Information Is Powerful

By Malcolm Fleschner

It’s reasonable that yet another day of dealing with distracted, distrusting or decidedly inaccessible customers can leave hardworking pharmaceutical reps exasperated and wondering: Just what do these people want? Tom Stovall and Dustin Grainger of the healthcare training and consulting organization Stovall Grainger ( wondered the same thing. Instead of looking for answers by repeatedly banging their heads against the car steering wheel, however, they chose to conduct surveys with physicians, pharmacists, hospital administrators, laboratory directors and purchasing agents about how to improve the relationship between pharmaceutical sales reps and healthcare industry clinicians.

So what did they discover? The predominant messages revolved around information, particularly information the healthcare professionals felt could help them with their clinical and business performance objectives.

One problem Stovall and Grainger identified was mixed messages. One internist noted that at times different reps from the same company told him contradictory information. Not knowing what to believe, customers in such instances might question everything they hear from a company that can’t get its story straight. This, Stovall and Grainger say, is the risk companies run when trying to synergize messages by having peers vary their presentations to target customers.

Across the board, respondents said that beyond a purely clinical detail, pharmaceutical reps need to engage in a dialogue that also involves the business impact their products can bring to a practice. This, however, requires that drug reps have some idea of the business challenges their customers face. Almost all clinicians said they would be more inclined to spend time with reps who demonstrate a broad knowledge of issues affecting the healthcare marketplace.

Then again, maybe you already consider yourself well-versed in the healthcare marketplace. To find out, Stovall and Grainger pose this question: How would you respond if a clinician asked you what impact you think the Leapfrog Group’s initiatives will have on the use of your products, both with the inpatient and ambulatory patient?

If you don’t know who the Leapfrog Group is – didn’t they tour with Pearl Jam? – then you may have some boning up to do.

The point, Stovall and Grainger say, is that today’s diligent sales professional has to take a proactive role when learning about their customers’ world, stretching beyond traditional approaches to detailing physicians. This information isn’t available online for easy downloading, either. It requires integrating more business-oriented questions into the relationship process. Research can give you a basis for asking informed questions, but don’t be afraid to admit to customers that you don’t know everything. Lawyers are the ones who are supposed to ask questions only if they already know the answers. Your customers will appreciate an open and thoughtful discussion of topics most pharmaceutical reps don’t know enough to bring up.

Naturally, the ultimate goal isn’t just to improve your conversational skills. With a more complete understanding of the challenges facing the clinicians in your territory, you will be better able to position the solutions your products offer, Stovall and Grainger say. You also will come to be viewed as an information resource, rather than yet another rep thumbing through months-old copies of Ladies Home Journal in the waiting room. Before long this will lead to the kind of access other reps will marvel at.