To do your best work in pharma as MSLs, partnerships are essential. But let’s face it; as pharma professionals, we start at a trust deficit. We come to the table with a noble purpose to help HCPs improve patient outcomes. We believe that we can achieve that better together than we can alone. However, even though you may be a healthcare professional, or come from academia, your partners aren’t so sure about your motives. Often, they question your intentions and values.
For now, let’s not dwell on why that is (although we could fill a book about it), but rather on how we can change it.
It begins with YOU! To bridge the gap and build trust and collaboration quickly with your partners, you must fundamentally change your approach. Your mindset is foundational here. Start by thinking of HCPs as your partners in the important work of improving patient outcomes, instead of customers with whom you share science.
What does that look and sound like?
Let’s take a page from The Sound of Music and start at the very beginning. How do you introduce yourself? As reported in Forbes, researchers agree that you have less than 30 seconds to make an impression on someone when you first meet them.
If you are like most people, you likely introduce yourself with your name, title, and organization. What’s the outcome of that? Mostly blank stares. Truthfully, we know that our titles are meaningless, even to us. In fact, after interviewing and coaching hundreds of pharma people, I know that many of us don’t even know our own titles. Does your title inspire trust? I doubt it!
Take a look at this email from an external stakeholder to a pharma person. Does it seem like a fantasy?
Wouldn’t you just love to receive an email like that?
What if I told you this is a real email that a pharma professional received from a stakeholder?
On a Saturday afternoon, Georgina Eaton, who works in External Communications at Pfizer, was excited. One of her partners in a patient organization invited her to their meeting. She knew it was an ideal opportunity to connect.
She also knew she was going into the meeting with a trust deficit (as we all do in the industry) and needed to gain their trust. She had just completed a program that shared the evidence that it would help her connect to be vulnerable by sharing a bit about why this work is important to her. Still, she was worried about sharing her purpose story. Her dilemma was that many people in the meeting had serious chronic illnesses. She knew they faced enormous struggles, and she didn’t want to make the meeting about her (because it wasn’t, it was about them).
“It was so nerve-wracking!” she told me later. Still, she decided to go ahead with sharing. “I dialled in to introduce myself and decided to share my purpose story.”
As it turned out, her gamble paid off.
“I was amazed to hear the feedback,” she told me. “Sharing my ‘why story’ landed exactly as intended and in no way trivialized what they were living through, but rather validated it. They opened up. We were on the same team. It was amazing. Thank you for giving me the tools to do this!”
Astonishing, right? However, I wasn’t surprised to hear about her great experience because I hear it all the time.
Too often, pharma people are hesitant to share their purpose stories because they don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about themselves. However, during my years helping pharma people connect with their purpose, I’ve witnessed the research on the effects of ‘starting with why’ come to life. If you haven’t yet watched or read Simon Sinek famously taught how to Start With Why, you really should. Brené Brown teaches that vulnerability is the magic glue that brings people together. Daniel Pink proves through his research that being driven by your purpose (in our case, to save and improve lives) is the key to exceptional performance.
It’s especially true for us in pharma, when you get vulnerable and share your story, HCPs realize that you really care. They recognize that you’re there for the right reasons and you want to help them help patients.
What did the stakeholder think?
You don’t have to take my word for it though. Perhaps it’s helpful to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. I interviewed Kimberly Khare, the stakeholder on the other side. She works with Next Step, a non-profit organization in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Their mission is to shatter limitations and elevate the aspirations of teens and young adults living with chronic, life-threatening diseases during their transition to adulthood.
“When Georgina shared her story about why her work in pharma is meaningful to her, it made such a difference,” she told me. “I could see people around the virtual table tuning in. Georgina showed up and took a risk with them. They felt validated, trusted, and seen.”
Kimberly assured me that never once did anyone think Georgina was talking too much. And she shared comments from others around the table about Georgina’s purposeful introduction:
- “I realize now there are real people involved, not just ‘big pharma’.
- “I now see they are about helping! Everything they do is for patients!”
- “It humanized them. I know that she sees us by letting us see her.”
“People are afraid to talk about themselves,” said Kimberly. “Yes, it’s a risk. But when people share and take a risk, it shows and builds trust. Sharing your experience opens doors.”
Conversations change things. Sharing your story helps to bring people into the conversation. You take the risk to share, others hold it, and it produces energy. The minute you get vulnerable, it makes others want to open up, too.
So why is it so hard?
We know it works but only a small portion of us do it. Which of the following hurdles is limiting you?
- It takes courage
- It is not modeled
- You don’t know how
- It’s a risk
- You need experience
- It requires us to break the mold and do something differently.
Here’s what you can do as an MSL to build trust by sharing your purpose.
1) Authentically connect with your why
Having interviewed hundreds of MSLs about why they do their work, I know that at first, most have no idea what their purpose story is. MSLs become more engaged and engaging after connecting with the following questions:
- Why are you here?
- Why do you work in pharma (beyond putting food on the table)?
- What is your life experience that makes this work helping improve lives meaningful?
Dig deep, peel away the layers of the onion, and figure it out! And don’t be afraid to seek help. We are happy to guide you!
2) Read examples
To help you connect with your own story, seek out the stories of others. To help inspire you, we have collated 100 stories from purpose-driven pharma leaders around the world. You can read them for free in our new book, A Dose of Inspiration: 100 Purpose Stories from Pharma Leaders. You can get your free e-book here.
3) Preface your story with why you are sharing
How you open is key. It might sound like this: “Before we get started, I think it’s important that I share with you why I am here and what my intentions are.” Then, share why this work is so important to you.
To increase your confidence, you need some experience with feedback. Where is your safe space where you can test your story and get feedback? Can you find a writer to help you clarify and shorten your story? Just reach out. We can help you find one.
My challenge to you
Think about a trusting relationship in your life. How did they build that trust with you? What did you know about them?
You trusted them because you realized they shared the same values and mission as you. And that’s what you need your partners to know. Right now, they see you on the other side—the dark side. Show them that you are on the same team—the patients’ team—by sharing what inspired you to dedicate your life to improving patient outcomes. Our stories matter and learning to share them matters, too.
About the author:
Jill Donahue, MadEd, HBa
Jill Donahue, MadEd, HBa has dedicated her life to empowering MSLs with the power of their purpose and seeing them love their work more and become even better at it. As a consultant, speaker, author, coach, and founder of Excellerate, she shares solutions and empowers them with the skills and confidence to serve HCPs—and ultimately, patients—more effectively.
Jill is living her purpose by helping MSLs live theirs through The Power of Purpose. Download a free copy of her latest book “A Dose of Inspiration: 100 Purpose Stories from Pharma Leaders” here.