By NextLevel Life Sciences - February 06, 2023

“Soft skills” are more important than ever in medical affairs, general business as well as general life. Positive persuasion and communication are skills that all businesspeople can learn and will benefit from (see article). These skills include:

1. Engaging

By winning a stakeholders’ attention and having them focus on you and your message, you are more able to open and continue a dialogue with them. Great medical affairs communicators are skilled at opening conversations and building relationships.

“In the age of information overload, constant distraction and artificial intelligence, a person who people want to listen to, or who is an inspirational leader, is very valuable indeed.”

2. Building rapport and trust

It is human nature to want to interact with people who we like and trust. Highly-regarded and ethical medical professionals are liked and respected, but this reputation starts from the very first seconds of the communication with a new stakeholder. They quickly get to the point and articulate the subject well and display credibility early. They sound positive and passionate and their body language is also positive, open and warm. Persuasive medical affairs executives are skilled at opening conversations and building relationships. They win trust by displaying empathy, credibility and always act in an ethical, client-centric manner.

3. Questioning

Value-adding medical affairs executives are not great because they are good talkers. They are not just articulate orators who love to hear the sound of their own voice. Instead they care deeply about first diagnosing someone else’s real problem. They are strong at asking a series of open, probing questions to help identify explicit, but especially implicit needs. People typically recognise when they have a problem in general, but often understand only its symptoms. They may not be able to identify the underlying problem and therefore the real potential solution. This may be because they haven’t yet heard a fresh perspective or the educated opinion from a medical affairs expert on a complex issue. Implicit needs especially, can only be discovered by asking intelligent, open, probing questions -a key “sales” skill set that can also be utilised by medical affairs.

4. Listening

Top-performing medical affairs leaders are not strong because they are good speakers, rather they are great listeners. There is a big difference between someone who hears and someone who actively listens. Most human beings are actually poor listeners by nature. Not only do persuasive people ask clever open questions and probe deeply but they listen intensely, solely focused on the other person. They listen with the goal of asking the next follow-on question. They don’t just superficially hear with the simple goal of just speaking and telling. Great medical reps are passionate about listening and diagnosing a problem, because they truly and passionately want to help.

“Ethical persuasion skills are simply the art of being more empathetic and more positively persuasive with the goal of helping a client realise value.”

5. Solving problems

Once a skilled medical affairs person has identified what specific, underlying challenges the individual customer faces, they are in a strong position to offer value. Because they have deep empathy, they are more able to appreciate how a product can help an individual client in different ways. They are adept at finding a solution, by emphasizing what elements (features) of a therapy can help the prospective client but especially, how.

6. Presenting

Great medical affairs professionals are excellent at presentation skills. They can explain in an articulate manner, how a particular idea or therapy can be of real benefit to a stakeholder. However, it is not just what they say (the content of the message) but how they say it (the delivery of the message). In other words, they don’t just need to say great things, they need to say them well with clarity, but especially passion. Their enthusiasm and belief then becomes contagious and usually inspires a customer to want to take advantage of the therapy if it has genuine unmet need.

7. Negotiating and convincing

Once a medical representative has asked the right questions and diagnosed the problem, then this knowledge becomes power. Power, used in the right way, then becomes the power to help others and this can then be the platform to ethical influence. However, this is just the starting point for discussions, as most value discussions are not easy. Rather, prospective clients often have a limited understanding of the product’s real benefits vs risks, general misinformation, doubts, biases or hesitance. A customer-centric medical person can help to elaborate how a product can really help the client and alleviate their concerns. They can reassure a hesitant client that the decision is actually a wise one. Most importantly, they can ask further questions to challenge the customer to think differently from a fresh perspective and help to open their mind. Not only can they handle objections, they can negotiate effectively. By appreciating the other person’s point of view and position, they can navigate around hurdles, perhaps compromise a little and ideally find win-win outcomes.

8. Inspiring action

Once a real need has been identified, and the therapy or solution has been agreed upon, there is one missing ingredient -action! Today we live in the age of distraction and many truly value-adding ideas are wasted by inaction. This is unfortunate. Often these ideas are simply forgotten about, or people lose their enthusiasm once they have simply become distracted by other things -a lack of engagement. An effective medical executive inspires the client to act now, with urgency and to take advantage of the solution so that their problem can be solved with immediate effect.

To summarise, the above 8 soft skills can help any medical affairs and liaison become more successful in business but also achieve their life objectives too. A more influential person who is also a strong communicator is more able, for example, to win their dream job or gain that exciting promotion. Or they are more likely to inspire others to join their team and also follow their vision. With such skills, they could perhaps become a great business leader or politician. However, they can also do good in their social life by motivating others to donate to a needy charity or to convince a family member with personal problems to get professional help or to change their unhealthy lifestyle. “Sales skills” are genuine life skills.


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 Geoff Cable is the CEO & co-Founder of Evidence Life Science, a leading events organiser for the pharmaceutical, medtech and diagnostics industries. He also leads training at the NextLevel Academy, which trains business people in essential sales, communication and management skills. Please feel free to reach out to Geoff on LinkedIn