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6 Key Elements of Relationship-Building In Medical Sales

Relationships are the key to success in any sales process. Healthy partnerships solidify trust, increase communication, improve retention, and help you navigate the unexpected. The combined importance of all of these is unquestionable. 

In fact, according to research by Frederick Reichheld of Bain and Company, increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%. Seeing a profit increase in this range is a significant game-changer for any rep and their company. 

Of course, building professional relationships, especially in the complex and competitive medical sales field, isn’t a black-and-white process. The biggest obstacle is that no two medical sales clients are the same. Each has unique needs, expectations, objections, and specific circumstances that hold them back from fully committing to a meaningful working relationship with you. 

The good news is, there are six key elements every successful medical sales rep uses to build relationships. As a result, clients see them as valuable assets to their success.

Follow along in our guide to know how to handle the most common relationship-building situations: 

1. Determine what keeps clients coming back

Building a bond with clients begins internally. You must first self-assess to understand what clients already appreciate about you. Even though you must treat each client as an individual, understanding where your clients stand in your current relationships will help you alter your relationship-building strategy on a per-client basis. 

For example, most clients feel special when sales reps: 

  • Follow up without attempting a hard sell
  • Acknowledge and remember boundaries
  • Follow through on promises
  • Come in as an expert on demographics
  • Are an expert on clients’ product and industry
  • Show appreciation for the client as a person, not a source of income

To determine what keeps your current clients satisfied, follow each of these scenarios: 

Scenario 1: Assessing data

Look at your sales data to determine why your current clients remain dedicated to your services. Consider measuring: 

  • Percentage of revenue from existing customers (i.e., upselling, cross-selling, and repeat orders) 
  • Activity sales metrics (i.e., number of calls made, emails sent, in-person conversations, social media interaction, and meetings scheduled)
  • Number of referrals
  • Quarterly number of demos or sales presentations vs. total quarterly sales
  • Win rates

Scenario 2: Assessing client feedback

Listening is one of the most valuable relationship-building tools. Assessing and acting on client feedback takes you to a whole new level. 

Some clients offer feedback naturally during conversations. Write it down immediately as an action item, not just for the client providing feedback but for future reference. 

Other clients, however, need direct questions to jumpstart the flow of feedback. Send clients short, three-to-five question pulse surveys to gauge why they appreciate your service and where they’d like to see improvements. 

2. Do your homework

No relationship survives without a complete understanding between parties. This means you can’t attempt to become a valuable asset to clients without first becoming an expert on their facility, demographics, challenges, and client needs. 

Determine each client’s unique needs to ensure you’re prepared to provide only the most suitable product and service recommendations. Additionally, gaining an in-depth understanding opens avenues for deeper discussions and critical insights. 

Don’t let any vital information pass by you. Dig in with these two forms of medical sales investigating: 

Scenario 1: Perform external research

External research is done before you meet with clients. It’s a way to show up confident that you already know key aspects regarding their needs. Research where your client’s facility is located. Then, review key demographics for that area, such as age, gender, race, and income. 

Connect the needs of these specific demographics to your product’s benefits and proven outcomes. 

Scenario 2: Perform internal research

It’s crucial to gain an understanding of clients and their patients before walking through their doors. However, you can only learn so much performing external research. Use what you’ve learned so far to guide you through internal research during client meetings. 

Come prepared with questions that reveal why your relationship with the client is or will be beneficial. For example: 

  • What are your facility’s short- and long-term goals? 
  • What are your patients’ short- and long-term goals? 
  • Do your patients struggle with [common pain points your product solves]?
  • What is your greatest strength when it comes to serving patients? 
  • What, if anything, holds you back from giving patients the care they deserve/need? 
  • What level of service are you looking for from medical sales reps? 
  • What’s something new you’re hoping to accomplish for your facility or patients next year? 

3. Practice active listening

As a sales rep, it’s natural to want to jump in and solve your clients’ problems immediately. Unfortunately, this good-natured desire leads to premature and damaging assumptions. The lack of active listening when there’s a need to find a solution leads to a breakdown in communication. 

These two scenarios demonstrate how to ensure you hear clients first and react second: 

Scenario 1: Listening in person

For many, practicing active listening in-person is the most challenging because there are so many cues happening in the moment. Every moment spent with a client must be intentionally focused on not only what they’re saying, but also how they’re saying it, and what their body looks like when it’s said. 

Begin each conversation face-to-face and with direct eye contact. Eye contact lets them know you’re listening and are invested in everything they’re about to divulge. Watch for non-verbal cues throughout the conversation, like arm-crossing, a relaxed stature, expressions of frustration or confusion, and so on. 

Internally, don’t jump to conclusions or begin thinking of what you’ll say next. Allow the conversation to flow naturally, and don’t be afraid to pause for a moment to ask follow-up questions. 

Scenario 1: Listening via written communication

Active listening isn’t just critical for in-person situations. Clients communicate with you in various ways, including email, text, and multiple messaging platforms. 

Show clients you understand what they’re saying by paraphrasing in your response. For example, “I know you’re worried about [insert concern], so let me share a few case studies of others who had the same issues.”

Additionally, respond with relevant questions based on their initial outreach to keep the conversation going. 

4. Follow up in a friendly and personable manner

You’ve spent your entire medical sales career following up with clients. And, chances are, you’ve heard and seen it all. Some are simply too busy to respond. Then there are clients who “ghost” you because they’re afraid to say, “I’m just not that interested.” 

No matter the response, or lack thereof, sending follow-ups is a frustrating process. Regardless, they remain a key aspect of relationship-building because they prove your dedication and willingness to go above and beyond. To do this, you must stay patient, friendly, and personable, while also remembering that not every moment of communication must be business-oriented. 

You’ll likely use these two methods to check-in in a meaningful manner: 

Scenario 1: Follow up via email

Your emails are competing with a vast number of other messages in customers’ inboxes. This means you must stand out by having these items in each email: 

  • Write an attention-grabbing subject line
  • Timing is everything — follow up in a timely manner but not so frequently that it’s overwhelming
  • Personalize each message
  • Focus on the value of your partnership
  • Include personalization or pre-discussed points

Bonus material: Use this email template cheat sheet to make your sales follow-up emails unforgettable. 

Scenario 2: Follow up in person

The in-person follow-up can be tricky, especially if customers aren’t responding to your written communication. One of the most important things to remember in medical sales is that you’re not just connecting with your prospect, you’re connecting with the facility and its needs.

Your follow-ups can be a quick check-in with the nurse you spoke with during your last visit, who said she was stressed. Or it could be an impromptu coffee delivery to the receptionist who joked about her lack of caffeine. Whether you’re seeing your customer directly or their staff, ensure you show up with a purpose, even if that purpose isn’t to take another stab at closing.  

5. Keep your service-based promises

Closing a sale is just the first step in building relationships with medical sales clients. Once they’ve signed the dotted line, your role in delivering service-based promises begins. 

Ensure clients feel seen and heard, even when they’re not actively buying a product, by checking in when you say you will, quickly answering questions, and advocating for your clients when issues arise. In turn, you’ll build trust and accountability, so when it’s time to resign contracts, or there’s an opportunity to upsell, your clients will be ready to listen. 

When an unexpected situation arises, here’s how you can keep your service-based promises: 

Unforeseen circumstances will occur. The No. 1 mistake reps make is sending a response packed full of promises that can’t be kept. Instead, check off these guidelines as you move forward: 

  • Keep communication flowing and open
  • Respond immediately, even if you don’t have an immediate solution
  • If something isn’t in their contract, advocate for your client
  • Offer frequent status updates via their preferred method of communication
  • Present a quick temporary solution when possible/necessary
  • Discuss a strategy to ensure this doesn’t happen again/decrease frequency

6. Apply feedback

Feedback is often viewed in two lights — positive and negative. The positive is an accolade, and the negative is an opportunity to resolve issues. But there’s so much more to it. 

In sales, feedback is all about allowing the lines of open and honest communication to flow. Sometimes, the most uncomfortable, challenging conversations are the ones that solidify and strengthen relationships. 

Whether it’s positive or negative feedback, here’s how you can apply feedback to increase the quality of your client bonds: 

Scenario 1: Negative feedback

“This is business, not personal” is the most critical piece of advice to remember when you hear negative feedback. Look at a customer’s notes as a gateway into how they’re feeling, not a personal attack on your character. 

When you’re unable to distance yourself emotionally, it’s more challenging to stop yourself from becoming defensive or attempting to prove the customer wrong. Instead, listen carefully and ask questions to show you’re trying to understand their viewpoint. 

Then, practice empathy. Put yourself in customers’ shoes to determine how you would feel and what you’d want someone to say or do to make you feel heard. If there’s no apparent immediate solution, ask for time to fix the process and continue following up as you make progress. 

Scenario 2: Positive feedback

Attend to customers’ positive feedback with just as much urgency as you would a negative comment. Thank them for the compliment and discuss how you plan to maintain this aspect of your business. 

Also, ask open-ended questions to gain deeper insights into the whole picture. Use these inspirational details to improve relationships with other customers by building off of the attributes customers already see as your strongest.