consultative-selling-pharmaToday, pharma sales rep must be very well informed about the indications, contraindications and interactions of their products. They must comply with the industry’s codes and guidelines and act according to government regulations.

To support medical reps, pharma companies have moved towards sales force automation and customer relationship management tools. A number of wireless, electronic devices have been introduced, such as handhelds and laptops, but with limited success in the field.

Sales tactics of the past such as standing in a hallway waiting in hopes of capturing a passing physician for a few precious seconds – doesn’t work anymore. Robo Medical Reps who use that limited time frame to push a product without having a clue as to what the physician’s needs are; have very limited success rates.

 What is consultative selling?

The term “consultative selling” was first coined by Mack Hanan, James Cribbin, and Herman Heiser in 1973 when their book, “Consultative Selling,” was released. Since that time, thousands of companies have developed their own version of the consultative selling model.

Let’s shift our focus from Pharma to “Farming” to better understand the meaning of consultative selling.

  • A farmer doesn’t plant his crops and reap the harvest next day. He has to first remove all  obstacles like trees and rocks from his field (same as positioning a sales meeting).
  • He then prepares the soil for planting (just like determining the customer’s needs).
  • Next comes the planting of seeds (same as sales reps offering recommendations).
  • Then comes the crop dusting to eliminate pesky bugs (resolving objections).
  • Finally, there is the actual harvest (closing the sale).
  • Note that the process can take time. (longer if the “land” is particularly hard to harvest)

Thus, Consultative selling involves 5 key phases:

Phase 1: Positioning the meeting.

A sales call is a meeting, and it requires investment of time early on. Positioning a sales meeting means

  1. putting the customer at ease,
  2. setting an agenda
  3. and preparing the customer for the questioning process.

This phase can last up to 5 minutes if the physician is available for small talk, or it could last less than a couple of minute if the physician is busy.

Phase 2: Analyzing the situation,

A generally accepted fact that the more questions a salesperson asks, the more orders a salesperson gets. Once you are inside the Physician room or chamber; analyzing the situation is the most important part of the consultative selling process.

Questioning and listening skills plays a vital role here. This is where your sales training skills on questioning techniques comes in handy. By intelligent probing; sales reps can get valuable information they need in order to understand the needs of their customers.

Phase 3:Offering recommendations

The third phase in the process that allows the sales person to do the bulk of the talking which they enjoy the most. This phase also refers to the opportunities for reps to offer physicians ideas of value that go beyond the product line. As per surveys; majority of the medical sales reps feel most comfortable with this phase.

Phase 4: Resolving the issues & objections

It is perhaps the most difficult and most challenging part of the process. Most salespeople dread this part of the process, as nobody likes rejection, and having to deal with the resistance buyers express is difficult work. Yet the consultative selling skills approach looks at objections as nothing more than unfulfilled needs. Salespeople familiar with the approach will look at an objection as the challenge of transforming the objection into a need with involvement from the customer and then working together to resolve it.

Phase 5, Reaching to a closure

This phase is the tricky one. This is where the rep attempts to get a commitment from the physician or to at least establish some next steps. Since the last step in the resolving issues process suggests the rep invite other objections, this is the point where any that remain can be resolved. If there aren’t any, the rep asks for a commitment.

What are the challenges to Consultative Selling in Pharma?

Since pharmaceutical sales calls can occur in unusual locations, sales representatives were often unable to take advantage of formal presentations using notebook PCs and have typically had to rely on printed collateral. The printed materials often lacked complete information and became outdated, making it difficult to have an informative dialog. Many sales executives in the pharmaceutical industry made the decision to switch to tablet PCs and electronic promotional material. Merck & Co. and AstraZeneca are among the companies that have widely deployed tablet PCs to the sales force. In the meantime, tablet PCs run applications that support the full pharmaceutical sales cycle, from accessing CRM-based contact information to getting an electronic signature for samples.

How handheld Tablets can facilitate Pharma Consultative Selling?

Issues faced by MRs   Handheld Tablet Benefit KPI (Key performance  Indicator)
Limited time for sales Content is delivered in any
Average duration of sales call
Dynamic, up-to-date
information captures the
doctor’s interest
Documentation of visit Materials presented can be
takes too much time tracked
Improved accuracy of sample
Sample information and
signatures can be collected
at the point of delivery
Increased sales calls per day
Form-based CRM entry is
linked to the sample and
presentation data
Improved customer service
Sales team is updated
immediately, improving
response time
Need to respond immediately
to objections
Supporting information is
organized and available
Increased professionalism
Supporting information is easily referenced using gesture technology Increased prescriptions
Search capabilities exist for all data

Conclusion: Consultative sales approach

In addition, tablet PCs support the concept of rapid delivery of new promotional materials. When a new product is launched, sales reps can simply download the materials, which can shave off a number of days between the customary paper launch and electronic launch. The most visible  aspects of sales force automation via the tablet PC—reduced paperwork, full availability of order history and notes from previous meetings— are time savers that will make the sales rep more productive. But the tablet PC is also the front end to far more extensive customer relationship management capabilities. Reps can incorporate trend information into individually tailored presentations for each customer, stressing the benefits most appropriate to physicians, hospital dispensaries and pharmacists.

If the rep treats the relationship with the physician as a long – term project as opposed to a series of sales calls that are designed to push a product day in and day out, he has to be more successful. All this can be looked at as an opportunity for reps to begin the process of building the kinds of meaningful relationships they enjoyed with physicians in the past.

The importance of tailored presentations cannot be overstated, because this approach makes the rep more of a consultative partner to health-care providers. Medismo CRM deep integration of inbuilt CLM(Closed Loop Marketing) helps pharma companies adapt to a sales strategy to match up with the new buyer behavior. Find out how we work with you to move away from the old transactional way of doing business into your new consultative “guided sales” process.


Dipesh Majumder

Dipesh Majumder

Chief Evangelist at Medismo PharmaSoft
I am a Marketing Technologist, a strategist & a visionary with over 8 years of experience in traditional & digital marketing. I have been responsible for the development & execution of sales force effectiveness strategies, tools, processes for global Pharma sales organizations. Lead key initiatives, critical projects & continuous improvement activities.

Chennai, India ·
Dipesh Majumder