Pre-Call Planning

Well, another Leap Year Day has come and gone. Leap Year is really a funny concept. It suggests that time is imperfect—that’s why we need to modify a calendar year to keep it accurate. Time truly is the great equalizer. Whether we are rich or poor, old or young, male or female, we have only 24 hours in a day. This finiteness of time means there is a limited number of sales interactions that we can have on any given day.  These limitations are also felt by our customers, as changes on reimbursement cause them to see more patients with less time devoted to each one. That’s why the need to be incredibly prepared for those calls is so important.

I’m a big believer that one of our greatest assets in selling is our time. Every moment we spend time with someone who is not likely to buy from us is a moment away from someone who is likely to buy from us. And thanks to our business environment, the margin for error has gotten much smaller. In the BioPharma world, the number of sales representatives has decreased dramatically—a reduction of 40,000 representatives between 2006 and 2013. That means each individual sales interaction has to count.

We never know if today’s conversation will be the one that can move our customer to finally do something—to talk to a peer about his/her experience using our product, to read that clinical article we’ve been suggesting or to (finally) try our product. But I do believe we will likely miss opportunities if we don’t plan what to say and how to say it before our next sales conversation.

Oftentimes, when people think of pre-call planning they think of a process—of sitting down and formally creating something. In reality, planning can be informal but should be something we do routinely. It doesn’t have to take a long time to be effective.

Planning is a mindset as much as anything. It helps us be more strategic. We should be asking ourselves key questions.  What are my customer’s beliefs? What are my customer’s behaviors? What is the current market access status surrounding this account? What questions can I ask to open my customer’s mind?

Planning helps us pay more attention to what was said by our customers and ourselves. We’re more likely to pick up on clues that can help us sell—by asking questions to follow up or by thinking of new ways to get the physician to think about our product in a slightly different way.

The best time to start planning our next sales conversation is as soon as we finish the current sales call. As we’re walking back to the car is the opportune time to review the dialogue. That’s when it becomes evident what was overlooked. As we replay the conversation in our mind is when we’re likely to think, “I should have said…when the doctor asked about…” Those thoughts need to be captured so we don’t forget them.

As we walk away from our sales conversation, a good question to ask is, “What is the best next thing I can do?” This is a great habit to develop. I believe if we don’t consciously form good habits, we unconsciously form bad ones. So if we start to ask ourselves this question after each sales conversation, this will become a habit.  Soon we’ll realize that we do this routinely—and will experience the difference as our sales conversations become more targeted and more relevant to each customer.

Time is limited. Arguably the best use of our time before we meet with the customer is to plan what to say and how to say it—that’s how to make each sales interaction more worthwhile. With effective planning, we just might accomplish in three sales calls what used to take five or six.  Our job as sales people is to get the physician to think about our product where he/she is not thinking about it now.  No matter how many years in the business, or how comfortable we are in our roles, pre-call planning is the recipe for that success.