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Skills Professional Representatives Need in 2022 based on Healthcare Trends

Customer conversations

2022 healthcare sales competencies

March 21, 2022Blog

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To address the skills needed to sell in healthcare today, we need to call out the trends that are driving the need for specific skills. The key industry trends are cost containment, consolidation, convergence, and complexity & consensus.

Cost Containment

COVID-19 has created budgetary strain and financial uncertainty that has placed a renewed focus on additional methods to control costs in healthcare. For example, let’s look at hospitals. The average hospital margin pre covid was 1.6%. Additionally, there was a slow return to normal for procedures and additional spending on the pandemic. It is easy to see that hospitals are struggling with profitability. As a result, there has been considerable consolidation. Larger health systems are acquiring smaller hospitals or systems to take advantage of the economies of scale. And hospitals are just one example. The same can be seen across other healthcare organizations as well.

Consolidation

Cost containment through consolidation has driven the need for professional representatives to up their negotiations skills. This helps them withstand extreme pricing pressure and to communicate price increases due to increased manufacturing costs. In fact, when we asked over 3000 healthcare sales professionals what additional training they needed, the number one answer was negotiation skills. Followed by presentation skills and consultative dialog skills.

Convergence

The convergence of technology and medicine continues to disrupt the healthcare market by increasing the amount of data available. This is changing the expectations of buyers and forcing changes in how representatives interact with HCPs. Increased data does not always translate to easier decision-making. In fact, it leads to confusion in the buying process. Buyers are looking for someone to deeply understand their business and guide them through the data to help them make the best buying decision.

Cost containment, consolidation, and convergence have created a cascade that leads to the next two skill-driving trends: consensus buying and increased complexity in the buying process.

Complexity & Consensus

With all the consolidation going on, the number of stakeholders involved in an average B2B purchase is up 70% in the past 10 years, 81% of which are non-C-suite staff having a say in a purchase decision process. To be more specific to healthcare, in 2013 Google studied how hospital administrators made purchase decisions. They listed over 13 different roles that are decision influencers or decision-makers. That equates to a total of 21 stakeholders today if we apply the 70% increase over the last 10 years.

So instead of a linear buying journey, more typical of pre-pandemic times, you have consensus buying. This causes looping back, revisiting decisions, and internal misalignment during the purchasing process. This can be frustrating for both buyers and sellers.

This is what caused Pharmaceutical Executive to say in their article titled Commercial models for the changing Life Sciences Market, As the market evolves, a nimble approach will be critical to serving the organizations growth goals and that organizations need to convert traditional models to a more agile approach capable of handling and even thriving in a sea of disruption”

Today representatives must be able to leverage the constant changes caused by all the nonlinear decision-making to deliver value. 

4 Sales Drivers for Aligning Healthcare Buyers

Based on our Agile methodology, there are 4 drivers that guide what sales representatives need to accomplish across their interactions with multiple stakeholders and thus the skills they need. 

Here we look at those four drivers in greater detail.

1. Direct the Vision

This is the skill & strategy of how to co-develop a future state vision by diagnosing critical business and practice issues and shaping the vision of the capabilities needed based on your solution differentiators. It is an approach that integrates a strong questioning strategy with conversational flow techniques like Prefacing, Pursuing, Pacing, Phrasing.

2. Get to Power

Remember you can't sell to someone who can't buy. Here representatives need to be able to understand the decision-making process and structure to help them gain access and stay connected and aligned with those with influence and authority.  Getting to power involves understanding the decision process, influence, and roles as well as competitive relationships. It’s also challenging to ask for access to senior decision-makers. These consultative conversations must be well orchestrated and intentionally planned. So here, the skills of creating value statements relevant to the stakeholder and getting agreement to move up the chain are key

3. Drive Consensus & Resolve Risk

Creating a census requires aligning around a deep understanding of the business or clinical issue, the costs of not addressing it, the capabilities needed to address it, and the value of doing so. According to Indegene, almost two-thirds (62%) of HCPs believe that the most significant area where pharma representatives can add value is by understanding the need of HCPs and sharing only relevant content. 

Despite having access to a vast array of information, customers often misdiagnose their needs and/or are limited in their understanding of the best way to address them. They need a partner who can bring clarity to their thinking, get to the root of the issue, guide them in the best way to address the issue, and help develop the case for change. Here representatives need to be able to co-develop a Collaboration Plan. The Collaboration Plan outlines the steps agreed to with decision-makers to evaluate the solution with a focus on minimizing risk for the customer. It defines the actions both parties will take to ensure the customer feels comfortable making a buying decision.

4. Persuade with Value

Reps must Position the value of their solution in a way that appeals to both logic and emotion and makes a compelling case for change. Here, the skills of positioning, checking, developing, and using concise value statements to clearly link the solution components to value are key

Learn more about the 4 drivers of the Sprint SellingTM methodology by downloading the brief, Simplify Selling by Focusing on the Four Drivers

The Six Critical Skills for Healthcare Sales

    Those customer interactions we just reviewed are critical and so is how we execute them. The Six Critical Skills are what power excellence and agility in those customer conversations.

    And while these skills may look obvious, we have found that what separates a good seller from a great one is the degree to which they can master these skills and use them with the flexibility to provide an exceptional customer experience in the moment.

    They are:

    • Presence: Projecting confidence, credibility, and conviction in body language, voice, and words to show interest, gain respect, and inspire trust
    • Relating: Using acknowledgment, rapport, and empathy to connect 
    • Questioning: Fostering openness and creating dialogue to uncover, explore, shape, and define needs
    • Listening: Actively understanding content and emotional messages in order to show interest, connect, learn, and build trust
    • Positioning: Presenting compelling information in a relevant, tailored, and logical way to be intellectually and emotionally persuasive
    • Checking: Eliciting feedback to inform your next best move in the dialogue

    Questioning is the skill with the most potential power. Imagine a conversation you had with someone who was authentically curious, asked great questions and dug deeper when you responded. The degree to which you open up and share information with that person is versus someone who asks poorly worded questions, several in a row, or makes assumptive answers, is very different. You will likely share more and build a sense of trust – and THAT is a competitive advantage.

    Checking is the skill we see most underutilized. The ability to solicit feedback from the customer during the conversation is a powerful way to ensure the customer is following along with you, and if not, you can discover this early and so that you can readjust to get back on track.

    Selling to Changing Provider Preferences

    Lastly, we need to review the changing preferences of our providers. As the digital transformation continues, we are seeing new physician communication preferences. Depending on your source, anywhere between 1/2 to 2/3 of physicians want virtual or hybrid engagements. However, over 43% of physicians felt in-person engagements built trust, established point of contact relationships, and were more personalized, whereas in virtual engagements they felt the communication was less effective and it was harder to build relationships

    Then again 40% did not like the longer time commitment, physical risk, inflexible nature of in-person meetings. So therein lies the conflict and the reason that the hybrid approach is preferred by physicians

    Several key challenges arise from these data. While many physicians embrace the hybrid or virtual model, the reach vs frequency equation is off. 

    According to ZS, Reach is 93% when you look at a frequency of one contact per year. But as you look at gaining additional frequency the numbers fall dramatically. Reach drops to just 25% when you talk about 4 contacts per year. Additionally, physicians don’t believe the quality or effectiveness of the call was equal to the face-to-face call. Yet according to Accenture, representatives that do deliver on the virtual engagements are rewarded with additional time and attention. So, it is imperative with fewer interactions and a skeptical audience that reps make every interaction count. They must conduct effective virtual engagements with highly relevant and personalized information that provides value to physicians. 

    Click here to learn about our Virtual Selling training program and find out how we can help your team build the skills they need to more effectively engage in virtual sales calls.

    With frequency decreasing, there is a case to be made for effective digital communication skills. In fact, Veeva found that emails sent from representatives were opened 10 times more than marketing emails.

    A quick side note. we also looked at the skills needed from the representative's perspective, when we conducted our annual selling challenges survey, we see similar challenges. When we broke out the answers from over 800 healthcare representatives and managers, the selling challenges, they list are similar to HCP feedback.

    The number one selling challenge was selling in a virtual environment. When we ask them what the top challenges were for selling virtually, they said it was more difficult to connect and customers and prospects are not as engaged  Given these changing physician engagement preferences, it is clear that we need representatives that can be “Phygital” – they must have capabilities to engage physically, virtually, and digitally.

    When ZS profiled representatives to look for potential skill gaps, they found that 60% of representatives had gaps based on the need for engaging in all three environments. They also found that only half of pharma companies are investing in retraining or upskilling representatives and very few are working to get reps up to speed when it comes to providing personalized content based on the needs of the physician.

    So, with that being said let’s look at skills needed to succeed in virtual engagement first.

    Virtual Engagement in Healthcare Sales

    Most companies have provided a basic level of virtual engagement training but now organizations realize that virtual selling is going to be around for good and they need to shore up their skills. There are 3 key skill areas representatives need to focus on. 

    1. Preparation
    2. Virtual selling skills
    3. Meeting structure and facilitation skills

    Preparation

    Preparation is everything you would do in a face-to-face meeting plus— what is your plan b if technology fails? How will you build rapport, set expectations for being on camera so you can engage visually, and what materials will you use to engage without distracting from the conversation.

    Virtual Selling Skills

    Using the six critical skills we discussed earlier to display virtual presence and relating, engaging in meaningful discussions while holding the customer’s attention, demonstrating active listening, and using intentional outreach skills that humanize the environment.

    Meeting Structure and Facilitation Skills

    The meeting structure must be tightened up. Representatives need meeting orchestration skills to orchestrate and manage group processes and virtual dynamics. They need to be able to keep control of the meeting and avoid poor outcomes.

    "Phyigital" Selling in Healthcare

    Now let’s pivot to discuss digital selling. Although I have touched on it previously, when it comes to digital selling, almost three-quarters of physicians in the US said it is important to receive personalized relevant information. In fact, 72% say it is an expectation that representatives personalize the information based on prior interactions.

    Representatives need to remember that digital engagement is just that. It is about engagement. The goal is to get to a live interaction. The path we see successful most often is digital engagement, a short connection to set the stage for the live appointment, then gain the appointment. This is where sales representatives need to slow down to speed up.

    For digital engagement, representatives must align approved, relevant messages to their targets and have the capability to develop a multi-touch cadence (calls, emails, other contacts as allowed). Every statement, message, or insight shared should express the value they add to the relationship. Here is why neuroscience tells us that information that stands out or seems relevant is more likely to affect our thinking and actions. It is called saliency bias.

    Next, they must prepare for the connections they make. So as not to get caught off guard, they need to plan the connection call out to make sure that they can sell the value of the longer appointment

    In summary, the trends shaping the skills needed by professional representatives in the healthcare market today are cost containment, consolidation, convergence, complexity, consensus, and changed provider preference. To adapt, representatives need agile skills to lead a customer through the more complex and non-linear sales journey. They also need to have the expertise in conducting engagements in person, virtually, and digitally to deliver on new customer expectations.

    Richardson Sales Performance has a dedicated healthcare sales practice committed to providing the best training for teams in this industry.  Contact us to speak to one of our experts today.

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