What have we learned from the pandemic when it comes to communicating?

Published by Tammy Palazzo on November 13, 2020. Read and share on Medium.


“The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity. Usually, growth comes at the expense of previous comfort or safety.”
– Josh Waitzki

It’s easy to look at 2019 with that sad sort of nostalgia exclusively reserved for things you realize you took for granted. Before the pandemic, our melancholy focused on a longing for times shared with family or the loss of a romantic relationship. Now, we wistfully recall days of eating in restaurants, attending concerts or theatrical events, or traveling by plane. As we unfortunately know, this new reality hasn’t only restricted our access to the pleasures we used to enjoy but also has significantly affected our working lives. If you’re lucky enough to still have the same job you had in February, there’s a good chance it has changed in dramatic ways. And if your job used to rely on intensive in-person interactions, there’s also a good chance you’re communicating most via Zoom or some other digital meeting platform.

The pharmaceutical industry — an industry that comprises more than 70% of my work — is no stranger to this.

Despite the shock and disruption that so many in the industry experienced at the onset of the pandemic, the writing has been on the wall for years now. In fact, one of the main inspirations for creating Presentr, the first enterprise communication skills platform, was to address the need to prepare professionals for a world of highly virtual interactions. For example, in the pre-COVID-19 era, pharma sales reps had the luxury of developing relationships through in-person meetings. Even though so many other industries had switched to more virtual selling, if you were a pharma rep, you likely spent your days dropping in to visit with numerous health care professionals (HCPs) in an effort to build rapport and educate them on your product. Reps grew accustomed to relying on body language to help gauge the likelihood of whether the HCP was willing to prescribe your company’s drug to current and future patients.

Pharma sales reps have a heavy burden in establishing meaningful connections with HCPs. In addition to the typical sales obstacles, they have to be ready to answer tough medical questions from HCPs with extensive backgrounds. The ability to engage the HCP and assure them that you are a trusted resource rather than just a drug peddler is critical. Being well informed about your product, comfortably presenting data on studies and outcomes, and being able to assure medical professionals that you are to be taken seriously requires strong communication skills. Plus, on a daily basis, reps are facing the onslaught of competitive products of which they also need to be knowledgeable in order to overcome objections or convince a prescriber to make a switch. It’s a heavy lift made much more difficult by being relegated to virtual sales calls riddled with interruptions, impatience, and with a medical industry overwhelmed by COVID. Between getting comfortable with new platforms for communication, devising strategies to keep HCPs engaged, and not giving in to the fear and anxiety that 2020 has served up, reps have had to reimagine how to be successful. What has become clear is that, assuming your product is well-studied and has efficacy, the best way to set yourself apart from others is to have excellent communication skills. Robert Groebel reinforced this idea in a recent Pharmexec.com article, stating, “MSLs — 80% of whom are PhDs — could benefit from learning new communication techniques to enhance engagement.” After all, if a doctor meets with dozens of reps with products of similar quality, the one he or she has built the most rapport with and feels the most confident about would likely have a distinct advantage over the others.

So, how do reps (and MSLs) gain that same advantage without the benefit of meeting in-person with HCPs? The answer is still communication skills, but also developing communication skills specifically tailored to the digital world — something Presentr is uniquely equipped to support. Building rapport in a virtual setting, engaging your audience via Zoom and other virtual tools, and being able to decipher body language through a tiny lens are all areas that pharma professionals are struggling with. Presentr is a communication skills platform powered by artificial intelligence that offers real-time feedback on a user’s body language and vocal elements. Practicing your pitch and delivery is crucial and can lead to significant improvement, including no longer peppering your sentences with another uninspiring “umm,” “so,” or “like.” Filler words make you seem unprepared and less than confident and can result in losing the attention of the person with whom you are talking. Effective communication skills reinforce a sense of belief and confidence in the product you’re selling, which is something others absolutely pick up on — even over zoom. Perhaps, instead of hoping that things will get back to normal faster, consider how adapting yourself and your teams to this virtual selling motion is your best strategy for sustained success in the pharmaceutical industry. Now, if you think rehearsing your sales pitch in front of a mirror will set you apart — good luck with that. But if you’re eager to get objective real-time feedback that will enhance your skills in all facets of communication, Presentr offers that valuable advantage over the competition.