Selling Models: How to Make Them Work

By November 2, 2016November 1st, 2020LTEN Bonus Focus

A selling model can bring real value to the selling process for both sales professionals and their customers. Done right, it can provide a framework for tailoring the sales approach to each customer’s stage of product adoption, uncovering underlying beliefs about the product and competing therapies. It can foster selling behaviors that build trust and credibility with customers, improving customer access. It can establish a common language across a commercial organization, creating the basis for effective coaching of sales representatives and communication between sales and marketing.

If selling models can offer such value, then why do some pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device sales teams reject them, or not implement them as designed? As a sales training professional, what can you do about it?

In evaluating the effectiveness of the selling models of our pharmaceutical and biotech clients, Curtis Learning has gathered substantial feedback from stakeholders. The following quote reflects a common sentiment among experienced sales representatives about the selling model used by their organization.

“It doesn’t reflect the real-world selling environment. It doesn’t change how I work every day.”

Sales leaders often express a similar sentiment and raise concerns that the selling model roll-out hasn’t elevated the selling skills of their representatives.

We have distilled valuable lessons from the selling models we’ve developed for our clients, many of whom have expressed frustration with implementing “off-the-shelf” selling approaches. Through this process, we have identified best practices for creating a selling model that is valued across the commercial team by marketing, sales leadership, and most importantly, sales representatives.

Here are some important considerations for the development and implementation of a selling model that brings value:

• One Size Does Not Fit All: When building your selling model, start with a clean slate. This is crucial! Many selling models share some basic components, but your organization has a unique culture and approach to the marketplace that will influence your selling methods. To create a model that works for you, start with a process that solicits significant input from a cross-section of commercial team members. This due diligence plays a more important role in selling model development than any other step.

• Involve the Skeptics: Don’t give in to the “been there, done that” mentality. When designed thoughtfully with input from stakeholders, the selling model offers value to even the most experienced, some might say “jaded” representatives. A customized model emphasizes the selling behaviors adopted by the most successful sales representatives in the organization—the ones that even the skeptics look up to. In one of our recent roll-outs to a tenured oncology sales force, 74 percent of the sales representatives and 87% of managers rated the new selling model a 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale. What was the key to this success? Sales team members felt that their voices were heard at multiple touchpoints throughout the development process.

• Managers Become Better Coaches with a Selling Model They Believe In: For a selling model to become ingrained in a sales organization, managers must consistently coach to it. When a customized model is developed (versus an off-the-shelf version that is retrofitted to the company), we hear comments from managers like, “This model reflects the things that make our representatives unique and successful.”

• It All Comes Down to Training: Developing a selling model based on thoughtful input from stakeholders across the commercial organization is an important first step to elevating sales effectiveness. But it’s only the beginning. Successfully implementing the selling model requires a well-designed training plan, and the training plan needs to focus on specific selling behaviors described in the selling model. It is also critical for the training to address a limited number of behaviors at a time, ensuring the new information is digestible, and to reinforce the behaviors through multiple training and coaching opportunities. Furthermore, the training and coaching effort needs to provide examples of effective selling behaviors — what good looks like—so sales representatives can model these behaviors and gauge their progress adopting them.

An effective selling model can bring real value to a commercial organization, creating the basis for effective coaching of sales representatives and fostering communication between sales and marketing. It can lead to selling behaviors that build trust and credibility with customers, improve customer access and drive product adoption. Realizing the full benefits of a selling model requires a thoughtful approach to its design, one that reflects stakeholder input, and a carefully implemented training plan to ensure selling behaviors are learned, applied and reinforced through coaching.

Catherine Smith is chief learning officer for Curtis Learning LLC. Email Cathy at

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