What Dan Pink Thinks


Jill Donahue of Engage Rx interviews the renowned business guru

What if you were stuck in the same small variety store for all your grocery needs? Your dinners would get pretty boring! That’s why most of us leave our neighborhoods to shop in different types of stores – the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker, for example!

But when it comes to learning what to do to serve differently and better in our industry, we often get stuck in our neighborhood variety store. We go to pharma conferences and read articles featuring people in pharma.

However, looking outside our industry can be extremely illuminating.

You’ve likely heard of Daniel Pink. He is host of the popular National Geographic show Crowd Control, one of the top 15 business thinkers in the world (according to Thinkers 50, 2013), and the author of five provocative books that have been translated into 34 languages and have sold more than 2 million copies worldwide.

Perhaps you saw his TED talk (one of the ten most popular) or RSA feeds on The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. Maybe you read his recent popular books Drive or To Sell is Human.

I have been inspired by his lessons for years. So I asked him if he would sit down to help us in pharma figure out how to serve differently and better and he said YES! (I couldn’t believe my luck!).

Specifically, I asked his advice on a few key subjects.


Dan: If you want engagement at work, what you have to do is pay people enough and offer them a measure of control over their work, a chance to get better, AND a sense of purpose. The purpose has two dimensions. One is very easy for pharma, and one is a little bit more concealed. Think of [the first] as purpose with a capital “P.” “We’re saving lives. We’re transforming the world.” And I think that pharma has that baked into a lot of what it does. Day to day, there’s another aspect of purpose that matters, and you can think of it as purpose with a small “p.” It’s an individual understanding why his or her work actually matters. Why does it contribute? Why is it necessary? Why are things better because you are there? I think in any organization that capital “P” and small “p” purpose are essential. I think with pharma you’ve got the capital “P” right there. You might need some work, as all organizations do, on the small “p.”Pc0110100



Dan: I think it’s a really tough one, especially for pharma, because of the financial system in healthcare, which makes this a very different industry than any other. There’s nothing inherently evil about sales commissions. I think the key is to challenge the orthodoxy that [this is] the only way sales professionals can be motivated. One of the things we’re seeing in a whole range of industries is that the work of a sales person is less mechanical, less about filling orders, [and] much more akin to being a management consultant. “How can I help this health system save money?” “How can I give them a regime that allows them to help their patients at a reasonable cost?” What research shows pretty clearly about that more conceptual, creative work, is that contingent incentives…don’t work that well. I can see this move happening already, to treat people in pharma, particularly in the explicit sales functions, more like management consultants, and less like people who are taking orders and ringing the cash register.

Pharma reps in the U.S. are having a harder time getting in to see doctors, because doctors are less autonomous than they’ve been – they’re often employees of a larger health system – and the people who are making the decisions are not necessarily doctors, but someone who is coming up with a whole list of acceptable medicines that that doctor can prescribe.


Dan: The new ABC’s are attunement – perspective-taking – buoyancy, which is staying afloat in an ocean of rejection, and clarity. [With attunement], in this complex system, you have to understand what are everyone’s interests, what’s their perspective on things, what do they care about? It’s the patient’s perspective, the health system’s perspective, the physician’s perspective. That’s a complex undertaking. That’s not signing on the dotted line, it’s not twisting arms or backing people into a corner. And clarity is enormously important, because we live in a world awash in information. [The “detail man”] used to be the person with access to the information. When everybody has access to the information, and there’s a huge amount of information, it doesn’t come from access, the premium comes from a curatorial function – how do you distill that information, separate that information, use your expertise to make sense of that information? I think a lot of times we give short shrift to the complexity of pharma. Not only does a person have to be an expert in the drug – “Here are the molecules we’re working with, here’s how they work in the body, here’s what the research says about it” – but you also have to be an expert in the system into which you’re selling it, which is among the most complex business and organizational systems that we have.Pc0110200



Dan: You’re seeing it from your perspective, not from their perspective. What can you do to make their life easier? What can you do to identify a problem they don’t know that they have? That’s going to lead to closing, [whereas] this aggressive move to close, close, close…is not that effective.

When it comes to the topic of selling, moving and persuasion… you can do it in a way that is honorable and humane. In fact, you’re better off doing it that way, because not only can you sleep at night, but you’re going to be more effective.Pc0120100


The interview gave me a renewed sense in my belief that when we do good, we will do well – when we focus on the patient, the profits will follow and create the sustainable cycle everyone needs us to have. I hope this interview helps you in your efforts to serve differently and better. Patients, health care providers, your company and YOU need your patient-focused excellence! You have an important role!

Jill Donahue is on a mission to help lift pharma – to build sales faster in a patient-focused way. She is the co-creator of the award-winning program EngageRx: The 3 Keys to Patient-focused Growth for pharma professionals. Access their free teaching videos or connect with Jill on Linkedin or on Twitter.


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