Training the Dynamic Sales Team of the Future
Feature Story – By Michelle O’Connor
What skills will our future sales teams need to succeed?
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, life sciences trainers have met the challenge of delivering timely, accurate learning resources reflecting emerging trends in our industry, including the shift to virtual selling. Fast-forward to the future, and we expect to see some of the same trends that shaped selling and training during the pandemic continue far into the future.
The most significant of these recent trends is the evolution of the traditional selling model to a more multichannel marketing model. This shift will certainly present added challenges to our sales teams. So, what skills will our future sales teams need to succeed in an increasingly complex and layered selling environment?
Following are some of the key skills you should prioritize in your strategic training efforts to build a more agile and effective sales team for the future.
Creative Customer Engagement Skills
Pandemic-related shutdowns spurred many biopharmaceutical companies to adopt a multichannel marketing approach on the fly. For example, the training team at Bristol Myers Squibb had to quickly adjust their selling skills curriculum to support selling in a virtual environment.
“We released about 12 learning solutions between April and August  for the markets to pick up and leverage at whatever time made sense for them, based on their local market needs,” said Alicia Talish, director of worldwide training, leadership and talent development at BMS.
Today, many forward-thinking companies are looking at a truly hybrid selling model that incorporates face-to-face sales with virtual calls. Such hybrid selling approaches require new learning strategies to equip the sales team with more creative and strategic customer engagement skills.
What you can do now: Assess your resource inventory for potential training gaps for every customer-facing role, and consider what additional resources could help build your team’s customer engagement skills in the future. This might include new resources on evidence-based selling, virtual selling or storytelling to engage customers.
Another priority for many providers is health equity. Well-informed sales teams may be able to open doors by offering solutions to promote better outcomes for underserved patients.
As virtual selling remains popular with many customers, pre-call planning takes on an even more strategic focus. Sales representatives need to consider complementary selling approaches that align with their “big picture” strategy to reach customers.
“We’re going to see a new customer interaction model emerging that leverages seamless and innovative ways to interact with customers across the full omnichannel,” said Talish. “As training organizations, we need to stay ahead of those trends and prepare our teams to be able to respond and flex.”
What you can do now: Make sure your representatives’ business acumen and business planning skills are up to speed. They should also be able to understand how today’s market access and payer and reimbursement trends are likely to shape the future selling environment. This will help them offer more strategic solutions to their customers.
Empathy and Emotional Intelligence
During the past 18 months, some companies have used the added training time to enhance their sales team’s emotional intelligence (EI). They recognize that emotional intelligence can support their sales focus by helping reps engage with providers on a deeper level during a uniquely challenging time.
Building empathy and EI is also important for internal team dynamics.
“As leaders, our No. 1 focus is and should be our people,” Talish said. She recognizes that demonstrating empathy can be especially challenging for leaders working with virtual teams. However, when she’s talking with her team, she strives to “listen to what they say and what they don’t say, and then ask follow-up questions and give the conversation the time it deserves.”
What you can do now: Make sure your sales team understands how they can tap into their own empathy to improve their connections with customers, particularly as many providers themselves are still struggling with pandemic-related challenges. Brushing up on the basics of active listening — one of the core communication skills for salespeople — can also help them overcome common selling barriers and work more effectively with their teammates.
For sales reps, having digital acumen means understanding how to leverage different channels to have a meaningful impact on customer relationships.
“Now and in the future, face-to-face interaction is just one of the levers that can be pulled in a really complex and highly digital landscape that now surrounds our customers,” Talish said.
Tomorrow’s reps also need to be prepared for our future providers, the members of
“They know how to use data and technology to extremes that our current population of healthcare providers today don’t,” Talish said. “That’s going to demand a different model of engagement.”
What you can do now: In addition to offering resources to hone your team’s virtual selling skills, consider providing resources on telehealth trends and value-based selling. These trends are here to stay.
You also may want to experiment with microlearning strategies to help address “virtual fatigue” that can occur when sales representatives spend a lot of time focused on online selling or learning.
Advanced Coaching Skills for Managers
Managers need to rethink the traditional ways in which they drive better performance with their teams. For instance, BMS’ training team has been focused on helping managers improve their ability to coach remotely.
Looking ahead, trainers should understand how the coaching culture is changing and provide the right resources to help managers model the desired competencies and coach their sales reps to convey credibility virtually, not just face to face.
What you can do now: Review the current learning pathways for your sales managers and take some time to review how they align to the competencies you aim to develop.
Additionally, you may want to consider refreshing your leadership and management curriculum with new resources on change management and strategic thinking. Such targeted training can help ensure that your managers are prepared to lead the sales teams of the future.
Michelle R. O’Connor, CMR, M.Ed., is president and CEO of CMR Institute and a
member of the LTEN Board of Directors. Email Michelle at firstname.lastname@example.org.