In today’s global business environment, organizations must be prepared for anything. A strong foundation of trusting relationships with customers is key to navigating adversity. And, to build those relationships, you must respect, honor, and become a part of the culture in each region where you operate. At AmerisourceBergen, I have the privilege of overseeing our pharmacy teams in Florida and Puerto Rico. In this role, I have seen first-hand how important cultural competence and respect are to growing our business.
Puerto Rico is a small territory of around 3.5 million people, who were still navigating the lasting impact of Hurricane Maria when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In fact, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, approximately 500,000 people moved off the island, around 45,000 businesses temporarily closed, and 25 percent fewer patients were visiting our local healthcare partners, including independent community pharmacies and other care sites. With all of the changing market dynamics and the compounding issues residents were facing, it became apparent that as a distribution partner, AmerisourceBergen needed to look inward to better understand how to best serve the Puerto Rican market. We needed to further engrain ourselves in the people, the culture, and the location to provide our customers with the support they need and find success as a business.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, our evolved strategy proved its value in helping customers and team members navigate unprecedented challenges. Puerto Rico was considered a “hot zone” for COVID-19 infections at the height of the pandemic, causing a surge in patient needs and product demand. Our strategic cultural investments and evolved approach to customer relationships put us in the best position to support pharmacies and continue growing our business in Puerto Rico—during times of crisis and normalcy alike.
Establishing the right team
Historically, the island of Puerto Rico and its team members were a part of AmerisourceBergen’s Florida district. However, to appropriately address the unique needs of this particular market, it became clear that we needed to approach Puerto Rico as its own separate entity. As such, we carefully selected a team that speaks the native language and holds the same values and appreciation for the culture as our customers.
Understanding a country’s culture is not only a sign of respect, but it also fosters more effective communication—a critical factor in sales success. Everything from values, such as fiscal responsibility or trust, to verbal and non-verbal cues, can differ from local area to local area, territory to territory and country to country. This all leads to varying expectations for business partnerships and negotiations. Constructing a sales team that reflects and aligns with your customers enables businesses to avoid common pitfalls of cross-cultural interactions and connect with customers on a deeper, more productive level.
For AmerisourceBergen, that meant enlisting a business coach, merchandisers, account receivables, onboarding, finance, and inside sales team members who are strictly focused on our pharmacy customers in Puerto Rico. Now, customers are able to speak with someone who knows their language, understands their challenges, and can help them immediately.
Once the right team is in place, it’s important to then allow that team to cultivate and foster trusted relationships with their customers. For AmerisourceBergen, our account team began to talk with our customers six to seven times a day and held daily negotiations through phone calls and in-person visits. We also engaged more than 20 customers to solicit feedback on ways to pivot the business and better serve their needs. These insights led us to create Spanish-translated materials such as sales aids, credit applications, and more. We also developed a Puerto Rico-exclusive monthly circular and began using a Puerto Rico-based marketing firm to support our advertising needs.
Through this consistent and persistent communication, our associates became more credible to our customers. We focused on building relationships that included trust, and even friendship, and continue to incorporate those ideals into every conversation with customers.
Applying lessons learned
Ultimately, effective sales strategies emerge when you choose to put your customers’ needs first rather than taking a one-size-fits-all sales approach. By integrating a customer-centric approach to every aspect of a company, you set the foundation for meaningful relationships that transcend transactional agreements and empower sustainable growth. In our case, that means healthier futures for not only us but also our customers and—most importantly—their patients.