Doctor's Orders

Jun 01, 2008

Sara Donnelly
As a former practicing physician, Dr. Michael Kessler knows a thing or two about being on the receiving end of a pharma sales pitch. Kessler now heads the consulting group MD Mindset, which has worked with over 100,000 sales representatives in the past 15 years. He and Mark Vitello, vice president of program and business development at MD Mindset, sat down to chat with Pharmaceutical Executive about how reps can upgrade the average pharma sales pitch.

Pharm Exec : First of all, what's wrong with the way pharma companies market to professionals today?

Mark Vitello: There's a lack of focus on the customer himself or herself. Everybody says they aspire to be customer-focused or doctor-focused, but what's happening is that the companies, rightfully, are product-focused. They've got their focus on selling product, and on utilization of product. But what they don't focus on is what the medical professionals really need in order to use the products—be they nurses or clinical practitioners. Reps don't focus on the way the doctors practice or the way the medical professionals make decisions in regard to incorporating new products and new procedures into their clinical practices. It's a unique and specific thought process.

Michael Kessler: I would say that one of the main issues we see is that the industry, in attempting to become customer-centric or doctor-focused as we call it, is still trying to force their marketing and sales process on the doctor—rather than aligning their process with our mindset to give us what we need to use their products.

PE: Do doctors tend to see sales reps as a help or a hindrance?

MK: That all depends on the rep. The latest statistics show that 8 out of 10 won't make it past the doctor's front door. The doctor is denying access to those who are not bringing value.

PE: Do most doctors tend to think and act that way?

MK: Yes. All doctors have been trained the same way in medical school and post-graduate training. They're trained to think a certain way; they're trained to communicate a certain way; they're trained to interpret clinical information a certain way, and to solve patients' problems a certain way. It's all part of their problem-solving process. There are different characteristics and different issues for different specialties, but in general, doctors' mindsets are the same.

PE: You make the distinction between marketing to doctors and marketing to physicians. Can you explain that?

MK: If you are marketing and selling to doctors, you must understand that there are two distinct types of doctors: there are physicians and there are surgeons. Physicians do not consider themselves surgeons, and surgeons do not consider themselves physicians. So if you're talking about doctors and using the word "physician" in your selling and marketing, then basically what you're doing is leaving out the surgeons, in the surgeon's mind.

PE: So you're committing a faux pas, in a sense.

MK: Well, what it shows is that you don't have a good grasp of the mindset of the customer.

PE: What is real doctor-focused selling?

MK: We define doctor-focused selling as aligning existing brand and marketing strategies, messaging and sales materials, clinical knowledge, and selling skills to the specific behaviors doctors need to grant access, enter into clinical discussions, perceive a value proposition, and change their clinical behaviors and prescribing habits.

Again, a company is very much product-focused, whereas doctors are more problem-focused. What sales and marketing need to do is to align their product positioning with the doctor's mindset.

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