Focus On Your Studies

By Malcolm Fleschner

To the outside observer, using clinical reprints in pharmaceutical sales might seem like a straightforward prospect – after all, studies should speak for themselves, right? Well, not exactly. Some larger pharmaceutical companies spend as much as three weeks training new sales hires on how to sell with reprints, and with good reason.

Although clinical reprints provide an excellent platform for presenting technical information to physicians, to properly use a reprint during a detail call reps must thoroughly understand the study’s composition, as well as its objective, methodology, results and key conclusions, points out Jodie Bender, president and CEO of Pharmacopy, Inc. (www.pharmacopy.com), a Pennsylvania-based pharmaceutical sales training and marketing organization.

Asked what mistakes she sees among pharmaceutical sales reps trying to use studies to make their case, Bender rattles off a lengthy list that provides some idea why reps require so much training in the use of reprints. Some of the common mistakes she mentions include

  • underestimating the knowledge physicians have of clinical study design
  • expecting physicians to wait for the rep to walk them through a reprint
  • failing to leave the reprint behind for physicians to review on their own time
  • focusing only on the positive aspects of the study or glossing over findings that might be considered the study’s shortcomings (small number of patients, P values greater than .05, definitions of completers in a study and so on)
  • highlighting or underlining key selling points
  • discussing the reprint data in a subjective way (We have a great study! The results are really impressive!) rather than appearing objective (Doctor, you might find this helpful.)
  • using a reprint out of context (the physician is talking about side effects and the rep pulls out a study with new data about efficacy and safety)
  • failing to use reprints for fear of being asked follow-up questions reps might not be able to answer
  • lacking a thorough knowledge of a competitor’s reprints
  • trying to directly compare one study to a competitor’s when the studies are not equal (one is much larger, the study designs are different and so on)
  • failing to know how the clinical data in the reprint compares to what is in the package insert (doctors might say: You have a much higher incidence of headache in your PI – why the difference?)
  • winging it in an attempt to answer physicians’ questions when reps don’t know the answers
  • failing to follow up with physicians with accurate answers

A larger problem, Bender says, is that most reps are trained only on how to use their own specific reprints with physicians, and even that understanding might be limited. “Reps might not always understand why they are focusing on certain points in a reprint,” she says. “Why is it important that the study has an N of more than 2,000 people? Why is it important that the P value is .0001? Why does it matter that patients in the study who dropped out were not included in the final analysis? Why does it matter that smokers were included in the patient population? Why is it important that the study lasted eight weeks versus four? Why does it matter that the study has an active placebo arm? There is a why for every detail in a reprint – know them all!” she adds.

From a broader perspective, Bender suggests reps’ facility with reprints reflects their overall skills as sales professionals. “The key to being a great salesperson is knowing what is most important to each specific doctor,” she says. “Some are worried about safety, some about ease of use, some about side effects and compliance, some about the long-term consequences of therapy. If you don’t know what issues are driving docs to write prescriptions, it’s impossible to use sales tools such as reprints strategically. What’s compelling to one doc is boring to another. It’s sales reps’ job to know which is which.”

Bender does more than simply identify all the don’ts of selling with reprints, however. Next month this newsletter will feature her suggested strategies for properly bringing a study into the conversation, highlighting the appropriate information and adjusting your approach to match the needs of individual physicians.