“He never made me think.” That comment certainly surprised me. I was just concluding a sales call with my rep when the doctor said, “You have a great representative here, but you know something? He never made me think.” It is as if a light bulb just turned on over my head. How can we convince someone to change what they normally buy if we don’t make them think?
Allow me to share the story that led this doctor to utter such insightful words. As a manager, I would work with my reps in the field and would routinely engage customers in sales conversations. I did this for several reasons. One was to continue to keep my selling skills sharp because I believe that you can’t coach what you don’t know—and my role as a manager was to help my team develop into better sales people. The other reason I would engage in selling conversations was to show my team how I would sell. Showing how to do something is better than explaining.
On this particular day, we were calling on a physician in Alabama. As we were approaching the doctor’s office, my rep issued a challenge, “You’ll never sell this guy”. My reply was “I’m not trying to sell him. I’m trying to learn if there’s a fit between what he is looking to do and what we have to offer—if there is a fit for our product.” And when we met the doctor, I told him the same thing—that my purpose was not to sell him—using virtually the same words. To begin, I asked for his permission to ask him some questions. Obtaining his agreement, I proceeded to ask questions designed to learn about his patients and his views about treatment options. As I was starting to leave, he asked me if I was going to sell him. I reminded him that I told him I was there to learn if there was a fit for our drug, not to sell him today. But the doctor was rather insistent that I tell him why he should use our drug. Well, that was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
I began by asking if I could disagree with him. I then explained, “You said you selected the drug you use because it kills the bacteria e-coli. And then you said that 90% of what you see is e-coli, but the other 10% is all kinds of stuff. So when you are at the nurse’s station and deciding which drug to choose, you have no idea of what the bug is, though in 90% of the cases, it is e-coli. I don’t think e-coli is important for this reason: Almost all antibiotics kill e-coli. Your issue is not what drug kills e-coli but what drug has the greatest likelihood for success each time you prescribe it. Now if that is what you are looking for and the drug you are using doesn’t fit that description, our drug will.” And then I got a bit technical and explained why.
But I didn’t stop there. “Now let me step back a bit and tell you that while what I said is true, it is not statistically significant. Your current drug will probably cure 98.99% and our drug will cure 99%. But if you want the drug with the greatest likelihood for success every time you prescribe it, it is not what you are using right now.”
I stopped talking then and did not follow up with the typical sales phrases such as, “Will you use our drug?” or “Will you try it?” The doctor did not reply to what I said. Instead he picked up the telephone called the local hospital and changed 2 people who were on his current drug to our drug. His next phone call was to his nurses to change his preprinted orders to our drug so that every appropriate patient would receive our drug and the doctor didn’t have to think about it.
When we were leaving the office, the doctor uttered that phrase about my rep never making him think. That is when it dawned on me that if you are trying to persuade another person, you must provoke thought. You cannot sell a product or an idea if you don’t stimulate real thinking. This means that you have to think about what you can do to make the other person think. Gives you something to think about, doesn’t it?