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focus_Two Steps to Openings that Give Control

Two Steps to Openings that Give Control

By Blaine C. Stephenson

We spend a lot of time training new reps on the clinical aspects of our therapies, the exclusive solutions we offer and core marketing messages, but just as important – if not more important – are the selling skills involved in framing up the topics of engagement with our physicians. You’re either gaining share or losing share in your interactions. How you “open” the conversation determines whether the physician is going to invest their time with you.

What is the challenge with opening a conversation? Microsoft conducted a study that clocked the average human attention span at just eight seconds in 2013. The average human attention span was 12 seconds in 2000. That’s a 33 percent decrease in just 13 short years. A goldfish has an average attention span of nine seconds.

So, what is the blueprint or template to an opening that differentiates us from everybody else and captures the attention of a physician in that short span of time? We know that we will be asked the “what’s new” question all the time and yet I still see reps caught off guard with that elementary, two-word inquiry. We are purposeful in spending dedicated time to developing and practicing what we call preplanned spontaneity in response to a doctor’s simple probing question.

When a doctor asks, “What’s New” how do we:

• Gain credibility?

• Infuse empathy?

• Take Control of the Conversation within eight seconds?

The methodology or template incorporates a two-step process.

Step 1

Your opening remark should begin with a third-party reference from one of three different categories: people, publications or practices. Let’s address these one at a time, beginning with the first source, people.

Highlight the experts. When highlighting people, emphasize their titles. Infuse descriptors such as national or global in their appellation. These detailed title references give you instant credibility in just two-seconds. • I was recently speaking with the senior product engineer regarding…

• I was at a national conference and one of the keynote speakers highlighted…

• We just had a conference call with the global product manager and I raised the issue you had regarding…

Second source, highlight “publications” such as journals, studies, or reviews.

• I came across an article from Harvard Business Review that described…

• There’s a recent publication of a study regarding…

By highlighting published resources, it not only gives credibility, but it demonstrates that you are a student of the game. You become the trusted consultant to your physician. You are the resource for new and relevant information that doctors value.

Third source, give tactful exposure to what other “practices” are doing. We have the advantage of countless interactions to gain insight from other physicians and practices and just observe, inquire and learn best practices that we can incorporate into our openings.

• I’ve noticed a trend in the industry with how practices are handling…

• I followed up with some other practices regarding our conversation from last week to get some different perspectives…

We become an expert resource of what some of the best practices are doing regarding patient management, marketing their practice or even efficiencies in scheduling. Many times, we’re so focused on our message or the sale that we lose an invaluable opportunity to listen and learn. Just by observing and asking questions we gain valuable insight not only in the immediate sale with the customer but we can gain valuable insights that can be utilized with other accounts that doctors will value.

Also of note, the higher the quality of the third-party reference, the higher the credibility you receive. The next step in constructing your opening is just as crucial as the third-party reference. This is where you can gain control of the conversation right from the beginning.

Step 2

You choose the topic or subject to be engaged in, which may include anything from patient outcomes, reimbursement, industry insight or new technology.

In the bestselling book The Challenger Sale, authors Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson discovered that top performing reps not only teach and tailor, but they take control of the sales call. The question is how do you take control of a sales call within the 8 second window?

After Step 1 of introducing a third-party reference, you finish the opening statement by referencing a topic or subject that can lead into your call for action. We’ve been trained to ask questions, but by starting with a statement, we choose the topic of conversation and then we engage in questions.

Let’s put this all together:

• Dr.: “What’s new?”

• Sales Rep: “I was at a national conference and one of the keynote speakers was highlighting their protocol in ruling-in or ruling-out atrial fibrillation with cryptogenic stroke patients. How does your practice currently diagnosis atrial fibrillation in your cryptogenic stroke patients?”

Credibility and control with one sentence in less than eight seconds. From this platform, you can weave in your studies, statistics or messages.

This methodology not only sharpens the influence for tenured reps, but it can be utilized with new hires. Early in my career I flew in to meet with a noted key opinion leader (KOL) within our field. He was a highly-regarded physician and was frequently quoted in studies and was a featured keynote speaker at conferences. I was only six months into my job when I met with him.

We were walking down the hallway of his prestigious institution and I could tell he was sizing me up. He asked, “So, tell me about what you do.” I stated my title and said “My role affords me the ability to observe multiple practices and gain valuable insights into what the best practices are employing about treating patients with challenging disease states. He said, “I bet you’re not willing to share them with me.” That 8-second statement gained me access to sit down with the leading KOL in the industry for a 30-minute discussion in his office.

Take control of the conversation and increase the impact your field has with their physicians by incorporating the principles of preplanned spontaneity. ________________________________________________________________________________ Blaine C. Stephenson is sales training manager for Medtronic. Email Blaine at

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