A Shot Of Courage

By Malcolm Fleschner

Despite persistent stereotypes, all successful salespeople are not overly aggressive and demanding glad-handers who religiously follow the rule of ABC – always be closing. In particular, pharmaceutical sales can require a much gentler touch given its emphasis on relationship building and regular rep-physician contact. That said, drug reps do need a strong backbone and will not succeed without being able to step up and ask for the order when the situation presents itself. Yet as Kimberly Farrell, president and CEO of the Deerfield, Illinois-based Unlimited Performance Training (www.uptraining.org) points out, frequently drug reps get too chummy with the people in the offices they call on and, in doing so, lose some of the assertiveness they need to succeed.

“Sometimes, to maintain access to an office, representatives will become overly social and stop asking for the business on a routine basis,” Farrell says. “Asking for the business appropriately means asking a doctor to begin, continue with or expand existing product usage based on where the customer is with prescribing experience, comfort level, need and the availability of patient types who fit the product prescribing profile. Pharmaceutical representatives need to continually move the prescribing use or prescribing readiness of a doctor along the call continuum or they may leave sales opportunities underutilized.”

Farrell says the concept of the call continuum can help timid reps become more assertive, particularly if the reps also create a business analysis on a targeted physician’s office. “Take, for example, a rep who knows the target doctor has high competitive product use, high class use and limited experience prescribing the rep’s product,” she explains. “That rep should map out specific call objectives for the next several calls. The call objectives should list what materials and information will be covered, anticipate the doctor’s objections, position the product versus the current product of choice and include what the next appropriate request for this doctor will be, assuming everything goes as planned. Some options might be: Switch patients who have side effects on the other product or begin a few new patients on the product. Only the representative knows what steps will be agreeable to the physician based on where the doctor is at any given time in the call cycle.”

Ultimately, Farrell notes, the subtle interplay between pharmaceutical rep and physician is too complex to break down into an overly specific set of how-tos for building assertiveness. Sometimes the proper course of action must be chosen based on the rep’s experience and gut instincts on timing.

“Timing takes into account whether the rep has achieved a level of credibility and trust in the eyes of the doctor,” she says. “This includes the physician’s comfort level with prescribing a new drug compared to a more established drug and level of privacy during the call. Asking a doctor to prescribe a drug for patient use is hardly ever appropriate in front of patients. It also is not appropriate to close without full prescribing information, a fairly balanced and ethical presentation and a clearly stated patient type.

“A rep’s confidence comes,” notes Farrell, “when time and effort are put into building an accurate understanding of the needs of target physicians, knowledge of the product information presented, a sound understanding of the disease state and competitive marketplace, and respect for the position and preferences of each unique customer.”

Unlimited Performance Training offers a one-day closing skills seminar titled, “The Courage to ASK.” The seminar specifically helps representatives balance courage with consideration in pharmaceutical selling. For more information, call 847-444-0462 or visit www.UPTraining.org.