EPISODE 541: Sales Success While Battling Chronic Illness with Anahid Dorian

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This podcast, sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales featured an interview with Anahid Dorian, rare disease pharma sales professional who has succeeded at the highest level of sales while battling chronic Lyme disease.]

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ANAHID’S TIPS: My big message to everybody whether you are dealing with a chronic condition or not, is don’t give up. We all have a voice, we all have a purpose on this planet. We all have struggles. If sales is what you are passionate about, no matter what you are selling, that customer that slammed the door on your face or that said, “No I am never going to use your product or buy from you,” look at that as an opportunity to either look inside of yourself and figure out a solution to that door slamming in your face. What are you doing that that customer is not listening to you? Or what could you do better to meet that customer where they are at?


Fred Diamond:  Many people who have listened to the Sales Game Changers podcasts, know that I am passionate about making the disease known as Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses, the cow infections, to bring more awareness. You have chronic Lyme disease. You’ve been dealing with it for a long time, which we’re going to talk about, but you’re also a very successful sales professional. You’ve been in retail sales, you’ve been in mortgage brokerage sales.

About 17 some odd years ago, you moved into pharma, ironically, rare disease. Working to help solve rare disease problems. It’s interesting, we’re going to be talking about chronic Lyme disease and how you’ve excelled in sales. There was just a study that came out which said that they estimate that 15% of the people on the planet have Lyme disease.

It’s not as rare. It’s definitely unknown. There’s a lot of falsities, a lot of things people just don’t know about Lyme disease. We’re going to be talking about that. Once a month, I like to do a show where we bring on someone who has battled or solved or figured out their chronic Lyme disease situation and has been successful in sales.

Enough about me, it’s great to see you, thank you for being on the show. You’re a high performing sales professional, you’ve been to President’s Clubs, you’ve maintained a career, even while you’ve been challenged with dealing with this disease. Let’s get right into it. Tell us a little bit about your battle with Lyme disease. When did you know that you had it and some of the things that you dealt with?

Anahid Dorian: Thank you, Fred, so much. Thank you again for having me on to spread this word regarding Lyme disease. My story is interesting. I was infected 28 years ago, but at the time, I was unaware. I was doing mortgages, and I had gone on a fishing camping trip in northern Arizona. What had happened after that camping trip, I went to work on Monday sitting at my desk working and my back started to feel like it was on fire. I thought, “Oh, I need to go get adjusted.” I went to a chiropractor. He adjusted me and I went back to my office. I was sitting at my desk and within an hour I spiked a high fever. I ended up excusing myself that day from work and went home.

I was bedridden for three weeks and actually wasn’t well again for a month. At that time, I called my primary care doctor over the phone and stated what my symptoms were and she thought, “Oh, you probably just caught a virus, just manage the fever with Tylenol and ibuprofen and you should be fine.” Well, I wasn’t for about a month. I had severe brain fog, night sweats. Really, I don’t remember that month at all. I rebounded and I got better, and then I got on with my life. I had weird things on and off over the years, tightness in muscles, I was a runner and I was always very active physically.

I had on and off these different challenges with muscle issues. I managed my life, I managed my symptoms until in 2015 I was training to do a half marathon. I came back from a 10-mile run and I was having severe pain in my kidneys and bladder. At the time, I just brushed it off and thought, “Oh, it’s probably just because I just ran 10 miles.” Three months later, around Christmas time I started having pre ventricular contractions in my heart, went to a cardiologist, got the full workup. They said, “Nothing’s wrong with you, it’s probably stress.” It lasted for about three months. Then after that symptom, I started having multitudes of other symptoms that progress.

I had eye issues, ear issues, throat issues, the list goes on and on. I really didn’t get my accurate diagnosis until May of 2019 when a girlfriend was talking to me, and she was asking me what my symptoms were. At this point, I’d seen 25 different specialists. I was hospitalized three times. She looked at me and she said, “Anahid, it sounds like you have Lyme disease.” At that point, I was like, “Lyme disease?” I had heard about Lyme disease, but it wasn’t in my thought process. It wasn’t in the 25 doctors that I had seen and the three hospitalizations I had had. I went home, and I Googled Lyme disease. There was a plethora of people’s testimonials. I was like, “She’s right, that is what I have.”

I sought out a Lyme literate MD here in Scottsdale and made an appointment and walked through his door. Basically at this point, I was so frustrated and fatigued and basically just told him, “I don’t care what your tests say, I know I have Lyme disease, so let’s just start treatment.” That was in May of 2019. That’s when my accurate diagnosis and treatment began.

Fred Diamond: The path that you just described is not uncommon. For people who are listening to the Sales Game Changers podcast, they know that I’m writing a book on Lyme disease, and I’ve heard that story so many times where, just to give your example, you said you went on a camping trip in Arizona. Some doctors will say, “Well, Lyme disease is only in the New England area.” Obviously, it’s named after Lyme, Connecticut, where it first became really well known.

Lyme disease is in every state. I’ve met people around the world in England, in Sweden, in Israel who have Lyme disease. It’s real, it’s out there. Then you found out. Actually, one of the challenges, people were sometimes happy, it’s like, “Oh, I am diagnosed with Lyme disease, I’m going to take a pill, I’m going to be fine.” At the chronic stage, like where you are after 20-some odd years, the bacteria has really dug into your body.

Let’s talk about sales. You talked about fatigue. One of the common things that we hear is there’s fatigue, anxiety, stress, pain. The reason that we’re doing this show is because sales, you got to be a high performer, especially when you’re in the pharma space or things like that. You got to get up every day, you got to perform and you’ve performed, you’ve made it to President’s Club and even in rare disease sales for 17-some odd years. How have you succeeded as a sales professional with this insidious disease?

Anahid Dorian: I take myself back to that year in 2019 when I did get my accurate diagnosis, and I was happy. Then I was basically told, “You’re going to get much sicker before you get better.” There was a window of time, January of 2020, I had been treating now for about six months. I remember going to my Lyme doctor sitting down with him. I basically stated to him, “I’m not doing well and I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to work, so we need to change something with my treatment.”

I had to look at how I was working, what I was doing. I was always a driver, Fred, I was always somebody that pushed, pushed, pushed, and knew that there was a rock that I needed to unturn to find more business. But during my treatment, it helped me fine tune where and when I needed to be doing what I was doing. To be quite frank, what really saved me was the pandemic. The pandemic shutting down the world actually gave me a moment to sit with my diagnosis, sit with what I was doing, how I was doing it.

I was able to pivot and learn how to spend my time more efficiently because I did know that when I pushed myself, potentially, I would crash because I was in the middle of treatment. I did a lot more Zoom. Before I decided to get on a plane, I made sure that I was going to be able to get in front of the customer and it wasn’t just going to be a trip just to fly somewhere and maybe potentially meet with a customer. It helped me fine tune what I was doing, how I was doing it.

To be honest with you, I’ve always been very patient-centric. I’ve been in rare disease for 17 years. That takes a very special person to be able to sell in that space because you’re not only looking for sales, you’re actually having to educate the customer before you even ask for their business. When you’re in a rare disease space, most of the clinicians that I’m facing don’t believe that they have those patients in their practice. I have to build a foundation before I can even ask for the business. It helps me maneuver through that and do it in a more pinpointed and strategic way.

Fred Diamond: Some people are asking here, “Who exactly do you sell to?” We’ve started doing some interviews. We had some people from Merck, for example, on the show recently, they reached out to us we had some great interviews. Just generically, who do you typically sell to?

Anahid Dorian: I currently am selling to pulmonologist, rheumatologists, ophthalmologist and nephrologist. I was calling a neurologist until recently where we had a reorganization so I’m no longer calling on neurologists, but those are the specialists that I call on.

Fred Diamond: Once you discovered that you had Lyme disease, is that part of the conversation? Knowing that you have something that is specific to not getting the types of positions you mentioned, they probably don’t deal with Lyme disease, of course. Just as a quick point of reference, you mentioned before, that you had seen a Lyme literate. Was it a neurologist that you had mentioned?

Anahid Dorian: No, I actually saw a natural MD, and he specializes in Lyme. I received his name from my girlfriend who said that I had Lyme, her son is autistic and has Lyme disease. Her son was being seen by this clinician. That’s how I interfaced with him. Talking about my condition, it doesn’t come up much. I don’t share it with most of my customers because there is still a sense in the Western Medical Community that the condition that I have, it doesn’t exist in the form in which I have it, which is chronic persistent infection. It’s a chronic persistent infection, because at the time I was infected, it wasn’t detected, it wasn’t treated, and my immune system eradicated it. I was able to get on with my life – most of it.

I had issues here and there with muscle issues over the years. For the most part, I didn’t have brain fog, I didn’t have fatigue. I was pushing, covering a huge geography, I was traveling every week. I was a functioning person with these infections until 2015 when the infections became active again, due to stress, environmental factors, triggered them to come active again.

Fred Diamond: I want to talk about how you get through the day. Anahid, we do a Sales Game Changers podcast almost every day, we do three, four times a week. We talk about mindset and grit, and getting past blocks and things you can do to get to the customer who doesn’t return your phone call and planning. Sales by itself is the hardest position in the company. Nothing happens until something gets sold. We talk about that all the time. You got to be great at listening, and you got to understand the customer’s challenges. Then you have to figure out ways to get in front of them. We talk a lot about getting past some of those blocks that are in front of you.

From a typical salesperson without a chronic illness, in a lot of cases, it’s about mindset. Now, you literally have a thing, a real thing that is blocking you from getting to where we want to get to. You started talking about how the pandemic has helped, but talk about some other things about how you get through the day having to be a high-performing sales professional, and dealing with this disease that really takes over almost everything that you think about in a lot of cases.

Anahid Dorian:  I like the fact that you mentioned mindset. I’m a strong believer in that. The body follows where the mind goes. I’ve always been a strong believer in that. I’m very stubborn, I don’t give up easily.

When I was hit with Lyme disease and then realized the diagnosis and started treatment, it helped me realize that I was not taking care of my mind and my body adequately. Now I’m faced with this chronic, sometimes daily symptoms that I have. I have to get up early in the morning and I have a whole regime that I do before I even leave my house. I meditate. There’s a series of things that I do. I do warm lemon water, I do celery juice, I also have an infrared sauna.

There’s a series of things that self-management is key because if you’re not whole and complete, then when you’re in front of your customer, your message is not going to come through whole and complete. Your energy and how you present yourself is key. I have to manage my day and put things in buckets, and not overdo, and be very strategic, and take care of myself. I was just saying this the other day to a girlfriend, our society that we live in, like you said, corporate America go, go, go, produce, produce, produce.

We fall victim to putting ourselves last when in fact, you need to put yourself first because if you don’t put yourself first, then you collapse or you’re not able to deliver the message you want to. Authenticity, Fred, is so key too in sales. If you’re not authentic in what you’re doing, and the products that you’re selling, and the customer service that you’re giving, then you’re not going to have success. I believe that is why I won last year’s President’s Club, because I look at my disease as a gift, not as a bad thing that’s happened to me. I was always a producer, I’ve won multiple President’s Clubs and Circle of Excellence Awards over my career. But this actual award was the best one out of all of them, because I was able to stay very focused. I was able to take care of Anahid in a way that I’d never taken care of myself before.

It helps me realize that I’m the patient that I’m talking to my customers about. I’m not talking to them about Lyme disease, but I’m talking to them about rare autoimmune disorders. I am that patient. I’ve always been passionate about what I’m selling to my customers. It took it to a whole nother level because now I’m daily living as a patient myself, having to maneuver through a system that really doesn’t have a lot of time and space for people that are not feeling well or that are sick.

Fred Diamond: I want to go back to something you just said. For people who are just learning about Lyme disease, over the last year, I’ve spoken to a thousand or more people who know somebody or people like you who are at the chronic stage, if you will. Are there times when you just can’t perform? We talk about sales professionals, you got to be performing, and your team expects you to show up. Like we said before, nothing happens until something gets sold, but Lyme disease can be overwhelming. There are times especially in stress mode, and when maybe you eat something wrong, or something happens that it gets triggered. Are there times when you just have to say, “I’m going to take the day, I’m going to take a couple of days because I really just need to recover,” or0are you able to just pound through?

Anahid Dorian: I do both, Fred. I know when I’ve hit my limit, but I’m at a point in my treatment that I don’t have a lot of days like that anymore. I weathered through a very intense treatment regime, actually three different ones. I don’t think I mentioned this to you or maybe I did when we first initially spoke, was that I have a son who I passed the infections to. I’m not only managing my disease, but I’m managing a kid that has the same challenges and he’s a teenager. It’s multi-factorial. I don’t have that many days anymore, but when I did, I would hit the pause button. I’d message my manager, “I need a few days off, just need to take some time for myself.” I would do that or the weekends.

I used Saturday and Sunday to recharge and re-energize myself, go get an IV, do what I need to do as far as self-care so that I feel better. That is so pivotal to everybody in general. Sales in particular because we are expected to perform, we are expected to be, go, do. I don’t do that much that I don’t believe it’s going to generate business. I don’t just go blindly into customers and accounts, I don’t blindly fly anywhere, I make sure that everything is bedded. My disease has helped me do that even more.

Fred Diamond: I want to talk to you about customers right now. We’re talking about the disease. We’re doing today’s interview in the summer of 2022, we’ve talked about the pandemic a couple of times. What are customers expecting of you? You don’t have to talk about the Lyme side, but what are customers expecting from high performing salespeople today? When you go interface with your customer, how do they want to be dealing with you as a sales leader and as a sales professional? What do those conversations look like right now?

Anahid Dorian: Listening is something that we don’t do enough of. I was trained in journalism, I thought I was going to be a reporter, that was my goal. In all my classes in college, our professors emphasized the importance of listening. I feel like whether you’re a manager, or whether you’re a salesperson in front of a customer, we need to do less talking and do more listening. Ask key questions, and then be quiet. A lot of salespeople, they have an agenda. Their manager’s hammering on them. “We need so many, new starts, we need this, we need that.” There’s a lot of pressure coming from above down on salespeople to hit their numbers, for the quarter, for the year.

Sometimes in that we lose perspective on what is most important. For me, I don’t lose that perspective. I don’t listen to the outside noise and clutter. I try to stay focused on the controllables. The controllables are, am I listening? Am I asking the right questions? Am I giving the customer what they need when they need it? Or is it my agenda? If it’s my agenda, then I’m approaching the whole thing the wrong way. It needs to be meeting the customer where they’re at and giving them what they need. Listening and not going into a sales meeting, or an interaction with either your manager or higher up or your customer, with the mindset that, “I have this agenda, and this is what I’m going to do.” You need to be flexible, and you need to listen. I don’t think we listen enough to one another, just in general in our society today. In particular, in sales, that is so key.

Fred Diamond: I agree. One thing we’ve been talking about a lot recently is the acronym, WAIT, Why Am I Talking? I actually have a little post it note right here, which says WAIT, Why Am I Talking? I want to talk about the sales profession. If a young lady came to you, a college student and said, “Do you suggest I move into sales?” What would be some of the things that you would recommend or that you would ask?

Anahid Dorian: You have to ask yourself, why? Why do you want to get into sales? Ultimately, what has kept me doing what I do is that I definitely have a passion to help people. You need to start with that. What is your why? Mine has never been about money. I have followed my passion, I’ve stayed in the medical arena, because I feel like I’m the voice of the patient. I would ask that person that’s coming to me, why do you want to get into sales? What’s driving that in you? What type of sales are you interested in and why? Drill it down. Those are key things to ask.

Fred Diamond: What are you working on right now? You are a high performing sales professional. I’m doing one show a month where I’m finding somebody with a chronic illness who’s succeeded in sales, and you definitely fit that bill. What are you working on right now? It doesn’t have to be related to health. As a sales professional, what are you working on to take your career to the next level?

Anahid Dorian: I’m doing a bunch of different workshops for my teammates, focused on pulmonary because that’s my strong background. Actually, two days ago I did a Zoom. I’m actually trying to help train people that I work with to get more focused on how to address pulmonologist and how to sell to them. That’s been very rewarding. I love to teach, Fred. I love helping other sales professionals. I also love reading and improving my skill set. I’m always researching and trying to be a better salesperson and just overall human being.

Connect more with what I’m doing and why I’m doing it always is in the forefront of my thought process. I’m working on that. I actually was trying to get a managerial position but we had a downsizing at my company and so that position was absorbed. I had put myself in that bucket and was going to be interviewing for that, but that position went away. I see myself in a leadership position someday, for sure.

Fred Diamond: I’m going to ask you a question I’ve never asked before just because you brought it up before we get to your final action step. You said you just did a Zoom for your team on how to educate them on selling to pulmonologists. What are some things that you do to sell to pulmonologist?

Anahid Dorian: It’s really critical to educate them on disease state. Most physicians, when you’re approaching them, they’ve been to medical school. Here I walk through the door, and I’m in their mind just a sales rep. It’s important to tease out, what is important to them and what is important to the patients that they’re serving? You first have to get them to realize that the disease state that you’re selling to exists in their practice. It’s important to tease out certain questions. It’s not just a blanket, it depends on the practice, it depends on, is the pulmonologist just in the community? Are they in a hospital setting?

Or are they in both, community and institution? The questions would be different depending on what setting that pulmonologist is working in. Each doctor is individual and their practice and how they practice. Yes, they all went to medical school, but each pulmonologist has an area of interest or passion. It’s finding out what that is within their practice.

Fred Diamond: I got one last question. It’s as a follow up to that. One thing we talk about on The Sales Game Changers podcast almost every single show is that now, we talked about the pandemic, you need to bring such value to your customer. Sales has always been about bringing value, even more so now because people don’t have the time.

Everybody on the planet is dealing with their own challenges. We thought that this pandemic was going to be over in two years. We’re going to have ramifications for the next 10 years because of everything that’s happened. You said you’d been in rare disease sales for 17 years. I’ve interviewed people who’ve been doing the same job for 30 years, and they’ve had this path with their customers. Are you dealing with customers for the last decade and a half? Or is it finding new people all the time? Or do you have these long term relationships? How do you continue to nurture and develop those?

Anahid Dorian: I have both. I’m always looking for new people, new doctors, and I have a big territory. There’s a lot of potential, but I do have people that I’ve been calling on for 17, 20 years. You’re right, the people that have known you for a long time, it could be a benefit, and then it could not be a benefit. I try to spin it as a benefit. I am somebody that’s very genuine. My customers that have known me for 17 plus years know that I ultimately care, and I’m not just about getting another script, or another patient. I’m there to help partner with them to get what they need for their patients. If that’s my product, great. If it’s not, that’s okay, too. My product is a tool in the toolbox for them. It may not always be the right tool for that patient. I’m okay with that. It’s just being there to address their needs.

I’m somebody that follows through, I don’t make false promises, I say what I’m going to say, and I follow through with what I say I’m going to do. I try to get them what they need. If they ask me a question and I don’t have the answer, then I’ll find out the answer for them. Genuineness is so important and you can’t fake that. That’s who I am. That’s innately how I was born. I do believe you can teach people to learn new skills. Listening is something that all of us can do more of, and better. My genuineness is there, and it comes across and that’s benefited me in my career for sure.

Fred Diamond:  Anahid I want to acknowledge you. We’re also connected on Facebook. I’ve seen a lot of your various posts, and you’ve brought up that you indeed, are a chronic Lyme survivor.  I know this is the first time in this forum that you’ve discussed it. I want to acknowledge you for doing that. Give us a final action step. We end every Sales Game Changers podcast episode with a final action step. Give us your final action step on how people can take their sales career to the next level.

Anahid Dorian: My big message to everybody whether you are dealing with a chronic condition or not, is don’t give up. Don’t give up. We all have a voice, we all have a purpose on this planet. We all have struggles. If sales is what you are passionate about, no matter what you are selling, that customer that slammed the door on your face or that said, “No I am never going to use your product or buy from you,” look at that as an opportunity to either look inside of yourself and figure out a solution to that door slamming in your face. What are you doing that that customer is not listening to you? Or what could you do better to meet that customer where they are at?

Don’t give up. If you’re passionate about what you are doing, yes, maybe yesterday you had a door slammed in your face, tomorrow you may have a customer that will buy five different things from you. Persistency and meeting the customer where they are at. Looking into yourself inside, your passion and your drive. Don’t give up. I’ve had to implement that daily. Not only in my sales career but with my disease that I am dealing with daily, is that I know that everything is there for a reason and it’s my job to figure out what that is and meet myself where I am at. Those are my words of advice, don’t give up. There’s a solution to everything, stay positive and keep working hard and it will all come together.

Fred Diamond: Absolutely. I want to thank Anahid Dorian, I want to thank everybody who listened to today’s Sales Game Changers podcast. My name is Fred Diamond.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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