Get Your Ask In Gear

By Malcolm Fleschner

According to a report from Accel Healthcare Communications, pharmaceutical companies collectively have spent approximately $18 billion to recruit, train and deploy the 90,000 plus drug reps currently sweating the details, as some refer to working in the pharmaceutical sales field. Yet, as the report also notes, fewer than 8% of those reps make a memorable impression on the physicians they call on.

What about you? How do you stand out among the hordes of drug reps who descend on your territory’s physicians every week? Do you rely on your good looks and winning smile? Nowadays few doctors look up from their charts long enough to notice, so that might not be an effective long-term strategy. Thankfully, Dorothy Leeds ( has some good suggestions for making memorable impressions. An expert in pharmaceutical sales training and author of The 7 Powers of Questions: Secrets to Successful Communication in Life and at Work (Perigree Trade, 2000), Leeds believes the best way to become memorable is by asking the right questions and then following up diligently on the physicians’ answers. Leeds offers these tips for improving your doc-side manner.

1. Politeness counts. Some doctors just want to get to the point, but others prefer a little small talk. It’s your job to know which is which. Before launching into your spiel, always inquire about how much time the physician has to spend with you. Such small courtesies show you care about and value the doctor’s time.

2. Phrasing is everything. Maybe you’d like to come right out and ask the physician: What can I do to get you to prescribe this drug? Unfortunately, that’s not the best way to go about getting the answer you want. Instead, explain that you sincerely believe in the value, integrity and benefits of the drug you’re selling. Then ask what you can do to help the physician share your perspective.

3. Confront the issue, not the physician. Many doctors have scores of drug reps calling on them asking the same canned questions. Differentiate yourself by asking questions that arise out of concern, not confrontation. Try asking: Doctor, could you share with me your thoughts on the value of treating a [condition] patient with [medication]? Or: Doctor, based on your expertise, what do you consider of greatest importance in treating [condition]?

4. Don’t badmouth the competition. You might not think much of a competitive product, but that doesn’t mean you can ask a question such as: Doctor, why would you prescribe our competitor’s drug when it is known to do X, Y and Z? Instead, try asking: Doctor, what do you feel are the most important benefits our drug offers in relation to our competitor’s drug?

5. Get to the source. Want to find out how this physician makes decisions about the proper medication to prescribe to his or her patients? Here are a few good, pointed questions to ask.

  • What are the sources you value most? What sources do you value least?
  • Which thought leaders do you respect? Which ones don’t you respect?
  • What types of studies do you believe provide you with the most convincing information?
  • Which parts of our company message do you feel are most or least helpful?
  • How can I support your educational concerns?

Based on a physician’s responses, you will know what information sources to seek out and bring to that physician’s attention on future calls.