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BEST PRACTICES: Gaining Access
(Pharmaceutical Representative Magazine)
By Dorothy Leeds and Sharyn Kolberg

Wouldn't it be helpful if some of the people most knowledgeable about pharmaceutical sales let you in on their trade secrets? Look no further; Best Practices will bring them right to your front door. In this column we will bring you, directly from the people who have the know-how and experience, what works in the "real" world of pharmaceutical sales (and what doesn't).

More and more companies are instituting Best Practices workshops so people can learn from each other. Unfortunately, it's often the people with the most knowledge who have the least time to share it with their colleagues. So we decided to seek out these busy people for you and get them to share their ideas in this column.

Don't read this column expecting to find a quick fix. You won't find the one gimmick or magic bullet that everyone wants. What you will find is practical advice that you can utilize in your very next call.

To give you that practical advice, we first had to determine the most relevant topics to cover in this column. We polled more than a dozen pharmaceutical professionals, from reps to managers to trainers, and asked what subject they thought would be most useful in a 'Best Practices' column...

And the winner is... Gaining Access!

Almost everyone we polled agreed that the biggest problem facing pharmaceutical reps is gaining access to their doctors. In fact, recent studies have shown that gaining access is more difficult than ever, and that, despite popular conceptions, doctors spend more time with their patients than they did 5 years ago. That's good news for patients, but it gives reps even less time to make their presentations.

What can you do to stand out from the dozens of reps trying to get time with the same doctor? How can you let your doctors know that it is worth their while to make time to see you?

"The most successful reps I've ever worked with keep one concept in mind," says Ronda Dean, president of DaltonDemorest Consulting and former head of the Women's Health Care Division of Parke-Davis. "They respect the fact that everyone who goes to see a doctor pays for that physician's time - except the pharmaceutical rep. Reps are being given a professional courtesy by the doctor. So unless they want to pay a physician for his or her time, they have to use that time wisely and be respectful of it."

Dean compares visits by pharmaceutical reps to television commercials. When commercials come on during your favorite programs, what do you normally do? Unless the commercial is extraordinary, you get up and leave the room. You are a commercial to the physician, so you've got to be sure that you're presenting them with something they want and need to hear.

"That means, of course, your information has to have medical value. But you also have to be creative and interesting, always bringing in new information (even if sometimes you have to figure out a way to make old information sound new). And always be personable so that the physician enjoys your time together, however brief."

Persistence, Creativity and Hanging Tough

Even the most personable pharmaceutical reps need a good amount of inner strength to succeed. It takes fortitude to remain persistent in the face of frequent rejection. "Even though you may get rebuffed over and over again, don't take it personally", says Dean. "Go back with frequency and go back at the same time every week." If doctors see you in their office every week, or every few weeks, most will acknowledge that you, too, are a professional with a job to do."

Persistence is also a factor when getting access to a doctor at a luncheon or dinner event. It's up to you to hang tough, to let the doctor know you're more than just a ticket to a free meal. You've got to let the doctor know what's expected of him.

"For instance," says Dean, "you might say, 'We'll only be giving a 5-minute presentation at dinner. I don't want to bore you by pulling out the heavy artillery in such a nice place. In exchange, I need you to promise me you'll give me ten minutes of your time in the office.'" "Sometimes I give them a choice: 'Do you want to give me ten minutes at the dinner event, or would you rather I come back to your office later this week?'"

Another outside-the-office means of gaining access is the Dine and Dash, a method used successfully by Melissa Gifford, RSM, General Products Division, Watson Pharma, Inc. During the holiday season, Gifford's reps offer doctors ham or turkey dinners to go when attending programs. "You have to be persistent, to be sure the doctors know they have to come themselves (no proxies allowed), and that this is in exchange for some of their time. By setting up and sticking to these ground rules, we've increased our access by more than 20 percent."

"It's a challenge to be persistent; you have to be creative at the same time. If you're going to keep coming back to the same doctors, you have to have something new every time," she says. "Ask yourself, 'What did I tell this doctor last time? How am I going to build on that information? What new information am I going to add to that?' You have to learn to build from call to call."

"Something new might mean a feature or benefit you did not cover, or cover well, on your last visit. Or it might be a new journal article that contains relevant information." Gifford suggests that when you present journal articles, don't read to the physician. Discuss a few key points, based on what they've told you is most important for them to know. Then leave a copy behind for them to refer to at their leisure. They'll appreciate your efforts to relate the material to their personal needs.

Develop a Long-Term Strategy

The key to success in pharmaceutical sales is to develop a long-term strategy with each of the doctors in your territory. Strive for consistency and realize that you - and your doctors - are in it for the long haul. You're asking your doctor to trust that you are bringing something new and valuable to the table each time you visit, that you're interested in more than just making the sale. If you are creative in your approach, if you ask smart questions that help keep you in touch with the doctor's needs and concerns, you will automatically increase your access.

"Even 'no-see' physicians usually see certain pharmaceutical sales reps. You can penetrate the wall 'no-see' doctors put up if you are persistent, polite, and creative," says Pat Iannuzzi, the former manager of advanced training for Parke-Davis (currently in private consulting practice). "If you can't get in to see a doctor, forward a note that says, 'I know you are difficult to see, and I'm sure you have good reason. However, I'm asking for just five minutes of your time. If those five minutes are not valuable to you and your practice, I promise I won't ask you again.'" Then follow up - always follow up. Many doctors are willing to accept this challenge, especially if they have not been willing to see you before.

When you have a long-term strategy and selling philosophy, it means you don't accept the status quo - nor do you expect instant change. You plan for both success and failure. When you do gain access to a hard to see doctor, give your presentation, but also set the stage for your next call. Say something like this: "Based on our discussion today, may I call on you again in a few weeks to follow up?" This is the time to plan for your next visit. If you do not get in, begin working on a strategy for next time.

You also know that situations change, doctors change their minds and their policies. There are times - when a new drug is being introduced to the market, for instance, or when a new indication has been approved - when doctors will be eager to hear what you say. Capitalize on those opportunities by not only presenting the information, but working to establish a relationship as well.

It's the Relationship that Makes the Difference

Pharmaceutical selling is based on long-term, repeat business. The only way to get that repeat business is to establish a relationship with the doctor. "Some of the reps I see think it's all about telling me what their drugs can do," says Dr. Jon Strauss, an 'old-fashioned country doctor' from Berea, Kentucky. "What many of them don't understand is that it's really about making the connection.

"They have to find out about me - they have to ask me targeted questions to find out what kind of person I am, and what kind of doctor. If they seem genuinely interested, then I connect with that person and with their products. Because when it comes right down to it, doctors have to take everything on faith. We know that one company's drugs are not so different from their competitor's. And we know you can make statistics support anything you want them to support. There's only two ways I'm going to believe that a drug will work. One is through experience. And the other is through the integrity of the individual.

"If reps are consistent in their interest in me, if they seem genuinely concerned in helping my practice and my patients, then I believe in their integrity and I believe in what they're selling."

Believe in Your Ability to Make Changes

Doctors will only believe in you if you believe in your own ability to make change happen. As a pharmaceutical rep your main goal is to change the behavior of the doctors that you see so that they will write more of your product. You're asking them to change their behavior. But you have to be willing to change your behavior as well. Take the advice of the experts you've met here and be sure that on every visit you are:

  • Creative
  • Personable
  • Respectful
  • Informative
  • Persistent
  • Consistent
  • Sincere

If you're willing make changes in your own behavior, you're guaranteed to get your doctors to do the same! You'll get more access and, ultimately, more prescriptions.

Dorothy Leeds is the Guru of Questions, an internationally known speaker, and the best-selling author of PowerSpeak, Smart Questions, and The 7 Powers of Questions. The concepts in her books are the foundation for the hundreds of workshops and keynote presentations she makes every year. Her clients include many pharmaceutical and biotech companies such as Pfizer, Merck, Novartis, Karl Storz Endoscopy, and Watson Pharmaceuticals. She can be reached at or at 212-864-2424.

Sharyn Kolberg is a communications expert, ghostwriter and editor with more than 15 books on the market. Her writing credits include co-writer with Dorothy Leeds of the Smart Questions Series and with Barry J. Farber on The 12 Clichés of Selling and Why They Work. She has presented her PowerWriting seminar for many corporate and pharmaceutical clients, including Parke-Davis, Forest Laboratories and Watson Pharmaceuticals. She can be reached at or at 212-864-2424.

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