Take The Opening When It’s Offered

By Malcolm Fleschner
You know those overused pickup lines that have become such jokes that no one would ever take them seriously? Come here often? What’s your sign? If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me? These are just a few lines we like to laugh about. Yet, observes Charlene Prounis, a co-president and managing partner with the pharmaceutical marketing agency Flashpoint Medica (www.flashpointmedica.com), opening lines just as cliched as these commonly are used by drug representatives when they begin conversations with physicians.
The problem, Prounis says, is that most reps don’t know how to open a conversation in a way that piques the physician’s interest, causing them to stop and think: Hey, this might be a rep worth listening to.
“Your goal is to say something that instantly shows you’re knowledgeable and have something relevant to talk about,” Prounis says. “Talking about last night’s Yankee game or the latest NASA launch isn’t going to cut it. Instead, she recommends finding something from medical literature or the day’s newspaper that’s somehow related to your topic but not directly about your drug that you can use as a creative conversation starter.”
As an example, Prounis suggests the scenario of a rep selling a drug that treats hypertension calling on a cardiologist. “That rep might say: Hello doctor, did you see that article in today’s New York Times that talked about how more heart attacks occur on Monday mornings than any other day of the week? It seems the reason is that people get so worried on Sunday night that by when they go to bed their stress level continues to increase and as a result their blood pressure rises higher and faster the next day and they tend to have more heart attacks.”
Then, Prounis adds, the rep easily can transition into talking about his or her drug by saying: So if you see more patients here on Monday mornings that might be the reason. That’s also why I’m here today, to talk to you about a hypertension drug that….
The opening salvo need not come from a mainstream publication. Prounis says citing clinical studies can be equally effective as long as they’re relevant to the physician and relate tangentially to the rep’s product. Here’s another example Prounis offers.
“Let’s say you’re selling a drug for patients with early renal insufficiency to help with their anemia. You could say doctor, I don’t know if you saw it, but a recent article mentioned that in patients with renal disease treating their anemia is, along with controlling blood pressure, among the most important things that can be done. I know you’re already treating blood pressure but I’d like to talk to you today about how, when untreated, anemia can create cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.”
When coming up with good openings for your own efforts, the keywords should be interesting and relevant. Unfortunately, Prounis notes, many reps today are little more than sample droppers who exchange their wares for a mere 30 seconds of time during which they discuss little of substance. “My goal instead is to come up with creative ways to make reps interesting to doctors,” she says. “What can you say to give a doctor a reason to think: Maybe this is a rep I should talk to? Because most of the time what the doctor actually is thinking is: I’m really smart and I’m really busy, so why do I need to talk to this person outside of getting his samples?”