Sales development

Future-proofing pharma sales: vital skills for adapting to change

Pharmaceutical sales reps face big changes in their field. From stringent compliance regulations to a rising tide of generics, the present is daunting enough, yet sales reps must also consider the impact of tech and AI on their roles.
It’s not for the faint of heart. But, for those willing to evolve their approach and upskill, there are bright opportunities on the horizon.

When thinking about AI in particular, it’s almost ironic that, as AI encroaches on the sales function, it’s embracing the human skill of emotional intelligence that will futureproof sales teams.



What do your clients trust more? Their sales rep or technology?

AI researcher Cesar Hidalgo did a fascinating study back in 2019, where he and his team studied the reactions of 6000 Americans to a scenario where an identical mistake was made by a machine vs a human.

The difference was dramatic.

Turns out people will still like a human who tried to save others and failed i.e. the mistake-maker is judged on their intention rather than the outcome.

Machines, however, are judged on their outcome alone without intention and rated much worse. When it comes to truth in advertising, there was another interesting response.

If a marketing and PR team developed an advertisement that was found to be untrue, accountability was thrust on the people in the marketing and PR team.

If that same team developed an advertisement that was untrue using AI, judgement was harsh: accountability jumped over the marketing and PR team and rested firmly on the shoulders of the executives at the top of the organisation.

Confusingly, there are studies that have found that people trust machines more than other people, but it’s important to look past the statistics and consider the psychology: people are deeply cynical and quick to judge when it comes to technology.

This is relevant to pharma sales. In an industry where mistakes impact patient outcomes, doctors remain among the most technology-resistant people in society.

Shifting from subject matter expert to pharmaceutical consultant

AI is not set to replace medical sales teams, quite the opposite.

Medical sales professionals have always had to balance their approach to relationship building on a constantly changing tightrope of compliance. But as automation takes on the subject matter expert role in the sales process, therefore ensuring reliable compliance, it opens room for sales pros to focus on the human relationship. To foster the trust and bonhomie that arises between two people collaborating in a high-pressure environment.

The result is that, increasingly, pharmaceutical sales reps are adopting a trusted consultant approach to sales. One that balances technology with a patient-centred human perspective, particularly when there’s a large tech element to the solution being sold.

And when it comes building trust as a consultant, emotional intelligence is the key skill.


How pharmaceutical sales reps can build trust with their clients

The key to emotional intelligence is awareness: self-awareness and other-awareness.

Self-awareness in this context means understanding your internal strengths and potential weaknesses in selling relationships, as well as how your customers perceive you.

This foundational knowledge is crucial for success in sales, and it's particularly intriguing for those who are naturally drawn to self-discovery. However, developing this kind of awareness is challenging.

“Although 85-90% of people think they’re self-aware, less than 15% of individuals actually are.”

Dr. Tasha Eurich, Organisational Psychologist

Even for sales leaders who understand their own inner workings well—knowing their preferences, hopes, and motivators—learning how their actions are perceived by others can be enlightening (and occasionally confronting.)

At Insights, we use the language of colour energies to describe how we, and others, act and react while at work.

For instance, a salesperson naturally inclined towards focusing on data and processes (referred to as Cool Blue energy in Insights Discovery vernacular) might come across as cold to a customer who values relationships (Earth Green energy), or as dull and detached to an outgoing, social customer (Sunshine Yellow energy).

Conversely, if the sales rep leads with Sunshine Yellow energy, prioritising humour and relationship building over data, their Cool Blue-inclined client may feel their time is being wasted and perceive the sale rep as frivolous and loud.

Combining internal and external self-awareness and understanding how others perceive you is profoundly empowering.


Other-awareness in this context means understanding your client’s unique preferences, their strengths and their challenges.

When we facilitate Insights Discovery workshops for pharmaceutical sales teams, we train each professional to listen to their client with curiosity and purpose. To ask, 'how does it feel to be you today?' rather than just, 'how are you?' and listen carefully to the response without preconceptions, judgments or assumptions.

Although this might seem simple, mastering this skill is more challenging than it appears, especially for those naturally inclined to dominate conversations with their enthusiasm.

Remember that accredited counsellors undergo years of training for this reason; active listening, the integral skill in developing other-awareness, isn't easily acquired, but its impact is profound.

The ability to listen without assumptions or the urge to steer the conversation provides a significant edge in pharmaceutical sales (and undoubtedly enhances personal relationships too).



The Insights Discovery Colour Wheel and Language of Colour Energies

Sometimes the hardest part of getting to know ourselves and others is having a healthy way to articulate it.

This is why we developed the Insights Discover colour wheel model, based on Jungian’s functions of personality. We look at how people may show up (the traits they demonstrate) on a good day and on a bad day:

Good day

Good Day

Bad day

Bad Day


The important thing to remember is that, while we might find ourselves drawn to one colour energy or another, we all have the four colour energies within us.

The same goes for your clients. While they may show more traits of one colour energy over another, they are fully capable of demonstrating the traits for all four colour energies should the context require it.

How to understand your client’s values & communication style better

With greater other-awareness, you can track which colour energies your most important clients lead with on any given day, and adjust how you represent and communicate to them to ensure the best outcome.

How to adapt your style when informing/selling

Adapting image

While we can’t stem the tide of technology, and for the most part wouldn’t want to, we can rest assured that the human-focused side of patient-centred pharmaceutical sales is as valuable as ever in an automated world. And we’d argue that emotional intelligence and awareness are poised to emerge as the critical skills for achieving success in pharmaceutical sales.

Insights Discovery is a transformative learning experience that helps people understand themselves and others using the language of colour energies. 
We bring psychology to life. Once a team has experienced Insights Discovery, a whole ecosystem of learning opens. 
Subsequent programmes apply the methodology to specific areas like sales, teamwork, leadership, and resilience.
Learn more about Insights and how we empower people to thrive…