Sales Calls As Easy As 1-2-3

By Malcolm Fleschner

Trying to get and hold the attention of physicians who measure their time in milliseconds for pharmaceutical sales reps is never easy. Too frequently drug reps wind up racing through a rapid-fire presentation as if the goal is just to get out as much information as possible in the allotted time. But as Dorothy Leeds, author of PowerSpeak: Engage, Inspire, and Stimulate Your Audience (Career Press, 2003), points out, even the most brief interview can be productive if you tailor your presentation to the primary concerns of the individual physician. The key is to follow a simple three-step plan: open, probe and close.

1. Open with a thought-provoking question.
Give some thought ahead of time to finding a specific question that will grab the doctor’s attention, focus the call, show that you care and establish context. If you don’t have much time and you’re looking to clarify something you discussed on a previous call, you might say: Last time I was here you said you liked our product. What do you like about it? Or if you’re trying to tease out the physician’s opinion, you might ask: Why doyou think so many doctors are prescribing so much of this drug?

Your goal when developing good opening questions is to get the physician to step out of the autopilot mindset and actually think about what you’ve asked. Then, once you’ve developed a reputation for asking thought-provoking questions and being genuinely engaging, doctors will be more willing to grant you a greater share of their limited time.

2. Probe with a goal in mind.
Now that you’ve got your opening question out of the way, it’s time to let the physician in on all the great features of the medication you’re promoting, right? Uh, no. Now is the time to probe with more questions. Good probing techniques include:
– Open with a purpose. You should have a goal in mind – a destination that the question helps you reach.
– Pause for effect. Give the physician enough time to think about an answer. Silence is your friend, not your enemy.
– Don’t presume. Never put words in the doctor’s mouth by saying: Are you prescribing the drug because of this factor or that factor? This sounds manipulative and limits your chances of getting a complete, honest answer.
– Ask one question at a time. Don’t frontload your conversation with a bunch of questions at once.
– Listen intently. Focus on what the physician is saying and don’t assume you know what’s coming next.
– Have a strategy. Going in cold and trying to ad lib a sales call might work sometimes, but it’s a lazy strategy. Have prepared questions, but feelfree to go off script if the call goes well and the physician is responsive.

3. Close with a request for a commitment.
OK, you’ve opened and probed. Now it’s time to hit the physician with the full weight of your expertise, right? Nope, it’s time to ask more questions. Whatever your goal for the call, whether it’s just getting the doctor to look at a study or actually prescribing your drug, ask for a commitment. When you get that commitment, make sure to confirm what the commitment is. Don’t accept a vague: I’ll try to prescribe it more often. Get specifics and then use those details to set up expectations for your nextvisit.