Selling in a Suddenly Virtual World: Pharma Sales


The coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe has forced organizations to radically change how they do business overnight. Often, this adaptation has involved simply digitizing all existing materials under the assumption that the same rules apply to the virtual as to the physical world. However, any behavioral scientist will tell you that context is everything, so it should come as no surprise that businesses are now beginning to find that the 1:1 transfer of materials online is not delivering the hoped-for results. For pharma sales reps, the shift to virtual detailing has been an especially significant change, as their duties have traditionally relied heavily on face-to-face interactions to build relationships and convey technical information. Fortunately, behavioral science provides guidance on small, thoughtful tweaks to how we communicate in this new context that can have a drastic impact on business outcomes.

Take the following example: 

If you were a doctor who was presented with two treatments for lung cancer – surgery or radiation – which option would you choose in each of these scenarios? 

Option 1: “The survival rate after one month for surgery is 90%” 

Option 2: “The mortality rate after one month for surgery is 10%” 

Clearly, these are two sides of the same statistics coin, but in a randomized study done with real physicians, the way a treatment was framed – that is, whether the information was presented with a positive or negative lens – had a dramatic impact on their decisions. In the survival condition, 83% of doctors opted for surgery. In the mortality condition, only 50% chose surgery. 

While this may be alarming to those who like to think of doctors as perfectly logical, analytical robots (surprise – doctors are people too!), it offers us a powerful opportunity in our new age of online-only communication. For pharma sales reps especially, this is a time of transition and learning. To discover how to more effectively sell virtually, read on! 

Traditionally, pharma sales have relied heavily on face-to-face interaction to build rapport, educate and support customers, and sell their products.  With COVID-19 prohibiting this kind of encounter, these same tasks need to be done effectively online. This is proving to be challenging because of the significant role that things like body language typically play in communication. When you can’t shake hands, make eye contact, or mirror the body language of your conversational partner, for example, it becomes much harder to connect and build trust. Add to this the fact that it is more challenging to cut through the noise now that everything has gone digital, and it’s clear that sales reps need to be much more strategic with how they communicate in order to get results. 

Fortunately, we can look to behavioral science principles to help us communicate more effectively in a digital world. The words we use become much more important, and therefore need to be optimized as much as possible. Remember the study from the beginning that used framing to drastically change doctors’ decision-making? The BVA Nudge Consulting uses this technique, as well as other proprietary Drivers of Influence, to optimize virtual communication, from the language to the layout. Using behavioral science in this way is something we can all try to adopt to be more persuasive online communicators – and sellers. 

To learn more about our ViRSA (Virtual Rep Sales Audit) service, please get in touch