Effective communication is an underrated sales tool. Get your salespeople to stop talking and start listening, and buyers will view these brand representatives as anomalies in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
If this sounds like a lesson for beginners, think again. Triax Pharmaceuticals launched two years ago on the premise of providing dermatologists with an offering that would stand out from the pack. The company pairs its drugs with skincare products, so an acne cream is sold with a cleanser and moisturizer. “Because we’re unique, I wanted our salespeople to be unique,” says Leonard L. Mazur, chief operating officer of the firm in Cranford, N.J. That distinction lies in how Triax salespeople interact with their customers.
Jerry Acuff, who is leading Triax’s training, believes better communication starts with a shift in mindset. He encourages salespeople to think like buyers, not sellers. “If you begin to think like a buyer, you aren’t interested in selling,” says Acuff, CEO of Delta Point, a sales training firm in Scottsdale, Ariz. “You’re interested in getting the customer to buy if there’s a fit.” The focus becomes finding out as much information as possible, an approach that even pros can undervalue. “What is it that all salespeople like to do? Talk, not listen—even successful seasoned salespeople,” Mazur says.
One tip that resonated with Triax’s team was to avoid the typical sales call introduction: “Hi, Doc, I’m here to talk to you about X, Y, Z products.” Acuff advised setting themselves apart, by starting the appointment with the stated goal of learning more about the doctor’s practice. When Gary Talarico, Triax’s senior vice president, sales, asked for feedback on this strategy, one salesperson wrote back saying a doctor responded to questions about his practice by saying thank you. “What for?” the salesperson asked. “For realizing that not every product is good for every patient,” the doctor replied.
Such reactions don’t surprise Talarico, who attributes them to a disturbing trend: As competition for doctors’ time increases, the reputation of the pharmaceutical rep decreases. And too much focus on call quotas can alienate both salespeople and their customers. “The stereotypical pharmaceutical salesperson delivers doughnuts and brings in lunch,” Talarico says. “It isn’t someone who makes a connection with a physician and gets to know him.”