Categorical Imperative

By Malcolm Fleschner

Ask your more pessimistic drug reps for a breakdown of the physicians they call on and you’ll likely get two categories: difficult to see and impossible to see. But after a lengthy sales career spent detailing thousands of physicians – and being a doc himself – Neil Berliner has found he can divide the motivational drivers found among physicians into four broad categories. These categories also help him customize calls to make each physician interaction more effective. Here is his breakdown of physician types.

1. Patient-driven

Description: These docs see themselves as service-oriented and consider taking care of patients their number-one priority. The prototype patient-driven doctor is the traditional older general practitioner who once made house calls with a black medical bag in tow. These physicians may be religious and come from families with a long tradition in the practice of medicine. They often take a dim view of the pharmaceutical industry and think drug companies are heartless and only looking to make a buck at the expense of patients. Data from studies you present might be lost on these doctors, as they rely more on their own experience and gut feelings when making prescribing decisions.

How to sell: As with all your customers, you want to align yourself closely with these docs. Make it clear that their patients are your top priority. Instead of asking about the cases they see, talk about the patients they care for. Discuss ways their practice is unique or special. Underscore what your company does for indigent people and offer patient-driven educational materials and discount coupons. Position yourself as working in tandem with these physicians to deliver the best possible care. Your goal with these docs is to establish a partnership.

2. Data-driven

Description: These are the academic, intellectual physicians you call on. Many of them are indeed bright – and they all think they are. Some are genuine snobs who look down on patients, their colleagues and even drug reps (perish the thought!) whom they consider their intellectual inferiors. They’re typically well-organized, businesslike and lack a sense of humor. How such physicians view you depends greatly on how organized they think you are.

How to sell: These physicians aren’t going to be interested in your folksy anecdotes. They want hard facts, preferably data that is statistically driven and evidence based. Use recent articles, keep the chitchat to a minimum and treat the call as a highly professional business meeting. Make sure to acknowledge their opinions as weighty and worthy of consideration.

3. Money-driven

Description: Recent trends have not improved physicians’ income prospects. As a result many are working longer hours, spending less time with their families and becoming more discouraged about managed care, insurance companies and attorneys. Such doctors often seem tired, edgy and unapproachably grumpy, even to patients. Some may consider time spent with detail reps as wasted because it’s time they’re not making money.

How to sell: These physicians are interested in the WIFM (what’s in it for me) of your products. If, for example, your product has a better side-effect profile than a competing product, then by changing prescribing habits the physician will likely receive fewer phone calls. Your goal is to be seen as someone who is a partner in making patients’ lives – and thereby the doctor’s life – easier. Be sure to compliment physicians who develop money-making ventures outside the practice of medicine on their entrepreneurial spirit. Always be thinking: How can I help these physicians improve their practice’s bottom line?

4. Mysteriously driven

Description: These docs tend to defy description. They are enigmatic in their prescribing patterns and can be peculiar individuals. Often they’re unpredictable, so you have no idea what mood they’ll be in from one call to the next. Without even being aware of their feelings, some reps prefer to avoid these physicians altogether.

How to sell: One approach you can use is to try to get a bead on the physician’s agenda. Does the doc have a grudge against a certain pharmaceutical company, perhaps from a stock loss or past experience with another rep? Is he or she dating a drug rep and that’s affecting prescribing habits? Or maybe there are personal problems causing the irrational behavior. One strategy is to ask what makes the practice unique and try to draw the doc out that way. Alternately, you might volunteer a piece of information about yourself in the hopes that the doc will respond similarly. Whatever the cause, understand that you might not be able to uncover the source of what drives many of these mysterious customers. If so, it’s alright to go ahead and focus your efforts elsewhere.