By Rich Mesch
Slowly, but surely, many businesses are shifting focus from the features of their products and services to the benefits and value to the customer. In the life sciences world, that transition has been a little more complicated. In most cases, pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device companies do not sell directly to the consumers of their products. Rather, they sell to healthcare professionals and managed care organizations, which then make the decisions regarding the most appropriate therapies for their patients.
The concept of patient-centric selling isn’t all that new; many pharma companies have focused at least some of their sales strategy on communicating the value to the patient. The focus was often logistical, focusing on fewer side effects, lower dosing requirements or more convenience. But really, these approaches were still more about the product than they were about the patient.
The patient journey is a very different way of looking at things. It focuses completely on the patient experience — even when a specific product or therapy is not part of that experience. The patient journey addresses the needs of the patient in treating their illness, focusing on how living with and managing a disease affects multiple aspects of their day-to-day lives. It's not just the physical challenges; there are almost always emotional, social, financial, and logistical challenges as well. Patients need assistance in many areas, including:
• Access to Therapy: Does my insurance cover my treatment? How complex is the process for getting what I need?
• Distribution: Who writes my prescription? How do I get my medication? How is payment handled?
• Financial Assistance: Even if my treatment is covered, is my co-pay prohibitive?
• Clinical Support: How do I get the medical help I need to administer my treatment?
• Social: How do I deal with the way the challenges of my disease or treatment presents in interacting with my family, friends and co-workers?
• Behavior Change: Successful treatment often requires significant lifestyle changes. How can I get guidance and support?
Talking to healthcare professionals about the patient journey is really a completely different approach than talking about product. Why?
• It focuses on how the patient lives their life, both because of — and in spite of — their medical condition.
• It’s not just about the drug or therapy — It’s about living a more fulfilled life. It’s a holistic approach, where the patient’s comfort, convenience, and lifestyle are paramount—even those aspects the promoted therapies do not address.
• It’s a long-term approach — perhaps a lifetime.
Talking to healthcare professionals about the patient journey helps minimize the "selling" aspect of the interaction, and focuses on creating a partnership in patient care.
One of the most significant challenges facing life sciences organizations is transforming their salesforce. How do you refocus a salesforce who has been trained to focus on product? How do you onboard new salespeople so that they understand and can perform in the field? Change is also a journey, and a good journey requires a travel guide. A patient journey travel guide would include six steps for positive sales change:
1. Establish the Need: In order to change the way a salesforce sells, you need to first effectively communicate why the change is necessary and the value the change will create. In many cases, your salesforce is very invested in their current method — and often very successful. Change requires understanding, buy-in and commitment.
2. Talk about the Change: Once the need is established, your salesforce is likely to have concerns and questions. Is this something I can do? Will I be able to sell more? Will it affect my compensation? Is there buy-in from my manager? What kinds of tools are available to support me? How will I know if I'm doing it right? Addressing these questions from the beginning helps build confidence and trust in the new approach.
3. Tell the Stories: Providing clear examples is one of the best ways to contextualize new learning and turn it into new skills. Compelling patient stories make compelling conversations. Understanding the patient and provider perspective focuses the discussion.
4. Practice the New Way: For many people, the patient-centric approach will be new, and they will need to practice to gain proficiency and confidence. Simulation activities, observing calls and good mentoring help build "muscle memory" and enhance the ability to change the conversation.
5. Create the Next Wave: This process has been focused on reskilling an existing salesforce, but your new salespeople have similar needs. They will be looking for a clear message on day one. Everything you did with your tenured team you will also need to do with your new people as part of their onboarding.
6. Pull it Through: Change doesn’t happen in the classroom, it happens in the field. Your sales team may go back to the “old way” without consistent support and reinforcement in the field. Part of that is providing performance support, through easily accessed tools, to help people behave differently. But perhaps the greatest driver of success is your sales leadership. If they aren't on board, they can kill a change where it stands. If they're committed, they can drive enormous success. Any strategy for transformation requires bringing sales leadership in early, setting them up to be good mentors and coaches, and giving them the tools they need to succeed.
Focusing your sales team on the patient and the patient journey is not an overnight endeavor. However, with smart planning and a comprehensive roadmap, it is an achievable goal with considerable benefits for patients, providers, health care organizations and, of course, your company.
Rich Mesch is the vice president, customer engagement, for Performance Development Group of Malvern, PA. Email Rich at firstname.lastname@example.org.