Tony Hughes uses a powerful example from healthcare to illustrate why creativity might be the answer to better sales training.
Over the past 20 years we’ve seen training and development strategies being used more and more as a tool to increase the productivity and profitability of companies, and to help up-skill teams to future-proof businesses. At the same time, there is a growing emphasis on ROI, ensuring companies can continually demonstrate a business case for any investment made in training.
Often at the sharp edge of this are sales teams, whose output before and after a training intervention can often be accurately measured, usually in pounds and pence. It is therefore essential that any training genuinely works – and continues to work.
However, that’s not always the case, and as industries evolve, and new technologies come to the fore, it’s not uncommon for traditional sales approaches to be less effective than they once were. And for learning and development professionals, this presents a duo of challenges; continually demonstrate value, while ensuring that any sales training methodologies are still relevant and effective.
Learning from the best
This is an issue currently facing the medical device sector. A recently commissioned major European-wide benchmarking study of senior sales leaders working in the medical devices field found a collective feeling that existing sales techniques simply aren’t as effective as they once were.
Not only that, but the study revealed the market is advancing at such a rate that existing sales team skill sets are struggling to keep up.
We are seeing a shift from traditional ‘push’ selling techniques to more sophisticated and nuanced model of ‘consultative’ selling.
So why should you be interested in what’s happening in the medical devices field? As a global industry where sales processes are highly sophisticated, the macro trends happening in this sector can, in many respects, be treated as a barometer for other industries, especially if they are facing similar commercial challenges, namely shrinking budgets and evolving buying methods.
With this in mind, it’s useful to examine one of the areas in which medical device sales leaders are seeing potential for growth and success within their teams; creativity.
The importance of creativity
In the medical devices sector, the necessary skills for success today and in the future are based around – among other things – creative commercial thinking.
What became clear was that professionals today are clearly placing the ability to add value to a sale through innovative commercials – arguably out of necessity – over the need to focus on price-led selling, which historically is founded upon the pillars of strong relationships and innovative product sets.
This desire to create new commercial models, for example, by providing added-value services such as remote patient monitoring, new payment models such as pay-per-treatment, or more effective patient intervention that reduces hospital readmission, may end up being more valuable to the hospital than the device itself.
This innovation is being driven by a perfect storm of healthcare reform, involving a need to prove clinical effectiveness and control costs, along with increasingly complex sales and contracting models.
Put simply, within the sector, we are seeing a shift from traditional ‘push’ selling techniques – based on factors such as mutual understanding, relationships and product features – to more sophisticated and nuanced model of ‘consultative’ selling.
Here, the seller offers a solution and in some cases a whole new vision, to meet the client’s expressed and implied needs which can include commercial imperatives far removed from the product purchase in question.
This approach is much more effective and sustainable, but does require the seller to be in command of their verbal behaviour, specifically their questioning techniques, to reveal the full needs picture and so align their solution creatively and persuasively.
The focus on creativity doesn’t end there. The benchmarking study also explored where sales leaders anticipated their future growth would come from, and while new product development and innovation rated highly, so did developing creative commercial models and innovative pricing during the sales process.
Both pricing and commercial models are absolutely the domain of the effective sales professional. In the medical device sector, this is manifesting itself as a result of the increasing need to sell to multiple stakeholders with a variety of objectives from clinical to business-related.
This is a different proposition entirely to the legacy model of features-based selling aimed directly at a single clinician. A sales rep might now need to have high impact conversations with a widely varied group of people, from Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) to business managers and buyers.
As such, it is not uncommon for professionals to be required to find and convey value above and beyond the effectiveness of the medical device itself. For example, the ability to create new revenue streams or deliver therapeutic advantage while also reducing the amount of time clinicians have to spend in the operating theatre.
While the basis of this added value will be the result of painstaking research, anecdotally we know that sales professionals often need to carry out viability calculations ‘on the fly’ in the meeting as they receive new information and data.
This is a real skill and comes down to asking the right questions on the day. As such, many traditional sales professionals are resisting this new way of working, as it pushes them way outside of their own comfort zone.
Agility will therefore be a requirement of the successfulsales professional of the future. They will achieve a deep and meaningful understanding of customers’ wants, needs and commercial imperatives – both explicit and implied – through skilled questioning before aligning these to a solution or equally a value creating aspect of the solution.
That could be a new payment model or a far wider holistic challenge the organisation may be facing. It’s a deeper but broader approach that requires fluency in verbal behaviour coupled with agile and creative thinking.
Learnings for all
Granted, we are talking about a highly nuanced sector here, but it’s possible other industries – especially if they are impacted by similar challenges as faced by the medical devices industry such as shrinking budgets or evolving buying methods, could already be experiencing similar trends.
For those responsible for training and development in an organisation, this poses the question: which sales methodology will genuinely equip sales teams for the challenges posed by the future?
Clearly, investing resources in a training programme, only for it to be rendered irrelevant as the market shifts and evolves could not only end up being expensive, but catastrophic for overall company performance so the key consideration has to be the need for the chosen methodology to be rigorously researched, timeless and validated.
About the author
Tony Hughes is CEO at global skills development company Huthwaite International.