Who said anything about selling?

Life Science Consultancies: How to dial up your conversations with pharmaceutical industry customers

The concept of "selling" can be an uncomfortable one for consultants in the life sciences and healthcare space, but, as our experience at Gatehouse ICS has demonstrated, these are the individuals who are best-placed to build those client connections.

To help these highly skilled and specialised individuals to become more comfortable with their often dual role of "seller-doer", we have developed a thorough training programme. One area we cover in detail is the concept of persuasive insights, which is really about having engaging or interesting conversations that should as a by-product, result in more business for the consultancy.

Starting at the very beginning

Pre-covid, and now with the steady return to face-to-face meetings, one of the typical ways to initiate new introductions was at conferences, which are unnatural environments for most people. Typically, during breaks, people meander around the booths and attendees are, for the most part, happy to have an interesting conversation as long as they aren't being aggressively sold to. The training we offer avoids the typical elevator pitch and instead is about first connecting on a human level. You might ask a question like, "did you fly here today?" or "have you come far for this conference?" or "do you know where the coffee is served?", or referencing the conference itself with "how was the session you just attended?".

These are conversation openers and inevitably will lead to a question from the person with whom you are engaging, such as "What does your consultancy do?". That's where we empower people to describe their consultancy's work, moving quickly to what it is they personally love about what they do. This dramatically changes the consultant's body language and conveys passion and authenticity, which are key drivers of engendering trust.

None of this should be forced, though, because persuasive insights depend on a genuine interest in the other individual and a belief that you are doing something worthwhile that might help or interest them. A former boss once asked me "Where did you learn to do that?". By that he meant, where did I learn to sound interested in people. The fact is, I just am! It’s not something you can fake. Any conversation must start with an authentic interest in people and real passion for what you do.

Recalling past projects

When it comes to having conversations about potential or upcoming projects, our experience has found that seller-doers are the right people to use persuasive insights by drawing on previous projects. For example, you might say, "Your experience reminds me of a similar one I encountered a couple of years ago". We call these "back-pocket insights" because they are examples you keep in your proverbial back-pocket to, when appropriate, drop into conversation in order to encourage the listener to take action.

There are two ways to approach this: one describing the benefits of a particular action; the other to warn about the consequences of not acting. Interestingly, the negative can be more persuasive, whereby you highlight a situation in which a company's failure to investigate an area deeply enough resulted in a costly outcome or missed opportunity. We witnessed this with one company that had developed a product that had a different delivery mechanism to the standard of care. While research showed patients and doctors would prefer this approach, the company overestimated the value of that change in mode of the administration with regard to payers. As a result, the product faced significant hurdles when it came to reimbursement. A consultancy that provides payer insight facilitation might use such an example to warn about the potential consequences of not investing thoroughly enough in payer insight research.

The point of engaging conversations and persuasive insights is to demonstrate to people why you are the expert in your field and why you are an essential ingredient to the success of their job, task or project. Our training empowers people to do this and to build that trust from the first conversation, without simply reeling off a pitch script. Our preferred model, which resonates with our clients, is authenticity and finding genuine resonance with the other person by showcasing what you know through interesting dialogue rather than a pitch script. In this way, you spark co-created ideas together with mutual benefit and interest and set the groundwork for continued collaboration.