Article: 7 REASONS WHY MEDICAL AFFAIRS & MSLs SHOULD LEARN PERSUASION SKILLS
1. “SALES” HAS A BAD REPUTATION, BUT THE SKILLSET IS OF GREAT VALUE TO MEDICAL AFFAIRS
“Sales” as a profession has had a bad reputation for a long time, I’m sure hundreds of years further back than the infamous “snake oil” salespeople from the 19th century. This is because unethical salespeople were very often pushy and selfish, looking to extract as much as possible from the prospective customer without their best interests at heart -a “win-lose” scenario. It really was a “dog-eat-dog” world throughout much of history, where life was tough and was seen by many as a zero-sum-game – “your loss is my gain”. Today, by contrast, an ethical medical affairs representative does not try and push a product on someone who doesn’t need it. Instead, they know that to be successful they need a customer-centric reputation, so a long-term strategy of client satisfaction is the only path to sustained success. They appreciate that there is nothing wrong with helping a stakeholder take advantage of something that can make a positive impact on their patients. “Sales skills” are simply the art of being more empathetic, and more positively persuasive with the goal of helping a client realise value and unmet need.
“Sales skills are simply the art of being more empathetic and more positively persuasive with the goal of helping a client realise value.”
2. PERSUASION SKILLS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER
Today, the medical affairs professional is customer-centric, looking to help the potential client realise maximum value and to create a win-win scenario. They need to be a “consultant” looking to diagnose the problem in detail, well before ethically suggesting ethical therapies. They must be skilled at finding out what the customer’s real needs are, by asking a series of intelligent, open questions and probe deeply to find the heart of the problem. Sometimes the customer knows what they want and has a clear need that they can identify, quantify or articulate -known as “explicit needs”. However, more often, the prospective customer faces challenges that they find hard to clearly define or express – known as “implicit needs”. For example, people didn’t realise they needed email before it was invented, but they did want simple ways to communicate effectively. Clients often cannot articulate what solution they need, because they usually aren’t the scientific expert on the specific treatment in question or they just need to look at the problem from a different perspective with a fresh “set of eyes”. This is where a skilled medical consultant can really help a customer and become their advisor in the quest to unlock value and patient need.
3. ITS NOT ONLY THE SALES TEAM’S JOB TO COMMUNICATE
Today, the “sales” skillset should not be restricted only to the sales team within an organisation. In today’s healthcare ecosystem, where every physician is being swamped daily with social media messages and emails, everyone is facing information overload. However, if an entire organisation is equipped with ethical “sales” skills, including medical affairs, the organisation’s core message will not be drowned out. This is because all non-sales representatives can also communicate their product’s benefit and risks when interacting with clients. However, as they are not “sales people”, unfortunately they usually haven’t benefited from the appropriate persuasion training. That is almost always counterproductive and genuine sales opportunities are definitely being missed. Typically, non-salespeople tend to list a product’s features, when they should be finding needs and articulating the client-specific benefits. There needs to be a switch away from product-focused promotion and towards ethical customer-centric communication, putting the customer and their needs at the centre of the conversation. Today in an organisation, it is every medical executive’s jobto listen to customers and articulate a value message. In today’s environment of automation, data-deluge or chat bots, there is nothing more important or engaging than the comforting and caring voice of a real-life human being.
“In the age of information overload, constant distraction and artificial intelligence, a medical executive who people want to listen to, or who is an inspirational leader, is very valuable indeed.”
4. MEDICAL AFFAIRS PROFESSIONALS CAN ACHIEVE THEIR PERSONAL AMBITIONS WITH PERSUASION SKILLS
For the ambitious, persuasion skills help us realise our ambitions and become more successful. The people at the top of any organisation, are almost always excellent at selling a message, concept or vision. How often do you see a popular politician who had poor communication skills? Or rather, the most inspiring politicians in history were some of the world’s best “sales” people, even if they only sold a vision. Their politics aside, think of orators like Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, JFK, Martin Luther King or Winston Churchill. They were adept at inspiring people to follow them and buy-into their ideas. Strong politicians are masters at selling a concept. The same is true for medical affairs leaders. CEOs must also sell their company’s vision and plan, often to skeptical employees or impatient investors, especially when they face adversity in the short-term. Only when a corporate leader inspires their stakeholders to follow their lead, can they together navigate through the depths of the swamp and achieve huge success at the other end. Alternatively, co-founders of start-ups are often technically gifted, subject matter experts, but have not been specifically trained in sales. It is even more critical for new companies that are still unknown with novel products and few customers, to be able to sell their message to potential customers or investors. It is the co-founder’s job to always be selling and the stakes are high when they are ineffective at selling their concept. The same is true for those leading a medical affairs department, a team or project in a larger company. When being led by a more persuasive-yet-empathetic leader, the entire department, team or project will not just likely avoid failure, but instead can achieve extraordinary things together. In today’s business, “soft skills” like persuasion and communication are more important than ever. In this age of information overload, constant distraction and artificial intelligence, a medical affairs professional who people want to listen to or is an inspirational leader, is very valuable indeed.
5. PERSUASION SKILLS CAN REALLY HELP SOLVE PROBLEMS
Every KOL or stakeholder faces challenges, some more critical than others. The solutions to these challenges usually already exist. If the customer does not find the solution to their problem, this is unfortunate at best but catastrophic at worst. On the other hand, a skilled medical rep, armed with strong evidence and knowledge of how to help a particular customer, can facilitate value and solve real problems. Of course, they find out what the customer’s problems are by asking open probing questions, listening deeply, clarifying and empathising. Then they need to articulate the product’s benefits and probably overcome misconceptions or doubt that the client may have. When they solve critical problems, a customer-centric sales consultant is of great benefit to the customer and their business and add real value.
“Sales skills are life skills”
6. PERSUASIVE PEOPLE ARE OFTEN HAPPIER
“Sales skills” are not just business skill; it is a life skill. The skills of persuasion and influence, when used in the right way, also help people to get ahead in their non-working life. Generally speaking, persuasive people are more likely to be happier in life because they are more likely to do what they want to do, and more likely to lead rather than simply follow or accept the ideas of others. For example, psychologists often state that people who have extremely “agreeable” personality traits are less likely to achieve happiness. Positively persuasive people on the other hand are more likely to have more friends or be more well-liked. For example, if they host a memorable party or successful social event, they are more likely to motivate other people to join as they are able to “sell” the concept. As long as such people are not regarded as selfish by their peers, they therefore tend to have stronger social networks. They are more likely to be able to inspire their friends or acquaintances to follow them or help them and provide mutual benefit also.
7. PERSUASIVE PEOPLE ARE MORE ABLE TO HELP PEOPLE
I’m sure we all have a family member or friend who needs help or could benefit from our support. Sometimes the problem and solution may be obvious to us, but they cannot see it themselves or do not want to face the truth. For example, they may have a poor diet leading to bad health, or a damaging personal habit (i.e. gambling or substance abuse). Sometimes they could be depressed and may benefit from professional help. Sometimes they are just not happy in their job but won’t do anything about it alone. Other times, they are generally ok, but may take unwise or risky decisions, like not having adequate health insurance, car insurance or life insurance when they have a dependent family. Often, they are just resistant to change. They probably have been “told” many times by those that care about them, but they reject the advice, because the advice has often been too pushy. A persuasive person, on the other hand, doesn’t “tell’, but they “sell”. They don’t “push”, but they do “pull”. A persuasive person first asks a lot of questions and then really listens to what the person’s problems are. Then they empathise and build trust. They find out what has prevented them from finding or implementing a solution in the first place. Only once the problem has been adequately diagnosed, a positively persuasive person can gently provide a recommendation but most importantly, articulate the benefits and inspire them to act differently.