What’s Motivating Your Customers?

By Malcolm Fleschner

Ask pharmaceutical industry executives what priority their company places on sales training and you’ll likely hear a predictable string of statements about the importance of training, how good training is key to effective sales performance and how much emphasis the company places on making sure its salespeople are properly trained. According to Dr. Richard Wathey, founder and CEO of micromarketed medical discussions, inc. (www.pharmaceuticalreptraining.com), a full service pharmaceutical sales training organization, some of those executives would be telling the truth. Others, well, might be being less than honest.

“With some of the pharmacos, sales training is a priority and it shows. The representatives carry themselves professionally and act more like consultants and less like snake oil salesmen, and consider themselves an asset or resource to their physicians. They don’t waste time bothering physicians with small talk about their family or golf game, but instead put an emphasis on helping physicians as opposed to just selling the product.

“Other companies tend to view training of any kind as time out of the field, meaning the reps are not out selling. Because the reps’ job is to sell, this time spent out of selling mode is viewed as wasted time – an attitude that is, quite frankly, insulting to the sales professional,” says Wathey. “They are expected to do a rather complex job without the necessary tools and skills.”

As he points out, however, even pharmaceutical sales organizations that genuinely dedicate themselves to providing quality training frequently miss one key element: understanding physician motivation.

“The problem here,” Wathey says, “is that pharma companies are using outdated physician-motivation training programs. If you looked at why doctors prescribed products 10 or 15 years ago, you could make generalizations that held up. The problem today is that healthcare has changed dramatically, while the motivation programs have not. My company has been studying physician motivation for more than 15 years and we are just now starting to get a handle on current motivational patterns. I don’t think there are any programs out there that adequately address customer motivations in 2005.”

The most common mistake, Wathey says, is one of emphasis. Too many pharmaceutical sales reps walk into a physician’s office with the false belief that they need to influence the physician. “Doctors don’t want to be influenced,” Wathey argues. “They want to be given a reason to believe that is based on solid, practical, valid, well-thought-out research. It should address a problem they are experiencing with a patient or in their practice. Aside from that, one of the biggest mistakes some reps make is to bad-rap a competitive product. Physicians are interested in hearing what is positive about your product, not what’s wrong with a competing product. This type of strategy invariably leads to the physician questioning the professionalism and integrity of the representative.”

Though these differences in emphasis might seem subtle, the effect can be substantial. As the average length of pharmaceutical sales calls drops, the need for training that helps reps deliver the most relevant and effective information during that short time grows.

“Time constraints are one of the biggest obstacles faced by pharmaceutical sales professionals,” Wathey says. “The average sales call lasts anywhere from 2 to 4 minutes and, more often than not, is nothing more than cornering a doctor in a hallway for 30 seconds. This obviously eliminates small talk (a good thing!) and requires a well-thought-out approach. I refer to this as a pinpoint strategy that emphasizes the need for precall planning. Representatives must understand each of their physicians. They must know what each physician needs and have a 2-minute drill prepared in case they bump into that doctor. The strategy may be as simple as: When I see Dr. Jones, I want to show him this chart from the Smith study because it addresses side effects and that is his concern. That’s all – just this one simple point. The physician’s reaction to that interaction then may form the basis of the next 2-minute drill.”

Finally, Wathey adds, pharmaceutical reps need to understand that while getting in to see the physician typically is the primary objective, it doesn’t have to be the only factor determining the success of a visit to the physician’s office. There’s also the staff to consider.

“I think the office staff is an untapped resource for most reps,” he says. “Reps spend a lot of time plotting to gain access to the physician. While that access is critical, it’s not always possible. Find out what is going on in the practice from the office staff. Often a simple comment from a nurse can provide a critical piece of information the rep can use in his or her next 2-minute drill.”