We like to think that we and others make decisions completely rationally, based on positives versus negatives and logical conclusions. If that were so, then pharmaceutical sales would be much simpler. The fact is, social influence is everywhere, affecting human behavior in a huge variety of situations.
Social influence has effects in fields as diverse as psychology, politics, communications, and marketing. So how do sales professionals (and the person who trains them) understand what is going on and leverage it for a positive outcome? Many factors are in play.
Neuroscience Is Modulated By Who Is in the Position of Influence
Neuroscientists call them “message source variables,” but to lay, people, they’re what we might refer to as “credibility.” Communicators who are perceived as having expertise have more social influence when delivering the same message as someone who is not perceived as having expertise. And like it or not, celebrity status is a message source variable that increases social influence. Finally “in-group” versus “out-group” status is a booster of social influence. In other words, we tend to listen to our tribe.
Real Empathy Makes a Positive Difference
Trainers tell sales representatives to put themselves in the potential customer’s situation. It’s not just empty words. Brain imaging studies have shown increased activity in a part of the brain called the temporoparietal junction (TPJ) in those who effectively influence people. This part of the brain is associated with understanding the perspectives of others. Other research has found that when a sales professional puts himself or herself into the mind frame of the potential customer, the TPJ shows increased activity.
The Power of Connection in Pharmaceutical Sales Training
A pharmaceutical rep’s ability to connect otherwise unconnected (or loosely connected) individuals within their network helps him or her more effectively broker the spread of information. This is particularly important in a sales environment that typically involves many more decision-makers than it did in the days of private physician practices. The rep who can effectively connect with the pharmacist, nurse, physician, and formulary manager is better able to disseminate helpful information than the one who does not make the effort to do this.
Loss Aversion Versus Anticipation of Gain
The brain is hardwired to stay away from danger and move toward reward. This means that two ways of framing an issue can elicit two different responses. People in general are more afraid of loss than they are excited about an equivalent gain. Furthermore, people are geared toward complying with requests because typically, saying “no” triggers activity in the part of the brain called the amygdala, which is activated in a fear response. The bottom line is that a simple, direct request is processed more efficiently by the brain than indirect requests, and how you frame your requests can influence the answer you get.
eDetailing: What to Be Aware Of
Generally speaking, people don’t like going against the group, and when hearing a narrative, they have a tendency for their brain responses to mimic those of the person telling the story. In other words, people want to be on the same “wavelength” as the person relating a story, and it’s painful to be out of step with other people. However, people have no problem with being “out of step” with information presented electronically, because there are no social consequences. It’s only logical to conclude that the more “human” and relatable you make your eDetailing content, the more likely you are to resonate with potential customers.
Persuasiveness Can Be Developed
People may think they either are or are not persuasive, but like any other skill, persuasiveness can be developed. Two important personal traits for increasing persuasiveness are plain old likability, and credibility. The relative impact of these traits is at least partly to do with how important the topic is to the person who is the target of persuasion. Reciprocity, commitment, and “social proof” are other factors that influence how persuasive a person is, and all have to do with positively stimulating the social brain – making people believe they are moving away from danger and toward reward.
All these concepts support the theory that pharmaceutical sales training must be customer-centric. Technical skills and acumen are, of course, essential, but no less important are the personal skills involved.