Field Effectiveness: Know When to Speak and When to Listen

By: Kriss Barlow, RN, MBA | kbarlow@barlowmccarthy.com

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” – Bryant H. McGill

The very best tool of a field rep is their ability to effectively initiate, guide and manage a conversation toward the desired outcome. Conversation is not a one-sided monologue; we get that. But, many field reps do love to talk and likely do a little more of it than they should. Experts suggest that in a sales call you should talk about 20 percent of the time. I suspect many field reps would be doing well to talk only 40 percent of the time.  Add to it, most people underestimate their talk time.

Insiders Want Us to Tell. Operational leaders will often ask field staff to “go out and tell them about our services.” Too much of someone talking at you likely means that the prospective physician “tunes out.” Seasoned experts recognize that today’s growth environment is much more complicated than just sending a rep to create awareness.  Earning new acute care referrals may take several meetings, especially if he business you want is already being served by someone else.  The role of the field staff is to learn what the organization needs to grow, where it is ready to grow, and then to create the field approach.  That field approach always starts with discovery and listening to the needs of the practice and then customizing the message.

Success Starts with Learning. For sales success, information needs to flow both ways. The knowledge and insight to ask about the needs and interests of the prospect allows the rep to guide the conversation. When we have taken time to learn the needs of the physician or practice, we can craft the appropriate talking points when it is our turn. And let’s face it, when the rep is a trusted resource, the doctors are happy to talk!

The Art of Listening. It feels like a persons’ ability to listen should be an innate skill, but in reality for most of us, it requires practice – and lots of it. Old habits are hard to break, and it is even harder when we are in a charged environment like a sales call.  Here are a few reminders if you know you are wanna-be listener or a distracted listener.

  • Start with total immersion. Block out other people, other ideas and just focus all of your energy on the doctor and what she’s saying.
  • Let them go. Resist the urge to interrupt or to tell them something. If they are giving helpful information then keep them talking – you will have your time
  • Resist your brain when it goes to the next topic of conversation. For me, this is a hard one. While the client does not see my mind wander, I suspect the conversation loses steam when drifting.

Set a Goal. If you agree that the best tool is our ability to effectively engage with the prospect in a meaningful way, then you owe it to yourself and the organization to ensure you are guiding the conversation through effective listening and timely sharing of messages. If this is an area that can use attention, you are not alone. Personal change requires commitment. Good field staff are generally goal oriented.  Use that natural inclination and start the journey to listen more, improve your listening and when you speak make sure it resonates with your prospect.  Good listening is the best tool we’ve got.