Objection Handling - Why 'No' Could Potentially be Just Another Sales Opportunity

This month, Ifti Ahmed examines that age-old, often intimidating reality of any sales role - objections, and provides insights into how that 'no' could just be another opportunity for a 'yes'.



Principles of an Objection

Before we address the techniques used in objection handling, it is important to understand the objectives of the pharmaceutical sales interaction. Manufacturers of medicines offer an invaluable service to doctors and patients resulting in a mutually beneficial and symbiotic relationship. It is important for the sales person to understand both the value he/ she brings to the doctor and  the reliance he/ she has on that doctors satisfaction for his continued success and indeed, the industry.

Previous articles have covered the dynamic interaction of the salesperson, the product and value offering. In this article I intend to focus on a range of successful techniques that every salesperson should master to maximise their probability of success when encountering resistance. The very first thing and probably the most important consideration is that of attitude. Attitude is a frame of mind which is demonstrated by the behaviours the salesperson displays. An understanding that an objection first has emotional dimensions which must be addressed before the actual reason given creates the frame of mind that is most successful in objection handling.

The following techniques are designed to support and develop this mutually beneficial process by helping the sales person to understand the concerns of the doctor and communicate the value of his/ her product so that it can be valued by the doctor and the relationship is maintained.

What is an objection?

An objection is any negative expression of a need. This means anything that is proposed by the doctor as a reason for not using your product can be considered an objection. An objection is the next best thing to “yes” for a salesperson to hear! Why? Because of 2 very important things:

  1. It demonstrates that the doctor has thought about your product and has considered it as a treatment option
  2. The doctor is giving you an indicator of his “unmet need” that must be addressed for you to succeed

What you do next is critical! Are you there to help the doctor with his/ her treatment options or are you there only for yourself?

Process

Please note the techniques that follow are designed to aid a mutually beneficial approach to objection handling and are not designed to manipulate the doctor. Apart from the ethical nature of medicine, we believe that these techniques offer greater commercial success by building trust and enduring commitment.

The process can be summarised by the acronym PACT-Check

Step 1.  Pause

Demonstrate your interest in hearing the objection. This will serve to:

  1. Defuses the emotional content, nobody likes conflict and the doctor may be expressing his/her objection  emotionally as an expression of the perceived conflict situation
  2. Gives you and the doctor time to think
  3. Ensures that the doctor has said everything he has to say and communicated his concerns and objections fully

This step is often overlooked especially when the objection looks “easy to handle”. The sales person often jumps in to answer a question that was never asked. This can deepen the problem because you demonstrate to the doctor that you are really not interested in him, that in fact you have your own agenda!

Step 2. Acknowledge the objection

An acknowledgement is recognition of your understanding of the doctors perception. An acknowledgment of the objection is not an acceptance of the objection, it is a clear signal that you acknowledge the doctor’s point of view. Why do this?

  1. Demonstrates your concern and willingness to be a partner
  2. Checks that you understood the objection
  3. Further diffuses the emotional content
  4. Gives you and the doctor time to think

Step 3. Classify and clarify

What is the purpose of this step? It is important for the salesperson to understand the nature of the objection so he/ she can address it appropriately. The salesperson needs to ask questions to understand:

  1. Is this a real objection or a strategy to get rid of the sales person?
  2. How big is the problem?
  3. What exactly is the nature of the concern/issue?
  4. What are the implications of the objection?

Classifying the objection

To test if the objection is “real” ask the question: “if this objection was not there would you use the product?” If the answer is No, then the objection is not the real reason for the resistance, ask what else the doctor needs to allow him / her to use the product. This will uncover the real objection.

If the answer is yes, the objection needs to be addressed (see below)

Clarifying the objection

In this situation the use of the right type of open question is critical to understand the objection, scale and implication for the doctor. Examples of appropriate questions are given below:

  • What makes this a problem?
  • Why is this a problem for you?
  • How often have you seen this problem?
  • How many patients have had this problem?
  • What do you currently do in this situation?
  • What did you do to resolve this problem?

Step 4. Treat the objection

Once the salesperson understands the problem he/she needs to answer the concern that has been raised in a precise manner and to the satisfaction of the doctor. Care needs to be taken so that the doctor’s personal standing is not undermined in anyway.

  1. How to answer when the doctor has made a factual/material error:
    1. “I believe I understand your concern, I have come across this misunderstanding before and the following (publication, 3rdparty reference or evidence)demonstrates ………”
    2. Feel, felt, found! “I understand how you feel, others have felt this way, however, they/we have found that …………(introduce publication, 3rdparty reference or evidence only if needed)”
  2. How to handle an objection that is a real limitation of your product
    1. Admit the reality and put into context. Normally  the context involves:
    2. There is a benefit, ease of use, superior efficacy, economic benefits which can outweigh the limitation of the product
    3. The product offers benefits for a particular sub-group of the population
    4. The products limitations are only limited to a subgroup of patients.
    5. The service package outweighs the other limitations of the product.

Step 5. Check

It is critical that the sales person concludes by asking if the objection has been addressed. If yes, proceed with the rest of the call. If no, start again at step1.

Common Objections in Pharmaceutical Sales

  1. Price/cost
  2. Efficacy
  3. Side effect profile
  4. Ease of use/compliance
  5. Service/support

1. Price/cost

This is the most common objection that can almost automatically be classified as a false objection and should be addressed after the pause and acknowledgement by “if price was not an issue would you use the product?” If the answer is No, then the objection is not the real reason for the resistance, ask what else the doctor needs to allow him / her to use the product. This will uncover the real objection. Address this objection.

Occasionally, the doctor says yes, price is really the only issue. Here the sales person needs to address the objection. He must ask open questions to understand what is the importance and implication (see above. Among the ways of looking at price, the following are most common:

  1. The individual package price.
  2. The cost of monthly/annual treatment
  3. The impact of the treatment on the doctors/department budget
  4. The cost of the treatment relative to the benefit delivered (value)
  5. How is value measured? Clinical outcome, quality of life, ease of use, patient preference.

This discussion point is likely to be most beneficial for the pharmaceutical company and pharmaco-economic arguments must be developed by the commercial team for the product to be successfully commercialised.

2. Efficacy

This needs to be carefully defined by good questioning. The key issue here is normally:

  1. There is a difference between the perceived value of the product by the doctor and the pharmaceutical company
  2. There is a misunderstanding or unawareness of the performance of the  product

3. Side effect profile

This needs to be carefully defined by good questioning. The key issues here are normally:

  1. There is a difference between the perceived side effect profile of the product by the doctor and the pharmaceutical company
  2. There is a misunderstanding or unawareness of the real side effect profile of the  product
  3. There is an unawareness of the compensating features of the product

4. Ease of use/compliance

This needs to be carefully defined by good questioning. The key issues here are normally:

  1. There is a difference between the perceived ease of use/compliance of the product by the doctor and the pharmaceutical company
  2. There is a misunderstanding or unawareness of the ease of use/compliance of the  product

5. Service/support

This needs to be carefully defined by good questioning. The key issues here are normally:

  1. there is a difference between the perceived Service/support of the product by the doctor and the pharmaceutical company
  2. there is a misunderstanding or unawareness of the service/support of the product

I hope that the reader finds this article informative. If you have any questions or comments you can share them in the comments form below. Alternatively should you require further details of any of the strategies I would be more than happy to send additional information. Please feel free to contact me for any comments, feedback or requests on Ifti.ahmed@titanium-partners.net


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