healthcare workers looking at tablet

The important skills that contribute to sales success are constant, regardless of disruptive external events, but they’ll need to be sharpened and tailored to the changing healthcare environment.

Healthcare sales has gone through a number of rocky transitions and disruptions over the past decade. But 2020 has been at a whole other level. As we make our way to the end of this incredibly tumultuous and challenging year, sales teams in pharmaceuticals, biotech, medical device and diagnostic companies are looking to find a firm footing and build back sales. And to do that, they have to strike the right balance between the urgent and the important.

Sales managers are key to that. While most healthcare sales leaders already know how to manage and balance the two, the distinction here is that they have to be able to coach their teams to do the same. The Covid-19 crisis has driven a number of key shifts in healthcare sales, but it’s also amplified and accelerated others that were already underway. Some of these trends include changes to the rules of engagement, growing price pressure and a reduction in access to customers.

When we get hit with big changes like these, we have a tendency to shift our attention toward the urgent: obsessing over immediate data, mitigating risk and concentrating on what has to be done right in this moment. All of that matters. But healthcare sales leaders and their teams can’t take their eyes off the important: the critical strategies and skills needed to adapt to and address the current realities, as well as the fundamentals of good business execution required to deliver sustainable results over time.

Healthcare Sales Skills to Sharpen in a Changing Environment

The important skills that contribute to healthcare sales success are constant, regardless of disruptive external events, but they’ll need to be sharpened and tailored to the rapidly changing healthcare environment.

1. Relationship Building: Even before social distancing and work-from-home protocols disrupted the drop-in visit with the HCP, the tide was turning. While Covid-19 has tilted the balance entirely or almost entirely to virtual and digital, the future is more likely to be a hybrid. A recent PharmaVoice article quotes Accenture research that shows 87% of HCPs want either all virtual or a mix of virtual and in-person meetings even after the pandemic ends. In other words, “in-person contact will remain an important tool in the sales rep toolbox. It just won’t be used as often.”

As a result of all of these changes, sales leaders need to focus more attention on coaching their sales reps to build meaningful relationships with HCPs regardless of the tools they use to interact with them. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of one-way presenting during a virtual sales meeting, especially if you’re not as confident or comfortable using virtual media.

2. Planning and Creativity: When it comes to pre-call prep, healthcare sales reps are lucky these days to have a wealth of background material right at their fingertips, from customer websites to Google Alerts to LinkedIn and other social media outlets. The ones who do their homework and think more creatively — generating intrigue in a world where customers have numerous distractions, competing priorities and noise coming at them — will have the advantage. They’ll be able to talk more substantively with HCPs and ask better questions to take a more value-driven approach to the relationship. 

Highly successful sales reps also consider factors like Behavior Style in determining how to engage their customers most effectively and make an emotional connection, even if the conversations are happening virtually instead of in person.

3. Trusted Broker of Capabilities: There are plenty of sales folks trying to capitalize on the pandemic, which means customers don’t know what to believe, what to buy or who to trust. As a result, the pandemic has intensified the need for healthcare sales reps to shift their mindset about their role. Physicians are looking for partners who add value and help their patients live healthier lives, not salespeople pushing product on them. Unfortunately, many salespeople are abandoning the customer-centric sales approach they would normally use and resorting to desperate tactics to try and make up for the lack of sales earlier in the year.

The PharmaVoice article notes, “Several surveys have shown that physicians – especially during the pandemic – feel they are not being heard, by anyone.” Sales reps who are attuned to these needs and are proactively providing HCPs with resources and support, not just checking in to make a sale, are the ones who will be able to forge stronger, long-lasting relationships. Being that trusted advisor that your customer can rely on will be a major differentiator going forward.

4. Empathy and Professional Patience: It’s only natural to be thinking about our own concerns and urgencies right now, but now more than ever, it’s critical to listen, understand and put ourselves in our customers’ shoes if we want them to cut us a PO for anything. Salespeople who truly understand the customer’s world will be able to find ways to help them most effectively and make inroads where paths are currently blocked or challenging to navigate.

By the same token, every business has an urgent need to make up revenue gaps, but we still need to understand, respect and honor the customer buying process. Sales managers have to instill in their teams — and reinforce through coaching — that doing the right things and being patient for the process to play out will ultimately lead to success. It’s part of where we are in the market, and it’s what our customers deserve from us.

5.  Commitment to Excellence in Execution: Being good enough is not going to cut it in today’s selling environment. Salespeople must dial in their strategy, plan of action, communication style, timing and all other aspects of execution to be successful going forward. The hard reality is, those who continue to do it the way they’ve always done it are setting themselves up to fail. The commercial barriers are high, and the only way to overcome these barriers is to build excellence and precision on what and how you execute.

Coaching Healthcare Sales Reps to Excel

Are your sales leaders prepared to manage and coach their teams effectively in this rapidly changing and tumultuous time? For a featured story in LTEN’s Focus on Training magazine, Manage or Coach? Balancing the Urgent & the Important, Integrity Solutions’ Harriet Butler and Doug Murray take a closer look at the issues and challenges in making that shift from managing to coaching and what sales leaders need to do to provide both adequately. The article offers a framework based on 3 drivers of performance — Beliefs, Planning and Actions — as well as 7 activities that can help leaders strike the balance between managing what’s urgent and coaching what’s important.

About the Author
harriet butler
Harriet Butler

Executive VP & Partner, Healthcare Practice

As Executive Vice President and Principal at Integrity Solutions, Harriet Butler wears many hats, including board member and practice lead...

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