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Deal or No Deal?

Saturday Market

Many times in the past on this site I have posted entries that have started out with words like, “I recently read an interesting article about…”, or something to that effect. But this is not one of those postings. In fact, it surprises me that I have not run into any written point of view on the topic of this posting.

And one other disclaimer – it is going to appear on the surface that this is all about the life sciences industry. But, if that is not where you reside, read on – this may still be relevant for you.

Salesforce automation has had some significant difficulty proving its value in the life sciences industry. I think the core of this issue lies in the disconnect between how these sales professionals sell and how SFA software is designed.

At the heart of SFA software is the pipeline, tracking opportunities as they transform one stage at a time from lead to close. The software, if it were to have a personality, really likes to behave this way – moving deals along a progression of activities until the ink is on the contract. Everything hinges on this, planning, forecasting, activity tracking, and coaching.

Unfortunately, this is not how most of the pros in the life sciences industry sell (as well as many other types of organizations that do not follow a deal progression model). If you sell acid blockers, stents, or dental amalgam, you don’t get a lead, work a deal, and close a sale. Rather, you educate, nurture, loan, demonstrate, coach, and reward a wide variety of healthcare professionals until a physician, dentist, clinic, or department becomes regular users or prescribers of your product. There is no deal; there is a relationship lifecycle. This is at the center of most of the business models within the life sciences industry, but it is not limited to that industry alone.

SFA is not built this way. It is built around deals. As a result the disconnect hampers the value of the software that can be derived by the field force. So, this begs the question, what can be done?

I think it is useful to start with sales operations. Recognize the disconnect and become very explicit about describing the progression of the relationship with the individual medical professional or the medical account (hospital, clinic, department). Build a relationship maturity model. I see typically four stages – trial, adoption, commitment, and advocacy. And, yes, these stages are product dependent. A physician can be at the commitment stage with one drug and at the trial stage for another.

Next, it is critical to configure your SFA tool to reflect these stages of the relationship and not the out of the box opportunity design. This works better for the sales folks conceptually, and allows them to utilize the software more practically – driving up adoption and value. One fly in the ointment is for those medical device companies that sell both ways. If you do have equipment in your product line, then you do have the enjoyment of selling more traditional deals. For these companies, your SFA has to satisfy both audiences.

It surprises me to what extent this disconnect between the way selling works and the way the software is designed prevails within the organizations with whom I meet. I think it is a relatively easy fix, but it needs to get some visibility. So, let’s start talking about it so we can do something about it.

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