimately be selling.

Dr Pamela Walker is Head of Health at Incite, a strategic research consultancy.

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