You talk, talk, talk–but do you listen?

October 1, 1999

Pharmaceutical Representative

Active listening will help you remain focused on your customers, thereby allowing you to uncover their real needs.

Surveys completed by physicians indicate that sales representatives need to break out of the traditional sales mold and learn to listen instead of talk. Active listening will help you remain focused on your customers, thereby allowing you to uncover their real needs. Listening also buys you time. You rarely hear customers tell you they have to leave when they are talking. Listening also allows you to develop respect and trust. So few people listen today that an active listener is able to develop strong relationships in a very short time frame. These types of relationships are invaluable in today's marketplace and are the foundation of successful selling.

Some common listening pitfalls are listed below. Place a check mark beside the ones you have found yourself doing, and learn to avoid them!

INTERRUPTING

(Dr. Pucillo in a hurry.)

STACIE: Dr. Pucillo, I've been trying to see you for weeks and I can't believe I've finally cornered you. I want to tell you about this new study. It's in the April issue of the New England Journal. Doctor, did you know that the clinical benefits of Heffernex remain unproven in patients with chronic plantar warts? Beginning in 1987, subjects with plantar warts were randomly assigned to receive placebo or Heffernex twice a day. In 1989, the study was modified so that open label treatment with Heffernex was offered when plantar wart size decreased below 1 cm. The study endpoints include overall wart removal, wart survival, free radical warts, and conservative radical warts.

DR. PUCILLO: Agh…. I have to go.

MAKING ASSUMPTIONS

DR. SUTTON: It's nice to meet you.

CARL: Doctor, my predecessor told me exactly what's on your mind. I'm from Hastings Pharmaceuticals. And I'm here to help you.

REACTING EMOTIONALLY

STACIE: So, Doctor, have you tried Heffernex yet?

DR. JOHNSON: No. I haven't had a chance to try it yet.

STACIE: (frantically) Doctor, after all we've talked about. I can't believe you haven't tried it. My kids want new shoes, we haven't taken a vacation in seven years, my mother-in-law needs new teeth, and unless you prescribe this product, I'm finished.

GETTING DISTRACTED

CARL: Doctor (pointing to study), as you can see here (power saw buzzes in hallway and representative looks out the door) as you can see here, patients given 100 mg BID (fly buzzes in rep's face) well, like I was saying, they showed a marked improvement in their median blood pressure (workmen walk by door; sound of hammering in the distance).

MISSING THE POINT

DR. PUCILLO: I read your drug has twice the clinical success rate as your competitors.

STACIE: That's right, Doctor. You know, the last time I called on you, you said that your son was competing in a basketball tournament. How did he do?

DR. PUCILLO: (confused) What?

Although these examples are humorous and a bit exaggerated you can envision how awkward they could make a call.

Listen, don't hear

Listening is a skill in which most people consider themselves proficient. But what most people consider listening is often just hearing. Active listening and hearing allow you to process what a person has said, enabling you to empathize, encourage and understand the person. To actively listen is to reach another level of communication with a person.

Active listening involves three listening skills: attending, facilitating and reflecting. Attending entails assuming a posture of involvement, maintaining eye contact and remaining focused. Facilitating means nurturing communication, offering encouragement and asking non-threatening, open-ended questions. And reflecting requires paraphrasing, articulating perceptions and summarizing.

Who does most of the talking?

Physicians will respond positively to someone who becomes their partner; someone who understands their environment and is willing to help them develop solutions to their issues. In other words, someone who listens.

Physicians are tired of being asked a string of questions that make them feel manipulated.

You may be saying to yourself, "I don't sell that way, I am a consultative sales person." I challenge you to examine your next sales call closely. Ask yourself the following question. "Who did most of the talking during the sales call?"

The talking ratio should be 50% customer and 50% you, and it's even better to conduct a sales call where it's 75% customer and 25% you.

The benefits of active listening

Actively listening during a sales call demonstrates respect, allows you to gain understanding, and enables you to gather information in a non-threatening way. Mastering the skill of paraphrasing will allow you to relate to your customer on a totally new level. This simple technique very subtly opens the lines of communication. If you are paraphrasing to gain information about your competitor's product, however, paraphrase only negative attributes. Do not reinforce a positive attribute of your competitor's product; it will only reinforce that attribute in your customer's mind.

If you incorporate the technique of active listening into your sales call, you will be amazed at the information people will share with you, and how much that information will help you address the new challenges you face. PR

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