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elandas blog

What $3K of wine taught me about pharma selling

Jill Donahue, on a mission to lift pharma

by Jill Donahue, on a mission to lift pharma

What better way to celebrate a milestone birthday than a trip to San Francisco with my university friends and our husbands? I was full of anticipation to reconnect with old friends. What I didn’t anticipate was the great lesson on selling from an unlikely person - our tour guide, Tom, at Cliff Lede winery.

For our big trip we had five days of fun planned. One of those days, all 14 of us piled into a minibus headed to wine tasting in Napa Valley. After the two-hour bus ride and four hours touring at two vineyards, we still had one more winery to go. But by that time, I was pretty much done.

As we stepped out of our minibus I was immediately re-engaged. Tom had come out to greet each of us with a warm, two-handed handshake. As he toured us around the property, we were captivated by his passion and knowledge of the art of winemaking. An hour passed quickly as he explained how they did things differently at Cliff Lede – and we hadn’t even tasted the wine yet! We spent two glorious hours with Tom. All of us were mesmerized by his insights, enthusiasm and stories.

Before I tell you the rest of the story, let me jump to the finish line. You can pretty much judge the success of a wine tasting tour by the amount of wine sold following the tour. I teased Tom, the next day when I returned to interview him; “I bet you sell more than others.” “Yes”, he said, “about 3 times.”

“Three times him?” I asked, pointing to another guide.

“Well, no…. about 3 times all of them combined! On a good day, I’ll sell 12 times as much as everybody else.” “But I’m not selling,” he added.


So what was Tom doing?

How did he earn our trust, engage us so completely such that we left with over 3K of wine? By the way, we bought zero wine from the other two wineries that day!


Opportunity for Pharma

What was it that made Tom so compelling? And how can we apply that to our sales and marketing efforts in pharma? Here are my top three lessons from my new friend Tom:

1) Tom wasn’t selling.

“My goal is to help people love wine; help them enjoy celebrating life,” Tom said. And therein lies the foundation of Tom’s success. Tom was driven by his purpose. His mindset was first and foremost to GIVE. His goal each day was to help people enjoy wine and show them all the things that make wine great (that his winery does so well!).

Are you selling drugs or helping doctors improve and save lives? When you take your mind off the script and onto how to help the doctor help the patient, that’s when you will have your greatest influence. Your mindset will determine your success.

2) Tom was fascinated with the science behind what made his wine perfect.

He knew more about wine, his winery and the magic of what they make than anyone else. He even got ME excited about the technology they use! With the other wineries – I didn’t get the feeling that they were at all excited about, or even knew the process. With Tom, it was different. He was almost enamoured with his product and how it is so meticulously created.

Do you share, (or even know!) the amazing science, rigour and technology behind your products. It made me think of my days selling drugs. I never once saw our labs or our factory. I imagined how much more impassioned and engaging I could have been had I known and shared the stories behind what made our medicines the modern-day miracles that they are.

3) Tom was a master engager.

He had a cadence. When I asked him about this, he told me that he knew he couldn’t give us more than a few minutes of details - without something that would capture our attention; a story, some humor, testimonials, metaphors, similes, surprises or questions. He asked and listened first; about our lives and foods we eat so he could talk about wine pairings that were most relevant for us. He had a full bag of engagement tricks.

Do you have a bag full of engagement tricks? Do you know the behavioral science behind how to engage others? In our industry we are super good at pure science but we are NOT so great at learning and applying behavioral science. Simply put, if their mind isn’t moving, they will not be moved. There’s a whole world of evidence out there for us to apply to our influence efforts!

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So, Tom wasn’t selling. At least not in the stereotypical way of selling. Tom became our trusted, passionate, engaging advisor. We cared about what he thought. As a result, he sent three times more wine out of that winery that all his peers together. And he went home at the end of his day loving his job… feeling like he made a real difference for people. If that sounds good to you, which of the three tips are you going to work on first?

Connect with Jill by visiting to learn more!

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Topics: patient centricity, Customer Engagement, HCP Sales & Marketing