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By Dorothy Leeds and Sharyn Kolberg

Pharm Rep Magazine, September 2002

Do you ever hear doctors say:

“I’m sorry, but your prices are higher than your competition’s.”

“I’m satisfied with another drug’s performance. I don’t see any reason to change.”

“I’ll think about it. Why don’t you just leave me some information.”

Do these kinds of statements make you nervous? Cause anxiety? Motivate you to keep “pitching” your product?

Those are some of the most common symptoms experienced by pharmaceutical sales people whenever they hear an objection. Although there is no magic cure for the “objection jitters,” there are several ways you can reduce the anxiety and be sure that each objection is handled to your satisfaction as well as your doctor’s.

First, recognize that an objection is an unanswered question. One of the reasons objections are so nerve-wracking is that they make us think the prospect is an adversary we have to defeat. We immediately gear up to “overcome” the barrier that the enemy has placed in our path. This is a difficult position to defend.

If, however, you think of an objection as a question that needs to be answered, you can reduce the combative anxiety that often arises. Most of the time, if you can answer the question, the doctor will at least be more open to consider your product.


An unanswered objection is a strong impediment to a sale. You have to get objections out into the open so that you can deal with them – if you don’t, you’re never going to move the sale along. Take a quick glance over these six steps to answering objections:

  • Be an active, patient listener.
  • Ask the doctor to explain the objection to you.
  • Isolate and prioritize the objection.
  • Set up the ground rules.
  • Answer the objection with benefits.
  • Confirm the answer.

In my Smart Questions workshops, participants are asked to turn to the workbook page that lists the six smart steps, and to choose which of these steps are they omit when an objection rears its ugly head. The answer is always the same: All the steps are omitted – except for Step Number Five (answer the objection with benefits). It’s the step that reps have been trained to do, over and over again. And it is an important step – but it’s much more effective when it is preceded by Steps One through Four.


Listening well is a skill that requires concentration and effort. A recent survey I conducted (The Inquisitive Attitude Survey: Does Your Sex Determine How You Ask and Answer Questions) showed that 86.7 percent of both men and women feel that not listening is the biggest culprit in unsuccessful relationships, whether they’re personal or professional. When it comes to objections, it’s difficult to listen well because we have an immediate emotional response to them – we tend to take objections personally. You want to jump in and defend yourself, your product, or your company. However, if you really pay attention to what the doctor is saying, you’ll stop thinking about how to contradict him and start thinking of the questions you need to ask to get to the doctor’s real concerns. We think seven times faster than we speak. So while we are listening, our minds are racing ahead. This can be distracting if what we are thinking is not related to what is being said, but it can also give us time to ask ourselves questions while we are listening: “Can I answer a question for, or ask a question of, this doctor that will remove his/her objection?”


Turn every objection into a question. Ask yourself, “Do I fully understand the problem here?” Make sure you know what the real concern is. Recently, I was traveled to a doctor’s office with a sales rep. When the rep started talking about a particular product, the doctor said, “I prescribe your competition because my patients don’t tolerate your drug well.” The rep immediately went on to talk about how much better his drug was than the competition’s, and to describe how other doctors’ patients do well on it. But a doctor doesn’t care about other doctors’ patients; he cares about his own patients. The sales rep would have done better had he asked, “Doctor, if your patients did tolerate this drug, would you then prescribe it?” Or, “Is this the only concern you have?” Then he would have known to stop talking about how much better his drug performed, and focused instead on how to solve the problem of tolerating the drug. The conversation could then turn to patient education, making sure they are taking the correct dosage in the right way. Each time a doctor brings up an objection, you need to take a minute and ask yourself, “What is this doctor really objecting to?”


Ask the doctor, “Is this the main consideration that’s keeping you from prescribing my product?” If the doctor says yes, then go on to Step Four. If she says no, then ask, “What is your main concern?” Practice your active listening here, and watch the doctor’s body language. It’s easy for her to say yes, especially if she’s in a hurry and thinks it will end the conversation. If you notice any hesitation in her answer, you may want to probe further and ask, “Is there anything else that might be keeping from prescribing this drug?”


Once you’ve clarified and isolated the objection, set up the ground rules for closing the sale. This is a difficult step for a lot of people, but if it’s done correctly, it can be very effective. You might say, “Doctor Smith, it sounds like this is your main concern. You’ve shared with me that studies are important to you when making your prescribing decisions. If I can show you studies that prove the efficacy of (_______) drug, in what ways could that make a difference or change in what you prescribe for (______) patient profile?” You’ve now made an agreement with the doctor – “If I do this, then you’ll do that.” If you have the studies with you, you can leave them for the doctor to peruse. If you don’t have them with you, you can bring them on your next visit, remind the doctor of your agreement, and gain his commitment. This step is based on a tactic that sales consultant Bill Bishop calls “The Million Dollar Close.” According to Bishop, people are basically fair. So you set up the ground rules – but do it subtly. You don’t want the doctor to feel you’re leading him. Then (after your presentation) say, “Well, Doctor, you did agree that if I could show you the studies, you’d be willing to try it for (_____) patient profile. Fair enough?” It was a fair agreement, and most people tend to be fair.


If you’ve followed steps one through four, you now know how to make the most effective presentation. You’ve got the doctor’s attention, you’ve got his agreement, and you can concentrate on the benefits that relate to the doctor’s concerns. There’s no need to be high pressure or adversarial. All you need to say is, “Doctor, you told me you don’t prescribe our drug for this reason. That’s a valid concern. My goal is to try and answer that concern for you today. Our research shows….”


This is a step that many salespeople leave out – yet it’s one of the most important: make sure you’ve answered the objection without any misunderstandings or reservations. Ask the doctor, “Is there anything I’ve left out that you need to know?” or “Does that answer your question?” or “Does that solve the problem?” or “Does that address your concern?” If the doctor hesitates or says, “Not really,” then it’s time to probe further. If the doctor says yes, you might say, “Well, Doctor, you agreed that if I answered your main concern, you would prescribe (_____) for your (_____) patients. Which patients will you start with?”

By following these six steps, you should be able to discover the real reason the doctor isn’t prescribing your drug, move the sale forward easily and effectively. There is no magic formula guaranteed to work every time. But I do know that charm and a light touch go a long way. You can use these six steps to relieve your objection anxiety, and to be sure that each objection is handled to your satisfaction as well as your doctor’s.

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

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