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Is this the perfect model for selling consultancy services to pharma?

Is this the perfect model for selling consultancy services to pharma?

A Shift and a Swing!

While it is true that the term "Insight Selling" was coined quite some time ago, it represents a shift from previous models and is arguably the current contemporary approach to selling in the digital information age. The historical shift, which I feel I have lived through in just shy of two decades in selling consultancy services to pharma, started with what I will call "Pitch & Product Selling". This was the model of turning up with a script about why the client should choose "us". The problem being that any self-proclaimed descriptor loses gravitas by dilution in a "me too" world where others are all claiming to be the "best". See our prior article on this topic, which analysed the descriptors used by 17 different life science consultancies in the run up to the ISPOR conference of the reference year. In the Pitch & Product model of selling, the consultant spent most of the appointment time talking to the client about who the consultancy is and the consultancy offering is often siloed into pre-defined product areas and services categories.

Swing from pitch & product selling to consultative solution selling

In our industry, Pitch & Product Selling necessarily gave way to Solution Focussed Selling somewhere in the 90’s. Solution Focussed Selling involves the asking of open questions to understand as much about the client’s challenges, goals, pressures and needs as possible. The consultant then typically steps away from the encounter and puts together a solution that meets needs and answers the question at hand; rather than sorting the RFP into the most closely matching pre defined product or service offering. In Solution Focussed Selling, the goal is for the client, rather than the consultant, to do most of the talking.

In shifting from Pitch & Product to Solution Focussed selling, the pendulum almost certainly swung too far. If much of the buying decision happens in the sales encounter, where clients buy into "people" rather than "consultancies"; Solution Focussed Selling allows little room to showcase the seller’s experience or skills.

What is Insight Selling?

Insight Selling is a form of Solution Focussed Selling, but re-dresses the balance. It allows the seller to interject and steer or even take control of the encounter using astute insights.

These insights can broadly be broken down into Opportunity Insights or Interaction Insights. In the former, the consultant may look for opportunities to inspire towards new ideas that the buyer has not previously thought of, before they have even asked. Interaction Insights happen within the sales encounter and help to create "ight bulb" moments which may illustrate the rewards possible by taking a previously unconsidered path; or the pitfalls which may be encountered if the suggested path is not taken. Incidentally, of the two incentives (rewards and risks), the avoidance of risk is generally the most persuasive part of the risk-benefit analysis that a buyer is (perhaps subconsciously) performing in the sales encounter. A large part of the calculated purchasing risk involves weighing up whether the buyer can place their trust in the person selling to them.

Insight Selling: What is it?

Why is it the right time for Insight Selling?

I previously mentioned the fact that we are in the “digital information age”. This is an important context because buyers now approach new vendors and services rather like a googled-informed patient at the doctor’s surgery who has self-diagnosed and anticipates they will exit the appointment having secured certain diagnostics or treatments. Indeed, if you are in the market for sales training, you may well have approached this article with some self-study and a general idea of what is best for you or your sales/consultancy teams. Our customers (e.g. pharma) or indeed their customers (e.g. health system payers) have a bewildering amount of information at their fingertips and may have decided before your meeting that they need a systematic review; a health economic model; a value dossier or payer research & communication. Like the doctor faced with a google informed patient, it is the job of the consultant to engender the opinion that the maximum chance of success rests on allowing the consultant to be consulted; allowing them to advise and steer and co-create the optimal strategy.

Why is Insight Selling a good fit for consultants to pharma and what are the challenges?

I use the word “co-create” intentionally. Research has shown that buyers are 3 x more likely to remain loyal to a consultant when they have co-created the strategy with them. This is more challenging in the procurement model where an RFP is formulated by the buyer who is then kept at arm’s length from potential vendors. However, during a recent particularly positive customer satisfaction interview (a service we conduct for our consultancy clients) it was clear that co-creation led to what was perceived as such a unique output, that the pharma client mandated future similar services would remain outside of competitive tender and be consistently directed towards our client’s consultancy alone. It should also be noted, that within the consultancy to pharma dynamic, where ideally long-term relationships are fostered (perhaps within a key-account framework) it is an ideal scenario to have one eye on current projects and one eye on the horizon. What is coming next for our customers? How can we get involved early and shape strategy and how can we position ourselves as an “essential component for success” within that strategy?

Getting involved early does highlight one challenge with Insight Selling. It is often associated with longer conversion times from initial interactions to convert to business. This is one of the reasons it is ideally suited to a consultancy environment, where hopefully client interactions are long-term and continuous. The other main reason Insight Selling is particularly suited to consultants to pharma, is that research/consultant personality types may not typically see themselves as salespeople. However, if we can deconstruct selling and help consultants to view the process as providing answers (insights) to research questions and problems, it taps into their natural persona and giftings. This in turn leads to authenticity, another pre-determinant of sales success as highlighted by one of our articles and propagated through our sales training workshops.

Other challenges of the Insight Selling approach include the fact that it is research and time intensive. Managers who desire their sales teams to utilise this approach must be prepared to release some consultancy time to this investment and must also be prepared for longer range ROI. There also needs to be internal agreement as to "how much is too much" in terms of giving away insightful information during unpaid sales interactions rather than paid feasibility studies. Insight Selling also requires persistent follow-up which is something that consultancies can be weak on; either due to being overly fearful of appearing to hound a client or simply because project demands squeeze out the time available for business development follow-up. The latter points to the need for good internal key account or client development processes, which are as instrumental to the sales success of a consultancy as the external sales encounter and another aspect that we can train on, having previously been responsible for companywide key account processes in the consultancy to pharma environment.

It should be remembered that much of the positive sales experience comes down to perceived likeability of and connection with the seller; and Insight Selling applied well can foster these conditions. However, if Insight Selling is conducted poorly or in contrived way it can appear pushy; particularly if the buyer is resistant to receiving insights in which case pragmatism, as always, is the rule of thumb.

Our sales training workshops are run by one of our two Directors; each with more than 15 years experience in two top ten consultancies to pharma. We use a mix of taught content; exercises and informed role play to enable participants to feel confident in this model of selling. We customise the training to your setting, services and internal processes and come to your office location; spending a day helping to turn your excellent consultants into more effective sellers.

Get in touch if you would like to hear more about this; our independent business development & lead generation support or our customer satisfaction survey projects.

[Gatehouse ICS] delivered a very focused training session (Consultancy Based Selling), tailored directly to our selling situation and our group. Providing information that was relevant, in an engaging way and bringing out the human side of selling. I feel confident that I will be able to use everything I was taught in a real environment.

Terms, definitions and statistics are paraphrased from Schultz, M and Doerr J (2014) Insight Selling: Surprising Research on What Sales Winners Do Differently.

Pros & cons of Insight Selling are paraphrased from Harris, M. (2014) How to sell value & differentiate your product with Insight Scenarios