Why Can’t We Be Friends?

By Malcolm Fleschner

In today’s pharmaceutical sales environment with its extremely limited access to physicians, the typical detailing sales call has become such a fast-paced endeavor that Nike might soon be coming out with a running shoe designed just for reps who need to talk while racing through medical offices. In such a restrictive atmosphere one would assume that with little time available for rapport-building today’s drug reps are not at risk of becoming so chummy with physicians that they neglect the key business objectives of the sales call.

Yet , points out Gwen McLean, a managing editor at Informa Training Partners (www.informatp.com), a leading provider of customer and off-the-shelf training programs for the pharmaceutical sales industry, some people-oriented reps spend so much time discussing common interests or other nonbusiness topics with physicians that they wind up giving short shrift to the true point of detailing calls. “These are the reps who tend to focus their approach on relationship selling,” she says, “rather than the type who really do their research, profile their customers, determine their needs and know how to present their product in a way that meets the uncovered needs. Representatives who gain friends rather than customers often are unprepared for selling and must rely on their relationship-building skills rather than product knowledge and marketplace savvy.”

Does this description hit close to home? McLean says while there are no hard-and-fast rules for identifying such reps, some red flags exist. “One warning sign is that the physician has not increased the prescriptions for the rep’s product,” she says. “Another is that the rep is not given an opportunity to discuss the product – instead the discussion is about the weather or something else and not about selling the physician on the clinical benefits and features of the product and the managed-market issues. Reps need to walk away from each call feeling as though they have provided the physician with a valuable piece of information or learned something new from the physician in terms of why or why not he or she is prescribing the product.”

Being too friendly can be a hard habit to break, particularly for sales reps who enjoy the camaraderie and rapport they’ve established with their physicians. But when a friendly attitude gets in the way of performing the necessary sales job, a change needs to be made. McLean admits this can be a real challenge with some physicians, but suggests a back-to-basics approach. “It can be difficult to keep a physician who wants to shoot the breeze engaged in a business discussion. It can be done if the rep really knows his or her product, sets objectives for the call, asks questions to determine the physician’s needs and then positions the product in a way that meets those needs,” she says. “Sharing a fondness for the New York Yankees might serve as an ice-breaker, but the rep needs to be able to focus the discussion on the product messages early in the call and gain a commitment whenever possible without being too aggressive.”

Of course, salespeople are not automatons and one of the most attractive aspects of a career in pharmaceutical sales is the opportunity to meet and speak with a range of interesting, capable and intelligent people. The key, McLean points out, is to strike the right balance, not only with the physicians who are your ultimate targets but also with the administrative and support staff who can help or hinder your selling efforts.

“There is nothing wrong with being friendly,” she adds, “but reps must remember that the relationship is a professional one with the physician and the staff. By maintaining a friendly and professional relationship with everyone in the office, representatives will be welcomed into the office more often, increase their credibility and show they are dedicated to their job of educating the physician and staff about their product.”

For more information on Informa’s training programs, contact them at
508-668-0288 or visit www.informatp.com.