ceo insights

Embracing High-Touch in Our Tech-Driven Sales Landscape

Written By: David Manning

August 15, 2023 – 8 min read

In business, relationships matter. Perhaps nowhere is this more important than in life sciences sales.

Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a couple of colleagues about the importance of relationships in sales performance. We concluded that personal communications often get overshadowed by technology-driven, ominchannel approaches. I would argue that both high-tech and high-touch are important to drive sales and market share; however, it’s the high-touch interactions where we seize unique opportunities to personalize, differentiate, and truly elevate relationships. 

The Power of High-Touch

As a sales or brand leader, you and your field reps should not underestimate the power of high-touch approaches to differentiate your branded therapy, build trust and rapport, and enrich the relationship between the rep and the healthcare provider (HCP). The most effective sales strategies will take advantage of both high-tech and high-touch tactics. Reliance on technology-only methods, such as automated digital communication without personalization creates missed opportunities and a way to stand out. For example, following up with information that is directly tied to a conversation the rep had with an HCP or the office staff demonstrates your desire to truly address a specific issue those clinical decisionmakers may have with the branded therapy. If sales performance is lagging, a great place to start is to assess the field team’s overall selling approach and identify the places where there may be an over-reliance on technology and data and not enough personalization.  

Today, efforts to pursue an omnichannel strategy are rapidly shaping the landscape in pharma sales. While the concept means different things to different people, at its core the omnichannel approach is about maximizing the opportunities to connect with an HCP.  Done successfully this will impact the HCP’s comfort level and willingness to use a particular product so conveying how the channels work together to help the salesperson is an important part of the equation. Without a doubt, an omnichannel approach that places heavy emphasis on digital tools and automated messaging can help to streamline the delivery of strategic clinical and safety messaging. However, to be competitive and help your brand truly stand out from the crowd, your reps must do more.

The goal is to use all avenues to make information sharing and conversations easier, more productive, and to help the sales rep to anticipate and address the needs of the HCP more effectively. 

So, what helps a brand or individual cut through the noise and rise to the top? I think it’s an integrated approach—one that leverages technology and automation and brings personalized and humanistic influences to every interaction. Using such a multi-faceted framework, the reps are able to both build trust and engage in ways that truly resonate with HCPs, and more effectively showcase the clinical and safety advantages the brand has to offer. 

The ability to design and deploy an effective high-touch/high-tech strategy requires support from the entire sales organization. Commercial leaders need to invest in the tools, technology, training, and coaching that are needed to support both high-tech and high-touch efforts. Similarly, field sales reps need to lean into the process and work on honing their listening and other interpersonal skills to step out of the crowd and make more meaningful connections. 

Here are some strategies to put this into practice. 

Differentiating and Personalizing the Outreach

More and more, field sales reps face stiff headwinds when it comes to making the most of their limited interactions with HCPs. Long gone are the days when reps could build relationships with HCPs during a round of golf or a nice lunch. Between the prevailing regulatory requirements and industry guidelines that limit (or even eliminate) physical access for field reps, a typical rep may only get a few minutes of facetime with a physician during any interaction. 

How do you make the most of this time? The idea is to get out of the habit of robotically imposing “today’s message” in exactly the same format during every scheduled office visit. To differentiate, field reps should dig deeper into the high-touch toolkit, and develop more thoughtful and nuanced ways to cultivate connections and deliver content that truly resonates with individual HCPs. 

Soft Skills are Critical 

While it’s critical to deliver the approved clinical messaging, it’s also essential for field reps to engage meaningfully with HCPs and deliver insights they have not heard before. The ability to listen and demonstrate empathy is essential yet highly undervalued soft skill that can support these efforts. 

Field reps with well-developed communication skills are better able to “read the room” and get to the root of specific issues or concerns of the physician more quickly. When time is of the essence, the ability to ask the right questions and listen for the responses is key to problem-solving. For example, if a physician (or the office staff) complains that patients are experiencing pushback from certain insurers, it is not helpful to simply repeat the scripted messaging that “85% of managed-care plans cover the medication.” Instead, aim to troubleshoot the situation and suggest solutions. This provides real value—and a lasting impression.

While it’s critical to deliver the approved clinical messaging, it’s also essential for field reps to engage meaningfully with HCPs and deliver insights they have not heard before.

To create a more HCP-centric approach, reps should also consider what was communicated in the last meeting with the HCP and then go into their next meeting with a prepared plan to address any issues or concerns that were raised previously. Reps should also check in with office staff to identify points of friction associated with prescribing the therapy. When field reps are in tune with the HCPs they are more prepared with actionable insights, support materials, or recommendations.

What can commercial leaders do to prepare their sales force to fully leverage both high-tech and high-touch elements? A targeted mindset shift and commitment of time and resources are essential including training, coaching, feedback, and a continuous improvement plan. In an effort to drive success, executive leaders must articulate to their field sales team how technology acts as an enabler, rather than viewing it merely as a tool to reduce full-time employee (FTE) costs. 

Qualitative Versus Quantitative Measures

How do you know that your high-touch approaches are making a difference in your sales strategy? Traditionally, sales organizations have leaned heavily on quantitative key performance indicators (KPIs) to track the number of sales calls, emails, texts, click rates, and other engagement metrics. While tracking quantitative KPIs yields important insights, the ability to assess and improve sales rep performance through a qualitative lens requires the “softer,” more high-touch KPIs, such as:

  • How is the rep preparing for each HCP interaction?
  • Are reps integrating details from the last interaction to tailor the interaction?
  • Are the leaders in the sales organization providing the training, coaching, mentoring and feedback that are needed to help reps foster the skills that enable best-in-class sales calls? 
  • What is the overall quality of the sales call?

While tracking quantitative KPIs yields important insights, the ability to assess and improve sales rep performance through a qualitative lens requires the “softer,” more high-touch KPIs.

Creating metrics that help the team to assess the qualitative aspects of the field detailing efforts—and assess the rep’s soft skills toolkit—can be challenging and the effort won’t necessarily lend itself to color-coded dashboards. But it will yield invaluable insights that will inform continuous-improvement efforts.

Delivering the most impactful messaging in the most impactful way—with a strong emphasis on using interpersonal skills to address the needs of individual HCPs—helps to both open the door and keep it open for future access. That’s a win for all stakeholders.

A special thanks to Judy Mimeault, Sales Performance Solutions Architect and Ed Gutshall, VP of Business Development for Performance Development Group for their contributions to this article.

CEO Insights Article Series

PDG CEO Insights is a monthly article series that provides a deeper dive into some of the most pressing challenges commercial leaders in the life sciences sector face in developing effective sales teams. The series will discuss strategies and recommendations to help commercial leaders foster and empower a more tightly integrated sales organization—one that is able to create a competitive advantage in the field and deliver a demonstrable return on investment for the company.

July 2023: Unlocking Sales Excellence in Life Sciences

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