Effective Sales Training
Building a solid relationship between brand managers and sales reps is crucial for the entire team to be successful.
ByDr. Gina Nick
As mentioned before in this column, nutraceutical marketers have a great deal to learn from the pharmaceutical industry. For starters, the fact that their sales team is their largest investment tells us that it must be highly effective. Further, their research into maximizing its efficiency can apply, with modifications, to promoting alternative and complementary health products.
A recent multifaceted, in-depth survey conducted by Noesis Healthcare Interactions, written by Bruce Epstein and John Nostra, and published in the November 2004 issue of Medical Marketing and Media (MM&M) identified the most effective sales techniques along with some of the shortcomings of current sales practices in the pharmaceutical industry. The survey, which is referred to as the RIDE Report (Research to Improve Detailing Effectiveness), also identified four key “pillars” of effective selling:
• Knowledge and training
• Ongoing communication
• Sales tools and marketing programs
• Motivation and incentives
To strengthen these pillars, brand managers were encouraged to inspire trust among the sales force by forming partnerships with the sales reps. Reps often complained that the brand managers were largely ignorant of their world. Strong support and appreciation from brand managers, combined with committed and sustained attention to happenings in the field, are powerful motivators for the sales force.
Knowledge and Training
The sales force must always be kept informed of the latest developments, discoveries and new directions within the industry. If a sales rep is confident that she/he is adequately informed and current in his/her information, that confidence produces credibility and credibility sells products. For pharmaceutical sales reps this means maintaining knowledge not only of their product(s) but also their competitors’ products. The same is true for nutraceuticals and other complementary interventions. Sales reps must have a broad base of knowledge among claims—proven, pursued, alleged and otherwise—when it comes to their product(s), their competitors’ product(s), and even those offered by the mainline medical community.
Alternative and complementary medicine has a tougher row to hoe in now that the target diseases and conditions are primarily those that traditional medicine has had the most difficulty with—namely chronic and degenerative diseases, cancers and vague conditions that have not yielded an identifiable cause, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, Gulf War syndrome and affective disorders. But in these conditions the success of mainstream medicine has been poor. Add to that the strong possibility that alternative and complementary regimens will prove a more likely source of progress in the future and you have a field ripe for cultivation. It is not too early to establish the pathways for effective collection and transmission to the sales force of the latest developments in real time. The technology does exists.
The focus here, not surprisingly, is the Internet. However, the personal touch of live training sessions provides an important human dimension that cannot be ignored. We are still social creatures who thrive on personal human contact and are perhaps even more invigorated by it as less and less becomes available. Nevertheless, the speed of information and the inconvenience of travel both dictate electronic supplementation of whatever is transmitted in person. This is true for most clients, as well as the sales force.
The best of all worlds is to maintain frequent (but brief and valuable) electronic communication after a personal relationship has been established through “in the flesh” meetings—lunches, learning sessions, dinner training programs, etc. Natural Product Advisory Sessions are a good example of this type of person-to-person interaction. They offer current information in a friendly atmosphere that promotes collegial relationships, while imparting the latest product information. Being the first to present new, high quality information, whether it’s a brand manger to the sales force or a sales rep to a client, generates confidence and earns respect, and these in turn lead to belief in the information transmitted.
Devising a system that includes both periodic gatherings “in the flesh” and frequent (we might even say daily) electronic updates of the latest news is crucial. Gatherings should stress human relationship and interaction in a learning environment; electronic updates must be heavily researched, frequent, well edited and concise.
It will benefit all concerned to develop these lines of communication as rapidly as efficiency allows, so that established pathways will be tried and proved as they begin to fill with data.
Sales Tools and Marketing Programs
Sales reps participating in The RIDE Report said alot more effort was put toward the art of selling and not enough effort was put toward the science of the products and regimens. It is even more important for the nutraceutical industry to eschew “salesmanship” in favor of science. The new science-oriented face of alternative and complementary medicine must overcome a weighty public impression that this is an “unscientific” field. This is not an easy task given that the targeted conditions test the limits of scientific methodology.
Nevertheless, there are certain unavoidable truths about selling that must become part of our armamentarium. One undeniably effective selling tool is the visual aid. Even though a minority of pharmaceutical reps, according to MM&M, realizes their effectiveness, they rarely travel without them. It just goes to prove the adage: “The more senses you appeal to, the more effective the teaching.”
Marketing programs are put in place to take advantage of several modalities to promote a single product or product line. Product recognition is a big focus in any marketing strategy. And another teaching adage verifies its effectiveness: “It takes the average person seven exposures before learning happens.” Consumers who have seen something on TV, then read about it in a magazine, then see it in a store or have a chance to recommend it, are more comfortable doing so. Although direct marketing through sales reps is the primary focus, adjunctive exposure through printed and broadcast media will greatly improve product and industry recognition. The industry should pursue a new, more scientific direction and enter the mainstream of medical science.
Other sales tools listed in the order they are used by pharmaceutical reps are:
• Patient sample kits
• Office access items
• Clinical reports
• Core visual aids
• Patient education leave-behinds
• Dosing cards
• Reference books/treatment guidelines
Note the strong preference for free samples occupying the first two preference positions. “Free” is a magic word. Next in line are items clearly imprinted with product identification. Then comes scientific evidence for product effectiveness. This list can serve as a guide to promotional activities in the natural products industry as well, particularly as the new line of purified, single ingredient, practitioner-only merchandise begins to appear.
Motivation and Incentives
As mentioned at the beginning of this column, sales reps respond to appropriate motivation—being part of the team, partnering with the brand managers, receiving appreciation and incentives, which need not necessarily be financial. Goals, competitions, trophies, prizes and, most of all, recognition for their good work earn an all-important sense of competence that leads to greater efforts in a positive feed-back cycle that benefits everyone. Altogether, these four pillars, appropriately incorporated into the brand manager/sales rep relationship, will lead to the greatest effectiveness of a sales force and best serve the products represented.
The next article in this series (May) will discuss current trends in relation to the Internet and other electronic media for e-detailing products. It will also explore how the nutraceutical industry can best take advantage of these new directions for communications both with clients and the sales force.NW