The accepted wisdom in the business world seems to be that business and creativity are separate but equal, and never the two shall meet. Look at the proliferation of think pieces on business people being right-brained, or analytical, to see reams of pseudo-science backing up this bogus claim.

The truth is, business and creativity have always been intimately intertwined. Who do you think discovered the marvelous innovations that made the world we’re living in possible? Short-sighted thinking has seen business-minded individuals focusing only on the quarterly bottom line, leading 80 percent of employees in the U.S. and U.K. to feel that their company expected productivity over creativity, according to Adobe’s State Of Create global survey.

In today’s fast-moving world of medical innovations, medical and pharmaceutical salespeople need to be creative. Creativity will help your sales team know your customer’s needs, anticipate their questions and concerns, and, of course, stand out from the competition.

We talked to Peter Cook, a well-known sales coach and keynote speaker, to find out more about the importance of creativity in medical/pharma sales. Read more of Peter Cook’s wisdom at the Academy Of Rock.

Academy Of Rock’s mission statement states that you “Produce keynotes, facilitation, and masterclasses that fuse businesses and personal excellence with the power of music.” What are some ways that business and music are similar? How can these similarities be used to a pharma salesperson’s advantage?

There are many answers to this question – I’ll give a couple here:

Successful selling is the merger of a good business case with an emotional appeal for the benefits. The philosopher Emmanuel Kant (or was it Madonna?) said that “Music is the language of the emotions”. So, if your sales pitch is either a bunch of numbers on a spreadsheet or a series of emotional appeals, it is likely to be less successful than an approach that blends both. In other words – one that reaches the heads, hearts and souls of your clients.

At a slightly more provocative level, I use the analogy of sex to explore the sales process and the overall questions of relationships, influence and persuasion in my book Sex, Leadership and Rock’n'Roll.

Great salespeople find ways to reach people’s heads, hearts and souls. Some do this naturally and intuitively. Others use techniques and tools that they have learned. True greatness comes from the skillful use of your natural skills, flair and experience combined with tools and techniques that you have mastered through formal training.

It’s the same in music. Some people start by learning to read sheet music through formal training. However, some of the true greats I’ve met such as Nigel Kennedy, his jazz partner-in-crime John Etheridge (Soft Machine) and Prince’s sax player Marcus Anderson are masters of technique but also masters of natural born creativity. To become so fluent in both skills, they have often used what I call the 10,000 hours effect. You can see our interview with Prince’s sax player at our YouTube channel alongside Sheila E, the first lady of percussion, who testifies to the art of learning by doing.

In our keynotes and masterclasses, we explore musical concepts such as dissonance, consonance, rhythm, tempo, flow, song structures and much more to draw out parallels between business and sales issues such as relationships, motivation and high-performance and how these ideas reveal themselves in music of all genres. The lessons are simpler, more powerful and longer lasting than the usual fare. On occasion we get members of the audience to come up on stage and perform with rock stars at an “aftershow.”

The healthcare marketing company Pugtato wrote a series of articles a few years ago about how the big pharma industry is killing creativity in pharmaceutical sales. What are some ways that big pharmaceutical sales limit creativity?

Fear of breaking the many rules and protocols in pharma is an extremely powerful force that stifles ingenuity for many people in sales. After all, fear of losing your job is often a more powerful motivator than getting promoted for many people. Yet ingenious solutions that demonstrate superior value are the very thing that separates the great from the good. Great sales people resolve this paradox by using the “theory of constraints.” Rather than seeing constraints as a limiting condition, they use them as a spur to creativity. However, they are also respectful of the real constraints out there such as morality, ethics and efficacy.

Unfortunately, people tend to generalize beyond such things to the point that creativity in the sales process in any arena can be seen as a bad thing by the majority. I’ve been training one pharmaceutical company to understand the difference between “good creativity” and “bad” when applied to the industry and the sales negotiation process. We only have to look at Turing Pharmaceuticals to understand what “bad creativity” is!

Examples like this only give creativity a bad name when this is not creativity at all, it is properly called exploitation. Hopefully, karma will happen at Turing …

In that article, the author talks about some of the restrictions placed on pharmaceutical sales reps, including never diverting from the rules. Can you think of an example or two of when this wouldn’t be the best approach?

As I said, constraints dominate the pharma industry in terms of legislation, ethics and other good reasons to play by the rules. The industry is also scrutinized to death by industry watchdogs, and an internet savvy public and pharma scandals make good press. These things tend to paralyze creativity. Yet constraints are also good for creativity, and as I’ve pointed out, there are real constraints such as the need to provide solid evidence for your products. There are also made-up constraints, like the idea that you must not be friendly and think about your customer’s wider needs when pitching your deal to decision makers.

Despite grey Government regulations that infer that you must behave like a robot to make a sale to a Government officer, it seems that people in general crave personalization and love people who go the extra mile to make their work their passion. There is always room for that personal touch of flair and thoughtfulness that helps you stand out from the crowd inside the “rules.”

Great pharmaceutical companies are interested in moving away from “deals” towards longer-term agreements and this requires a much wider focus on a range of measures well beyond the usual transactional selling. It is here where creativity has a role to play, to come up with a package of measures that gives exceptional value for the long term and is simple enough to understand.

You’ve delivered a number of keynote speeches, comparing famous musicians with various business principles. Can you think of a few musical examples that would be pertinent for medical and pharmaceutical sales? What lessons are there to be learned?

I’m currently working with Patti Russo, Meatloaf’s long-term singing partner and songstress with Queen and Cher. When we offer motivational talks and musical experiences around the world, Patti and I talk of the qualities that have enabled her to turn adversity into success, including gaining the job of singing with Queen and many other opportunities. Her ability to see beyond instant disappointment and turn herself round is what I call “The Chumbawumba effect”:

She gets knocked down but she gets up again!

So many average souls faced with adversity take a very long time to recover. She has what psychologists call emotional resilience and this is relevant in all areas of sales.

My friend Bernie Tormé, Ozzy Osbourne’s and Ian Gillan’s former guitarist, is a highly original guitar player. He is an expert at improvisation and we’ve delivered masterclasses in companies where we have taught the gentle art, strategies and techniques of improvisation in business. It is said that the person with the most flexibility is most likely to control the outcome of any situation of influence, so learning the skills of improvisation is key to that ambition for sales people.

Paradoxically, to reach mastery in improvisation requires intensive detailed preparation. What looks like a seamless performance is the result of many hours of preparation and Prince is meticulous in this respect. Watching Prince perform is better than attending a masterclass on the everyday habits of a polymath in action. He is living proof of the idea that if you want to be nimble and adaptive, practice, practice, practice.

Medical and pharmaceutical sales require great storytelling, to really hook the audience. How can a pharma salesperson incorporate storytelling into their pitches, and why is it important?

Storytelling can be trivial or deep. In other words, it can be used in small talk which is part of any relationship-building process. A good story reaches your head, heart and soul, so it’s no good just having a spreadsheet without something that reaches your prospect’s heart and soul and that’s where storytelling comes in. Storytelling in pharma does not have to be like The Hobbit or Shakespeare. It can also be done in a more business-based way. I devised a four-stage flexible approach loosely based on the party game called “consequences”:

  1. The situation we faced
  2. What we did to address the situation
  3. What the immediate result was
  4. What the wider impact or consequence was

This inductively leads a client through time from a challenge to its resolution. The approach can be used in formal presentations, documents, websites and in conversation. Some examples of how it can be used on websites may be seen at Strategy.

In music, pop and some rock, music is memorable because it has a simple structure, it often tells a story and has “hooks.” For example: three verses, a chorus, a middle eight, etc. People all around the world can recite the words to “Bohemian Rhapsody” some 40 years after the song was written due to the mixing of music with some great lyrics and a series of great hooks.

What are some ways that a salesperson can extract wisdom and inspiration from their own favorite movies, songs, and books and incorporate it into their sales routine?

Great movies and songs and books are simply different modes of storytelling presented on celluloid, vinyl and paper (ah, OK, bytes, bytes and bytes – I’m showing my age!).

Great films, songs and literature often tell tales of relationships, motivation, dealing with adversity and so on. One only has to think of the music that motivates you at a personal level. These can work simply as anecdotes to help move a conversation along or deeper thoughts, which perhaps extract the moral of the story and transfer it to the situation under discussion. I have used everything from Harry Potter to Star Trek, It’s a Wonderful Life, Madonna’s music to David Bowie, Prince, and Lady Gaga through to stories from popular literature, biographies and perhaps even the classics.

I offer you a few lighthearted twisted thoughts from rock lyrics here of relevance to sales people:

Price Tag – Jessie J

Jessie J claims that it’s not about the money. That may be true if people perceive real value in what you have to offer them. The real difficulty is in articulating the value of your offer in a very short way so that people spend money and time on your products.

U Got The Look – Prince

Prince has commented on all sorts of things in his time, ranging from sex to the environment. His hit with Sheena Easton is obviously about the triumph of style over substance. Once you have got substance sorted, go for style every time.

Like A Virgin – Madonna

To succeed in business, treat each day like it’s the first time. It’s such a simple lesson, widely ignored by businesses, especially those that have become successful. Complacency is a killer.

All Shook Up – Elvis Presley

The King advises us to learn to ride the waves of chaos at work rather than running away from the three U’s of chaos: The Unknown, the Unstable and the Unexpected.

In the pharmaceutical industry, if a picture is worth a thousand words how much is a video worth as a storytelling device? Videum started with this in mind and from the insight that videos are by far the most desired and effective medium to learn about health. Videum makes validated health videos available to all in their own language. For the first time, people can learn easily about health from high-quality video enriched with additional information-on-demand. Improving access to information in native languages is an important step in making the world healthier. This offers pharmaceutical sales people the opportunity to become leaders in their field.

How can being creative help a salesperson take their career to the next level?

Much career development now is about working across networks rather than working up hierarchies. Metaphorically speaking, we are now using “climbing frames” more than “ladders” to get on. Career opportunities occur when these network connections collide in sufficient number and quality. People who take their careers to the next level actively manage such creative collisions rather than waiting for things to happen or relying on serendipity. I’m a firm believer in using planned luck to develop my own career and I have systematically synthesized my three passions (science, business and music) into a business, which celebrates its 21st birthday this year.

If sales people are prepared to see the long game and connect the dots between people and passions, careers can be managed in a world where horizontal networks matter more than hierarchies.
Connect with Peter on Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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