How The Science Behind Behavior Helps Pharmaceutical Companies Exceed Sales Targets

Nov 14, 2017 8:00:00 AM / by Danielle Geissler, Ph.D.

When we think about achieving lasting behavior change in pharmaceutical sales organizations, we tend to mean change in the behavior of the consumers.

iStock-873180938.jpgFor example, how can we get consumers to develop sustainable habits around taking medication? How do we make interacting with web portals easier and more user-friendly

What many companies have not yet realized is that there is a different group that warrants the same kind of purposeful attention around behavior change – your pharmaceutical sales team.

While some pharma sales organizations are already taking advantage of behavioral levers today, there is still plenty of opportunity for growth in leveraging behavioral science to drive pharmaceutical sales team performance.

Pharma organizations can take a cue from other industries, which have realized the power of the behavioral science for their own sales forces.

Steps To Achieving Great Sales Performance: A Case Study

Let’s take an example from the financial industry and “Company X.”

At Company X, sales teams were responsible for building wealth balances of their customers. In other words, their critical job was finding ways to increase or upsell investment opportunities to customers. Company X had a comprehensive tool designed to help identify opportunities during each customer conversation. But, the question was: how do you get all sales individuals to use the tool consistently and effectively to get positive sales performance and increased wealth balances?

Here is how Company X used behavioral science levers to drive sales performance:

Step 1: Understand the Change History

Before launching any changes, Company X’s leaders took the time to understand the experiences employees had with previous behavior change initiatives. Based on that information, a plan was executed to avoid likely pitfalls.

Some sales team members had bad experiences with prior rollouts of similar tools, due to a lack of consistency in direction about how and when to use the tool. Also, there was a general fear this would be another “flavor of the month” exercise. Disregarding these histories in the new rollout would have potentially meant that sales people would ignore the new tool, at least initially. Thus, the leaders of Company X spent time upfront communicating the importance and long-term vision for tool application, and dedication of management to use it longer term with plans to build on it over time.

Step 2: Make It Easy

If there is too big of a skill learning curve required to use a new tool over a legacy tool, people are less likely to make the switch. It gets even harder if using the tool is less likely to lead to a positive outcome than old ways of doing things. That’s why Company X carefully planned the first interactions with the new tool to be easy and encouraging to users.

Step 3: Observe Behavioral Progress And Give Feedback

If you want to know whether behavior change is occurring, you need to find ways to observe it. In this case, Company X sales leaders would occasionally sit in 1:1 sales meetings to see how people were using the new tool and what they were actually saying to the customer to sell new investment opportunities. These observation periods allowed leaders to give individualized, data-based feedback on performance, which was further strengthened by being delivered right after the observation took place.

Step 4: Turn Leaders Into Coaches

Behavioral science tells us why people do what they do and how we can influence people’s behavior going forward. In the current example, maximum sales performance could only be achieved if leaders understood the environment each sales team member operated in, and what made each of them act a certain way. So, Company X leaders decided to turn their sales managers into coaches. The coaches learned to look at their sales team members’ day-to-day behaviors, identify those that needed improvement, and then provide individual positive consequences for doing the right thing or showing improvements.

Additionally, leaders learned how to recognize what consequences were most powerful for which performer (e.g., feedback, new bonus structures, promotions, greater job responsibilities, more frequent team social events, 1:1 time with the boss). Identifying what truly mattered to each sales employee allowed leader coaches to provide the most relevant and impactful consequences to key performers.

Step 5: Align Leadership Direction and Actions

One of the biggest mistakes organizations can make is to not align overall sales direction with the individual sales team member’s experience. For Company X, it was critical that once the sales tool and related direction were communicated, all sales leaders consistently repeated that message, acting as role models who encouraged the use of the new tool and didn’t allow continued use of other old tools going forward.

Step 6: Stay The Course

Behavior change takes time, especially in a high-pressure environment such as pharmaceutical sales, where at any given point there are multiple distractions that can keep you from staying focused. That’s why it took Company X several months before performance levels started to become more stable and behaviors turned into habits. In fact, there was an initial dip in performance when all sales people and employees were getting used to the process.

In the end, Company X’s regional, pilot sales team ended up outperforming and outgrowing national wealth balance averages quickly. As a result of this success, the program was rolled out successfully across other regions.

Now it’s your turn. How will you use behavioral science to drive sales performance in your pharmaceutical organization?

Start with these key takeaways: 

  1. Understand previous behavior change experiences and plan to avoid pitfalls
  2. Make it easy and encouraging to use new tools
  3. Observe behavioral progress and give data-based feedback
  4. Coach leaders to reinforce people for doing the right thing
  5. Align overall direction and consequences provided for sales performance
  6. Establish sustainable habits and results by staying the course

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Topics: Behavior, Pharmaceutical Sales

Danielle Geissler, Ph.D.

Written by Danielle Geissler, Ph.D.

Danielle Geissler, PH.D., is a dynamic consultant with experience in many fields, including consumer goods, health insurance, manufacturing, petrochemicals, biotech, banking, construction and engineering, commercial real estate, and more. Her expertise and special skills encompass Executive Coaching (including leader transitions), leadership team alignment and development, large-scale change implementation, and organization performance consulting. She is fluent in English and German, and has consulting experience throughout Europe, North America, and the Far East. Danielle is a member of CLG’s pharmaceutical salesforce focused team where she is responsible for bringing her applied behavior analysis and broad industry expertise to CLG’s pharmaceutical industry work. Read full bio.