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By Dorothy Leeds and Sharyn Kolberg

There’s an old saying that goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” It may be a cliché, but it’s one that definitely applies to pharmaceutical reps. The first time you meet a doctor, you lay the foundation for a relationship for a long-term relationship; therefore, you want that first meeting to be as positive as possible. The first impression you make affects every subsequent visit. It’s difficult to “undo” a negative first impression. While it’s always possible to change someone’s mind about you, it’s much easier to establish a solid relationship right from the start.

There are many situations where you are in a position to meet a new doctor and make a first impression. For instance:

  • You are a new rep, visiting a doctor for the time
  • You’ve moved to a new company and are meeting new doctors
  • You have been given a new territory with your present company
  • New doctors move into your current territory

Most doctors we spoke to – and we polled almost fifty doctors for this article – agreed that they are willing to give a new rep (someone they have not met before) more time at their first meeting. It’s up to you to take advantage of this opportunity to make the strongest impression possible.

The Secret to Building Relationships:

Remember Sally Fields’ Academy Award acceptance speech? “You like me. You really like me!” she said. That’s many reps hope to say after their first meeting with the doctor. They think that being liked is the key to making sales and building relationships.

Being liked is, needless to say, important. But it is not the most important aspect to building strong relationships. Nor is it the reason that most people (including doctors) make their buying decisions. The truth is, according to another old saying: People buy from people they like, trust, and respect.

People may agree to see you or speak with you because of the company or product you represent, but in the end they buy because of who you are and how you treat them. They’ll do business with you if:

  • They like you. This means that doctors find you agreeable to deal with and take pleasure in your company. It doesn’t mean you have to become best friends with every doctor, nor that you necessarily become part of their lives outside of work (although in some cases you might). It means that within the context of your interactions, doctors know you to be affable, respectful, considerate, and accommodating.
  • They trust you. They rely on your integrity. They have confidence that you’re there for their best interest (as well as your own – they know you’re there to sell them something). This is a trust that you earn as you go, from your initial meeting on.
  • They respect you. They consider you to be an expert in your field, and they esteem you as someone who has a thorough knowledge of their practice, their patients, and their needs.

These three factors work together to give you an edge. Many salespeople in Dorothy’s workshop admit that they have strong affiliation needs – in other words, they like to be liked. Salespeople also tell Dorothy that doctors complain to them about those “tough” reps who are incredibly persistent. And yet those “tough” reps get a large share of the doctors’ business. Why? Doctors respect them because are doing their job—selling.

Doctors won’t prescribe your drugs based solely on the fact that they like you; they prescribe your drugs because they like you and they trust and respect you. Trust and respect are much more important. You have to prove yourself worthy at that very first visit.

Take a Lesson From the Boy Scouts: Be Prepared

Since becoming a successful salesperson depends on earning the trust and respect of your doctors, this is a process that must be continually practiced. You’re not only selling your product, you’re selling yourself.

You begin selling yourself even before you ever get in to see the doctor. The impressions you make depend greatly on your preparation for your first meeting. There’s a wealth of information you can collect from the nurses, receptionist, or office manager. If you establish good relationships with the support staff first, you stand a much better chance of establishing a good relationship with the doctor.

And, if you get as much information from the staff people as possible, you increase your chances even more. The way to really shine at your first meeting is to be prepared before you get there. Here’s a good rule to go by: Never ask the doctor anything you could learn by asking someone else.

Here are some questions you might want to ask the staff before you schedule an appointment to see the physician:

  • What is the best time to get in to see the doctor?
  • What is the doctor’s usual procedure for seeing reps?
  • What is the doctor’s policy about out-of-office events?
  • Which particular journals and reports does the doctor usually read?
  • What can you tell me about the doctor’s personal style (Is she a time-pressed, no-nonsense, “just the facts” person? Is he someone who enjoys a short break and enjoys a minute or two of small talk?)
  • Is there anything unusual or distinctive about this doctor? (Does the doctor have any hobbies you should know about, or particular interests, in or out of the field of medicine?)
  • Has the doctor ever told you what he likes in a rep? Or what turns him off?

Your goal is not only to make a good impression on the doctor, but also to make a positive impression on everyone in the office. You want to be someone who is always welcome in the office. If you have strong affiliation needs, use them on the office staff. Get the doctor to trust and respect you, and let the office staff love you.

“The Doctor Will See You Now”

Once you’ve established a relationship with the staff, it’s time to see the doctor. What is your goal for that first meeting? You want to establish yourself in the doctor’s mind as being credible, knowledgeable, and interesting And you want to let the doctor know that you are different, that you are better prepared than your competition, and that you are worthy of respect and trust. You are there to do your job and you want to show it in the most helpful, professional, interesting way that you can.

After you briefly introduce yourself, there are questions to ask the doctor:

  • Your office staff has told me this is how you like to deal with reps (then list the information you’ve received). Is there anything you want to add to that?
  • What sources do you value most – do you want to see details? Do you prefer journal reprints? Who are the experts you that you trust and admire?
  • How can I be most valuable to you as a rep?
  • Who are the reps you respect and trust and why?

At the first meeting, the doctor might want to know some information about you. Let the doctor know something about you, something that will make you stand out from all the other reps that come into the office. If your doctor loves golf, and you just played at Saint Andrews in Scotland, don’t be shy about sharing your experiences.

Put Your Best Foot Forward!

Here are five helpful hints to make a powerful first impression:

  • Begin on a high note. Emotions are catching. If you walk into the office in a bad mood, depressed, anxious or exhausted – and you show it – your doctor will slide right down to your level. On the other hand, if you are sincerely upbeat and enthusiastic, the doctor will want to ride that wave along with you. It’s especially important that you are in an energized positive upbeat mood at that first meeting. Be someone your doctor will always welcome.
  • Watch Your Body Language. Sloppy posture conveys a lack of confidence and possibly a lack of discipline. It’s surprising how many people neglect this crucial aspect making an impression. Standing erect, balanced between both feet, and with your shoulders back, you convey an alert and enthusiastic manner, even if that’s not how you really feel.
  • Say it with your eyes. There’s no better way to make a good first impression that by looking a person in the eye, smiling sincerely, and saying, “It’s nice to meet you.” When you’re making your presentation, or any time that you’re making an important point, be sure to look directly into the eyes of the other person. If you’re explaining the benefits of your products while you’re looking down at the floor or over your shoulder, your words may be telling the doctor one thing, but your eyes will communicate inconsistency as well as a lack of confidence and conviction.
  • Confirm it with your grip. A handshake is second only to eye contact in conveying or betraying an air of confidence. It may be a cliché to recommend a firm handshake, but many a good impression has been ruined by an ineffectual handshake (sweaty or weak) or one that is overly vigorous. The physical contact of the two hands meeting gives you an unparalleled degree of bonding. Concentrate on allowing your hands to grasp fully and firmly, and adjust your grip to the other person’s, making sure it is equally firm. Keep your eye contact steady, smile and say the doctor’s name: “Dr. Smith, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
  • Have your questions ready. Don’t bombard the doctor with questions as if it was an inquisition. Know what questions you want to ask, but don’t act as if you’re reading them off a script. Your questions and your statements should never appear “canned”. Be conversational and listen to the answers. Take notes if you need to, so that you can use the information for your subsequent visits. It’s not only helpful to you, it’s also flattering to your doctors.

The Best Advice of All? Be Yourself

You can’t make a good impression trying to be someone you’re not. Even if you do, you won’t be able to sustain a persona that is uncomfortable for you. Be yourself and be enthusiastic, and establish a relationship based on sincere communication between you and the doctor.

The most important points to remember about making a good impression are:

  • Concentrate on gaining the doctor’s trust and respect
  • Be prepared; gather as much information as you can before you see the doctor
  • Ask the doctor intelligent, thoughtful questions that will tell you how best to perform your job on your next visits
  • Be yourself

Follow this advice, and not only will you feel competent and confident, your first visit will be the start of a great relationship. Treat every first visit as a very special occasion and you’ll establish a rapport that is strong, long-lasting, and profitable.

  Dorothy Leeds
  800 West End Ave.
  New York, NY   10025
  212.932.8364 (FAX)

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