Over-the-Counter Selling

By Malcolm Fleschner

Since the advent of managed care, decisions regarding which medications a patient should take are being made more and more behind the counter at the neighborhood pharmacy. Confronted with this growing trend, pharmaceutical sales organizations are coming to the realization that their frontline salespeople need to direct at least some of their attention toward the pharmacists working behind those counters.

So how do you sell effectively to pharmacists? The pharmaceutical training experts at Pinsonault Associates (www.pinsonault.com) offer the following seven-point strategy:

1. Go Where the Volume Is
Health plans and Pharmacy Benefit Management (PBM) companies frequently negotiate volume discount contracts with retail pharmacy chains and co-ops that do the most business. You should do the same. Ask your physicians and staffers which pharmacies in your territory seem to generate the most volume and then target your efforts at thesehigh-volume outlets.

2. Do the First Call Right
Retail pharmacists tend to be extraordinarily busy and will have little time for you (what else is new?). Be sure to come in with recent clinical studies, FDA prescribing-information sheets to leave behind as well as other patient education materials. To insure that your meeting is a success, you’ll need these five pieces of information:

  • the best day of the week to call
  • the best time of day to call
  • what type of information the pharmacist needs most
  • what the staff expects from you and your company

Also be sure to introduce yourself to the head pharmacist and begin to cultivate a relationship with this individual, as he/she may have a significant impact on promoting your products at that location.

3. More of the Same
In many ways, the pharmacy sales call should be very similar to a physician call. Be sure to:

  • present product features and benefits
  • keep the pharmacist apprised of any labeling changes or indications, share new studies and other support materials, and share the ways your company compares favorably to the competition
  • demonstrate ways your product can reduce overall costs
  • always treat pharmacists as sophisticated, capable professionals who provide a critical service to patients

4. No Secret Formulary
Formulary information can be of great use to pharmacists, so be sure to let them know when your product is added to a plan’s formulary, particularly if your product has a lower copay than the competition. If your product has achieved preferred status, tell the pharmacy so that they can stock up in advance.

5. Become a Resource
Patient education materials can be very beneficial to pharmacists who need to explain your products to their customers. Also, let them know about any disease state management programs your company offers. Schedule in-service breakfasts or lunches for the chance to meet directly with the head pharmacist and provide further in-depth information.

6. Probe and Learn
The information exchange with pharmacists should be just that – an exchange. They can provide you with critical information about your product such as:

  • the most utilized dosage strength
  • the dosage schedule being written most often
  • other, frequently coprescribed products
  • off-label utilization trends
  • product feedback and demands from patients
  • suggestions from physicians about product use in their practice

Pharmacists will also be able to inform you about the competition’s marketing, sales message and how other brands are impacting your territory.

7. Inside the MCOs
Once you have established a good business relationship with a pharmacist, you may take advantage by requesting formulary information from national, regional and local MCOs that they use to adjudicate claims. Data they have access to include product information that determines if a product is on formulary, whether any NDC blocks are in place, the copayments and drug substitution policies. But since pharmacists are busy, be sure to handwrite or type your request ahead of time and then leave it for the pharmacist, so he or she has time to honor your request.