Working smart

May 1, 2002
J. Thomas Pignato

J. Thomas Pignato is author of "The Pocket Sales Coach" and the founder of Tampa, FL-based City Gate Marketing Inc., a company offering professional sales training and personal sales coaching. He has 26 years of professional sales experience. To find out more about City Gate Marketing, go to

Pharmaceutical Representative

Tips for intelligent selling.

Most sales reps enter the field knowing that they must, at the beginning, work very hard physically to develop a sales base. Then the arena evolves from physical to mental; instead of spending endless hours on the road, you begin to realize that to succeed in sales, you have to start working smart.

But what does that mean, exactly?

From the seemingly insignificant requests ("Would you mind if I use your telephone?") that can leave a bad taste in the customer's mouth, to negotiating with your boss for the extras that will help you snare that all-important client, to developing relationships with your doctor's office staff, working smart is a combination of your own creativity and the deployment of dozens of tricks you learn only after years in the field.

Since, like most people, you're probably naturally impatient, and don't see why you should have to spend years in the field before learning these tricks, I thought I'd list a few here.

Initiate long-term thinking

Didn't close that sale today? Disappointing, isn't it? However, you may have begun to forge a relationship with this prospect that will lead to long-term sales. Little companies grow into big companies. Your product line changes. The economy picks up.

If you are professional with your prospect, if you cut a sincere, caring picture, if you offer wares that you truly believe can fulfill his or her needs, and if you follow up with a thank-you note, telephone calls and other simple reminders of your existence, the customer will eventually buy from you.

Today, you lost out on a commission. Now the art of selling really starts.

Defend your territory

The heavyweight boxing champion never rests on his laurels. He understands that younger boxers will forever vie for his title.

What does he do? He defends his title during each fight. And he trains for every bout as if it were his first, because he knows the contender is training at least as hard.

As a sales pro, you must defend your title. Know that competitors lurk around every corner, just dying to snag your largest account from your clutches. Constantly hone your sales skills. Listen to sales tapes recorded by pros you respect. Talk to other successful reps to open your minds to new techniques. Redouble your customer-care efforts.

Little people become big people

You enter the premises of your largest account, a 16-member physician group. You have a meeting with the senior physician partner, to whom you of course extend every courtesy. But why, you may wonder, would you spend an extra moment talking to the receptionist, the office workers, the people who file paperwork or serve as appointment schedulers, and the assistant nurse?

Easy. Little people become big people. Receptionists become appointment schedulers. Appointment schedulers become office managers. Assistant nurses become head nurses, gatekeepers and decision makers.

If you're involved in relationship selling, servicing the same client for years, these now low-level employees will glean some type of impression of you. Make it a favorable one. Give everyone you see a friendly hello. Get to know their names when you can. Many of them will be future decision makers. At the very least, they'll work as decision influencers.

Be the expert

Your ability to fully understand your products, and to demonstrate how they can increase your customers' business, will garner respect from your clients. By developing a thorough knowledge of your industry, you'll become an information resource for them, and not just another sales rep.

You are in pharmaceutical sales. With new products hitting the market almost daily, chances are the physicians you call on simply cannot study each for themselves. Carry a medical journal study that proves your drug does exactly what you say it does. Your prospect is less likely to refute the claims of another physician than those of a pharmaceutical sales rep.

Show-and-tell selling and the use of proof sources indicate that you truly know your stuff. You are an expert in your field.

Know when to use buzz words

Know your field's lingo. If you sell computers and are meeting with a prospect, phrases and acronyms like "format," "integrated system" and "RAM" should fall trippingly from your tongue. Performing in the medical field, feel free to use words like "diagnosis" and "protocol" when talking to physicians. Judicious use of your industry's language will make your prospects view you as an industry insider.

However, be careful not to use sales jargon in front of your prospects. They don't work in the sales field, and phrases such as "qualify," "close" and "lead" will confuse and frighten them. Confused, frightened prospects are less likely to buy.

Mind your telephone manners

If you're running late for an appointment, call to warn your client of your delay. This small courtesy makes you seem like a pro who truly respects a client's time. It will also virtually ensure that your client will afford you the same consideration next time he or she has to push back a scheduled appointment. Plus, calling to notify a client when you're running late reduces your stress level and helps you to drive more safely (hey, it doesn't matter how much money a dead guy could have made).

Never ask to use a customer's business phone. Your client will always say yes, but at heart, he or she may resent the request. If you're selling to a particularly small account, you run the risk of tying up a line – a line that could be used for this physician to grow his or her own business.

If you need to make a call, use your cell phone or a pay phone.

Don't let your efforts die

Just deliver a killer presentation? Just close a major sale? Before you go off to celebrate, don't forget to write a follow-up note or card of thanks. These notes can work miracles for you. Prospects and clients enjoy receiving them, and taking the time to jot down a few personal thoughts indicates that you respect their time enough to thank them for seeing you. On top of all this, a personal note keeps your name in front of the prospect – always a good thing in sales.

Keep a bunch of stamped cards in your briefcase. After you're done with the meeting, sit in the car and take a moment or two to pen a personalized note to your client.

Sometimes, a thank-you note can make the difference between "almost winning" and actually closing a sale. Don't let all your efforts die when it takes so little effort to put them over the top.

Know when to give up

Some people are weird. No matter how many demonstrations you deliver, no matter how skillfully you link your product or service to their needs, no matter how deftly you overcome their objections, and no matter how many proof sources you employ to prove your point, they just won't agree to prescribe.

Recognize the "never have bought nothin', never will" prospect. When faced with one, save your breath. Bow out gracefully, and move on to more fruitful interactions with other clients. PR

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