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03/12/2021

Jane Xia: Great advice! How to sell your products and services to your patients

a woman wearing glasses and smiling at the camera
Jane Xia BSc.Pharm, PharmD, MBA

One of the most important lessons that we are not taught in school is how to sell our products and services. The word “sales” or “selling” has a negative connotation especially in healthcare. Until I truly understood the meaning of sales, I realized it is really about understanding our customers’ needs and providing products or services that will improve their lives.

We thrive on helping patients yet we fall short of promoting ourselves and our services. In pharmacy school, we are therapeutically trained without having to sell any of our products or services. We assume patients will come and ask for them. Now things are changing rapidly. With increased competition and the threat of Amazon pharmacy, we have to stand out and do more for the patients, ourselves as pharmacists, and the business we are in.

So how do we communicate the benefits of our products and services to our patients? How do we sell?

SALES 101
Selling doesn’t have to feel shameful. It is simply a way of communicating about your products or services to improve others lives.

Step 1. Know the value of your products or services.

Before you can talk to another about your products or services, you have to know the value of your products or services. For instance, if you are trying to sell a S.A.D. light, you have to know that short exposure (40 minutes)  to light treatment improves depression scores in patients with seasonal affective disorder(1). So when someone tells you that they have S.A.D., you can help them by selling the S.A.D. light. I have sold many S.A.D. lights before and after my sale I always ask the patient whether it has worked for them or not. Majority of the patients have told me it changed their lives. Selling the right product to the right patient helps improve their life.

Step 2. Be curious and ask questions. 

One can never truly be successful at sell anything if he/she only talks about the products or services. Why? If they do not need it, all your effort will fall on deaf ears. It is important to know your audience.

Ask your patients, how are the medications working for them? Do they have any challenges? How are they coping with the multiple medications per day? Are they needing help understanding anything regarding diseases or their current medications? I find this is tough for pharmacists as we are taught in school to ask a standards set of questions regarding diseases rather than getting to know our patients. The key is practice. Remember the time you went to a party and did not know many people? Then you started asking questions that you are curious about in getting to know others and made new connections? This is like that.

Step 3.  Tailor your products or services. 

You will have a much higher chance of success when you tailor your sale. After following Step 2 and knowing what your patient needs, you can now sell the product or service that benefits your patient the most. Note that selling too many services or products at one time can overwhelm your patient and may result in no sale at all. Pace yourself and talk about one thing at a time. Tell your patient to come back and give you feedback. This will help you improve as a pharmacist and reflect (see Step 5). Not only are you building trust, but also getting your patients to realize how amazing you are and how they would never switch pharmacies.

Step 4. Convey the products and services using success stories.

Remember the last patient who enjoyed the interaction they had with you during a medication review? They praised how useful and fantastic this service is in helping them understand the diseases and medications? Use  stories like this to empower other patients who are on the fence or are non-believers in trying your products or services.

Step 5. Reflect, practice and repeat. 

Whether you are successful the first time in making a sale or not, you must reflect on why you are successful or why the patient refuses the product or service. This way, you can hone some verbiage in conveying the messaging. For instance, I’ve heard pharmacists say, “You qualify for a free flu shot. Would you like one?” This does not convey the benefits of a flu shot and it makes the patients think we provide free vaccine and service of injection. Instead, perhaps consider asking the patient, “Have you considered getting a flu shot? Why or why not.” This will help you assess whether the patient is interested or not. Then you can say, “Flu vaccines can help prevent the flu. Although not 100% it will nonetheless boost your immune system so if you do get the flu, it is much less intense.” You may also want to add, “By getting the vaccine, You will also be contributing to herd immunity. This will lower the spread of the disease and protect the community as a whole. Especially those with weaker immune system.” In terms of coverage, consider phrasing the “free vaccine” as “You qualify to receive the vaccine without charge as the government is covering the cost of the medication and the injection service.”

Step 6. Handle objections.

Often patients will say no to medication reviews because of a number of reasons, such as lack of time, lack of understanding of the purpose of the service, or poor experience in the past. It is important to follow that up with a question. Example: “How about another time?” Or “What is stopping you from trying this service?” Or “Would you give it another try as we go through various topics on your medications to help you better manage your conditions.”

Selling can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. All of the items I talked about above take practice. But once you get there, you will feel like you are helping your patients. Happy selling!

1. Virk G, Reeves G, Rosenthal NE, Sher L, and Postolache TT. Int J Disabil Hum Dev. 2009 July ; 8(3): 283–286. [doi:10.1901/jaba.2009.8-283.]

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