Barlow/McCarthy Blog

The TRUTH about Consultative Sales

Aug 26, 2015

TheTruthaboutconsultativesalesBy: Kriss Barlow, RN, MBA

When interviewing for field sales positions, almost every candidate makes the claim that they have a consultative sales approach. Many name the sales training they received or mention that their approach is needs-based. As I listen to what they say, I so wish I could observe them on a sales call. Why? Sometimes reps say they are consultative, when in reality, their sales calls are not about physician-involved dialogue. They may start with a question, but the bulk of the conversation is the rep talking. And with the monologue many a doctor will drift.

The meeting goal is that the physician’s experience with you is valuable for him/her. As I consider individuals who really do this well, some attributes are consistently present. Read through the attributes, see if you agree and then score yourself.

  • Do your homework, pre-plan: Rather than stopping in with your message, there’s a visit plan. It starts with information about the practice, the doctor, their referral patterns, competitor relationships, how the practice functions, etc. Take the time to prepare what you know and what you would like to know. Determine which other specialists might be a fit and who they currently use that should be supported. For me, beyond being a foundational element of consultative sales, it’s a respect thing.

_____ Score yourself on a 1-5, where 1 is almost never and 5 is that you take time to gather background and sketch out a pre-call plan every time.

  • Ask good questions.  Many of you have heard me say, tell and sell is dead. I really believe it. Good consultative sales people use their understanding of the practice to compose good, succinct and personalized questions. Crafting great questions is both art and science and it’s really hard. Good questions are not the broad, “Anything we can do for you…” or “any concerns we should address…” Anyone can do those. Good consultative sales people customize their questions to match personality, uncover a physician need and to guide the conversation.  In the pre-call plan aim for three questions that are prepped for the visit.  Based on their response, the rep will likely have the chance to ask some additional questions.  They may come in the form of, “Tell me more about that.”

_____ Score yourself 1-5, where 1 is almost never and 5 is that you prepare and ask several custom questions in each meeting with the doctors.  

  • Create dialogue: The heart of consultative sales is that relationships are formed through the exchange of ideas- a conversation. A question is asked and then you listen carefully for their reply. You likely ask another question and you move the conversation toward an intent message that allows you to chat about a product/service/specialist within your system. Good sales people may have a couple of hot topics that are ripe for conversation and based on the interests of the physician. Select the one that will be most likely to progress. The dialogue portion is certainly the strategic, finesse part of consultative sales. It takes time, good listening and the ability to frame teachable intent moments. And it takes a lot of practice.

____ What percent of the time in a sales call do you spend talking vs. listening

____ What is your success percentage of getting the doctor to surface one of your hot topics because you guided the conversation in that direction?

  • Advance the relationship: Don’t get me wrong, this is not just having conversations, the obligation here is to advance the relationship and earn the business. We all get lucky with this occasionally when a practice really needs what you have. Don’t you wish it would happen more often! It is the sales persons’ job to close to the next logical step. Each visit plan needs to start with a minimum expectation and a maximum commitment. The role of consultative sales is to create interest in the next logical step toward that goal.  It’s not pushy. We are not the, “What would it take to get you to drive this car off the lot people.”  Consultative field reps recognize that the doctor is willing to learn more, meet someone, see your data, have another conversation, or send a referral. We affirm that next step with a statement and action plan.

_____ Percentage of the time that you stage and use your close in the conversation.

_____ On a 1-5 how confident are you in your closing techniques

How’d you do?  Did you find some areas that were much more comfortable than others? It may help to highlight an area or two for personal development. One of the frequent challenges for physician relations reps is not having a strong peer group within. Many are surrounded by people who really don’t know sales.  It begs the question, “How are you developing the skills that work within today’s competitive environment?” Internal stakeholders, are great resources for product knowledge, but about sales skills, not so much! What resources do you rely on to help you to improve your skills?

Extra Credit: Get your team involved and have them do this assessment as well. Print out a few copies for your next meeting and see what you learn. If things are rough or you need to freshen up a few items we would love to help! You can reach me at