Turning Clinical Teams Into Sales Juggernauts

By January 6, 2023LTEN Focus On Training


SELLING SKILLS – by John Crowder

When it comes to sales, clinical teams are capable of so much more

Over the past several years, we’ve seen a tremendous number of providers transition from medicine to customer-facing roles in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries. As technology advances and more specialized tools become available, clinicians can speak effectively about the use of these solutions in a way that laypeople can’t. After all, they’ve been in the customer’s shoes.

With the talent, experience and access they bring to the table, these individuals are positioned to contribute tremendous value, to both their customers and their employers.

But there’s one big problem:  Many of them hate selling!

This aversion to selling creates quite a challenge for their organizations.  Healthcare companies grow and thrive by increasing appropriate utilization of their products. It’s hard to accomplish this mission when one of their most important and influential customer-facing groups doesn’t have the mindset and skills they need.

With changing industry dynamics and rapid technological advances, this challenge is only going to grow as companies hire more providers to serve in these roles. In some organizations, providers already comprise up to 65% to 75% of their customer-facing field teams. These organizations are quickly learning that the traditional formula of clinical training plus product knowledge often results in their clinical teams acting more as service and support providers — and that’s not enough to achieve their growth goals.

Their clinical teams are capable of so much more, though. With a consultative sales model that is connected to their value system, they’ll be better equipped and able to advocate for improved patient care and outcomes, which will also help their organizations succeed.

Understanding the Barriers

Providers spent their prior careers on the “other side of the desk,” and for many, their own experiences with salespeople weren’t very positive. Memories of the pushy, bottom-line-driven rep who didn’t respect their time, understand their needs or care about their patients linger. If that’s the image they have of a “salesperson, ”no wonder they don’t want to be seen in that light!

Many of these clinicians are hardwired to focus on patient care and improved outcomes and still want to be seen as patient advocates. But now that they’ve moved out of their provider role, they no longer have the same moral, ethical or legal standing that supports their desire to advocate for better care. As a result, they find themselves struggling internally, wanting to advocate for patient care and champion better efficiencies, while at the same time not wanting to be seen in the role of a “salesperson” hawking their wares.

In many organizations, the mindset of leadership can create additional barriers.  This happens when a sales leader manages clinicians or clinical leaders oversee sales. The tone of a “typical” sales leader who prioritizes deals, numbers and quotas won’t resonate with clinicians who want to discuss patients, outcomes and efficiencies. Meanwhile, most clinical leaders don’t have the skills or understand how to execute or coach to a consultative sales strategy.

None of this is really an issue for your company if you’ve decided that clinical reps are only there to provide product information, support and education. However, customer-facing clinicians are very capable of providing more than just service and support. If you want your clinical team to engage in meaningful dialogue that will advance utilization of your brand, then invest in them, address these barriers and equip everyone for success.

Developing the Mindset and the Skill Set

In many ways, clinicians are already ahead of the game — they just don’t realize it.  That’s because they’ve likely come to their role believing that selling is something you do to someone through manipulation or relentless pressure, rather than the belief that selling is something you do for and with someone. Advocating for better patient care was a key goal when they worked in medicine. With the right mindset and skill set, they can still meet this objective when working in industry.

By redefining sales as a process of identifying someone’s wants or needs and then creating value for them — a mutual win-win activity — you change the lens entirely for the clinician in that customer-facing role. It’s no longer about selling a product; it’s about identifying a need and providing solutions that improve patient care and outcomes.

As one clinician put it, “Don’t ask me to sell. Ask me to save a life.” That’s something they can get behind.  The most effective sales model and process is one that aligns with (instead of conflicts with) their patient-centric values and focuses on building the skills to engage with customers in meaningful dialogue to bring about real change.

This requires consultative selling skills.  Consultative selling is an approach based on partnering and collaboration as opposed to conflict or challenge. The salesperson is guiding someone along the way to reach a decision that’s in their best interest. Because they’re creating value and building trusted relationships, clinicians will feel good about this kind of “sales” role. And if they feel good about it, it’s behavior they’ll repeat.

Taking the Fear Out

It’s not only confidence-boosting to have a common language, playbook, skills and clarity about how the organization defines selling; in many ways, it’s a relief. After they move from medicine to industry, many clinicians don’t know how to advocate for patients without the full force of an institution behind them. This gives them the tools to continue fulfilling that purpose.

What’s more, when you reposition sales from the old used car salesman clichés toa focus on consulting, collaborating, patient advocacy and improving patient outcomes, you help all your team members tap into their purpose. It gives their role more meaning.

Whether they have a traditional sales background or a clinical one, the only way to fully leverage the strengths of your customer-facing teams is to build both the mindset and the skill set for success. When they put the patient first, it will come through in everything they do — and the results will follow.

John Crowder is vice president, healthcare for Integrity Solutions. Email John at jcrowder@integritysolutions.com.


About LTEN

The Life Sciences Trainers & Educators Network (www.L-TEN.org) is the only global 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization specializing in meeting the needs of life sciences learning professionals. LTEN shares the knowledge of industry leaders, provides insight into new technologies, offers innovative solutions and communities of practice that grow careers and organizational capabilities. Founded in 1971, LTEN has grown to more than 3,200 individual members who work in pharmaceutical, biotech, medical device and diagnostic companies, and industry partners who support the life sciences training departments.

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