The idea of using humor in a medical setting may seem risky to some people. And indeed, the wrong kind of humor for the situation can be destructive to professional relationships. But that doesn't mean there's no place for appropriate wit and playfulness in the relationship between the pharma sales rep and his or her clients. Moments of drollery can also be perfectly appropriate during sales training.
Despite the many changes in the clinical healthcare environment in recent years, many training programs stick to the status quo of trusted slide decks and worksheets. But the truth is, the world of the medical or biotech customer today requires new skills. And however prepared reps are with information and account plans, it's always a good idea to expect the unexpected in client encounters. An appropriate mix of humor in sales training can have far-reaching benefits, for sales reps and clients. Here's why.
Improv Skills Turn a Sales Script Into a Conversation
When sales professionals have a certain amount of improvisational training and practice, they develop the kind of agility they need to field whatever the customer wants to toss their way. Improvisation happens in most sales scenarios, whether participants are aware it's happening or not, according to Second City Works' Doug Hutton. There are several ways to introduce improvisation into sales training and into the sales environment:
- Use group exercises to improve sales rep authenticity and help sales professionals step "outside the box" to create memorable customer interactions.
- Bite-sized, "digestible" content that reps can use at the right moment in a customer interaction helps them make a bigger impact.
- Remember that when you use appropriate humor to make people laugh, you also make them think, and improve chances for successful interaction.
- Don't skirt issues of how to recover when something goes wrong during a sales interaction.
Wit can be a terrific stress reducer and can put both parties in a conversation at ease. When humor works, it creates a happy association between the customer and the rep (and by extension, the rep's products). When all parties to a sales conversation are at ease, they retain more information. Whether a funny anecdote is used to break the ice, entertain while an important message is delivered, or subtly shift client perspectives, it can be a powerful tool. Appropriate levels and types of comedy can:
- Connect a speaker with the audience
- Increase interest in products or services
- Emphasize important points
- Make demanding material easier to get through
- Retain attention
- Disarm boredom
- Make a general positive impression
Humor Can Make Pharma Sales Training More Effective
The use of humor in teaching has been shown to increase retention of information, improve motivation, and boost subject matter comprehension. It also increases the likability of the trainer, which can be a major asset during corporate training, which often has a reputation of being dry and unexciting.
The key to using wit effectively in training is to apply it occasionally, and not try to make the entire lesson or presentation into a comedy routine. That's because what humor generally does is surprise, and those little surprises - the unexpected, or perhaps the statement out loud of what everyone is thinking - are memorable. When information is exactly as trainees expect, they aren't motivated to allocate mental resources to reinforcing that content.
Convincing Colleagues It's OK to Use Humor
Pharma sales training is about an industry that saves and changes lives, so trainers might find that one of their biggest challenges is convincing trainees that they're in an environment where it's safe to use humor. You don't necessarily do this by saying straight up, "It's OK to use humor," but could rather offer specific suggestions ("How would Yoda phrase these product results?").
The trainer has to be a good sport as well, and should be ready to laugh at himself or herself at times. Ideas generated during training can be used to create short sketches of how they can be used in real scenarios. Often these ideas and sketches can prompt other creative solutions, and get everyone more invested in the learning process.
Milton Berle once said, "Laughter is an instant vacation," and two times and places when people often appreciate those micro-vacations are in training and during sales interactions. At CLD, we not only know what works in training, but how to deliver it to today's busy, always-connected workforce. We invite you to contact us at any time to talk about your training needs.