Fresh-faced and eager, the young, newly deployed pharmaceutical sales rep strides briskly into the doctor’s office, up to the front desk and, confidence brimming, asks to meet with the physician. So far, so good, right? Wrong, says Dr. Michael Kessler, founder of the Atlanta-based Medical Communications Center (www.mdmindset.com) and a board-certified physician with more than 20 years of experience as a marketing consultant and sales trainer in the pharmaceutical and biotech fields.
In fact, Kessler says, a sadly common mistake drug reps make when trying to initiate a new relationship with a physician or practice is to charge forward without taking care of some critical preliminary steps. These skipped steps often include preparing a thorough precall plan and finding out about the doctors’ practice, what drugs they use and how they typically treat patients. “Then what happens, if these reps do get in to see a doctor, is that they wind up asking all these probing questions to find out information they already should know. The doctors just feel like they’re wasting their time,” Kessler says.
The fundamental issue, Kessler adds, is one of perspective. Pharmaceutical salespeople need to set aside their own agendas and mental processes and focus instead on the larger concerns that likely are affecting physicians and their practices. “We doctors want and need reps to identify problems we have in our practices and show us how their product can solve these problems,” Kessler says. “Reps tend to be more features oriented. Features don’t solve problems; benefits do. Many reps, however, throw out a few features and benefits and hope something sticks. This is one of the reasons doctors are limiting rep’s access – both physically and mentally.”
Kessler adds that drug reps also frequently shoot themselves in the foot by becoming defensive in the face of a physician’s skepticism. “Drug reps need to understand that doctors are trained to be skeptical, ask questions and refute what they are told,” Kessler explains. “It’s what we do for a living every day of our lives. We do this with patients on a daily basis. We aren’t going to treat reps any differently than we treat patients.
“Most reps handle this situation poorly,” he explains “The key here is it shouldn’t be the rep making a claim – my or our drug is … – and then personally trying to back it up. The claim has more objectivity when it comes from a third-party source such as thought leaders, published clinical literature, including studies, protocols and review articles, and so on. Reps should use these sources to present and back up claims.”
Ultimately, many of the problems Kessler says he sees undermining drug reps’ efforts come down to a fundamental lack of understanding about what he refers to as the doctors’ mindset. “The doctors’ mindset consists of how doctors were trained and how that training affects the way they think, act, communicate, solve problems and decide to use a new or existing product,” he says. “The more representatives understand their physicians’ mindset, the faster they can change clinical behaviors and prescribing habits.”