Say Howdy To Partnerships

By Malcolm Fleschner

The pressure facing pharmaceutical sales reps to get in and meet with increasingly reluctant physicians grows daily. So it’s understandable why some reps might view doctors as an enemy to be conquered. But this is a critical mistake, says Michael Ray, a territory sales rep with Forest Laboratories. Writing in Pharmaceutical Representative Magazine, Ray suggests reps keep in mind that their goal is to build partnerships with targeted physicians that involve common goals and shared risks. Here are his rules for building such partnerships.

1. Show r-e-s-p-e-c-t. Physicians nowadays are harried and their schedules are exceedingly tight. Let doctors know you respect their time and, if they’re too busy, that you understand when they can’t meet with you. But also mention that when the next opportunity arises, you hope to speak at greater length. Extend the same courtesy to the office’s receptionists, managers and medical assistants.

2. Use your ears. Train yourself to be a good, effective listener. Genuinely take in what the physician says, rather than simply waiting for your turn to talk. This way you won’t repeat questions and you’ll be able to delve further into the subject during the short conversations you do have.

3. Show your integrity. The first time you visit a physician’s office, set the tone by letting the staff know you will save them time by always making sure the most recent-dated samples are at the front of the sample box. Then ask whether they prefer medications in or out of the box. Always ask permission before hanging posters, placing magnets, applying formulary stickers and so on. Open up the dialogue about the little things and you have a better chance of talking about the big things.

4. Make the physician’s job easier. There are many ways to ease physicians’ burdens. For example, in today’s managed-care environment, many prescriptions are written that cannot be filled. As a result, patients have to wait for paperwork to go through or they switch to competitive products. When a product is covered but a prescription cannot be filled, get the reference number of the prescription. (Don’t ask for the patient’s personal information!) Then forward the information to your company’s managed-care department to get it straightened out. This is just one way to use the resources at your disposal to help your physicians help their patients.

5. Treat pharmacists as people too. Just as you want to work closely with your physicians, you also want to make things easy for the pharmacists filling your prescriptions. Find out which pharmacies tend to handle your physicians’ prescriptions? Get to know the pharmacists there and offer to work as a go-between to assist with pricing and attention.

6. Remember, little things mean a lot. As an example of a small gesture that paid huge dividends in terms of access, Ray describes a situation that arose with a physician who was moving offices and didn’t know what to do with a large desk he couldn’t possibly move on his own.

“I ordered lunch in for his staff and we discussed angiotensin-II receptor blockers,” Ray recalls. “At the end of our discussion I asked him if he needed assistance moving the desk. He mentioned that he probably could not move it until after hours. Before he finished speaking I said: Would 5:30 be okay?

“The resulting twinkle in his eye told me I had struck a chord. The fact that I would stop by at 5:30 to assist him when I could be elsewhere certainly earned his respect. When I showed up promptly at 5:30 and the two of us huffed and puffed our way through small office doors to move the desk, I did not need to make a cheesy comment that this might deserve a few more prescriptions. Now this physician gives me all the time I need, listens to my detail and respects my thoughts. I earned his respect. All the rest follows from that.”