Introduction: Mind the Gap

Don't rely on traditional tests to tell you what reps know. By the time you find out, it just may be too late.
May 01, 2006
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

Jeannette Park
I recently caught up with an acquaintance at a friend's cocktail party. It had been a while since I had seen him; As a musician, he spent a lot of time away, playing shows and touring clubs. But he had since changed jobs. The bills had to get paid, so he decided to put his music career on hold and rejoin the pharma company he had worked for after college.

The same characteristics that made him a good musician, made him a good sales rep: he was an excellent communicator, and had a type of charisma that made people want to listen—myself included. So we started to talk shop. I had previously researched one of the drugs he was promoting, so I peppered him with questions about the product, its efficacy, and how often doctors prescribed it. He launched into a memorized sales pitch. But then I asked him what doctors actually thought about the drug, what they felt was missing from the patient literature, and how the dosing changed for pediatric patients. All of a sudden, my talkative rep friend grew quiet. It then occurred to me: He's not telling—he's selling.

A pharma company's sales force can be its most lucrative asset or its greatest liability. Reps can be the first team to provide the medical community with education and new information. But they are also the front line in fielding doctors' questions. So don't leave your reps unprepared. Does the field force really know all the information about the drug they're selling, or are they just giving doctors a 90-second sales pitch from memory? Because it just takes asking one question off the memorized script for a doctor to tell what kind of rep they're talking to. That affects the doctor's perception of the rep, but also of the drug and the company.

This month's supplement takes a close look at this issue of the knowledge gap, and other concerns sales trainers face. Here's a sample of what you can expect in this issue:

The best predictor of reps' performance is not just knowledge, but a combination of knowledge and confidence. Brian Webster of Knowledge Factor looks at using alternative assessments to distinguish between what reps know for sure, and what they think they know. Try this test with your sales force—you may be surprised at the results.

President of Medical Science Liaison Institute and author of Jane Chin discusses the knowledge gaps that exist in clinical matters. Physicians often gripe that reps don't know enough of it. This article provides a crash cource with five best practices to ensure your sales force can cover these types of clinical issues.

All this continued education shouldn't just be concentrated on sales reps. District and regional managers need to be better trained, too, according to the Society of Pharmaceutical and Biotech Trainers and the Hay Group's fifth benchmark study. Don't forget about them—they're your link to the sales force at large.

We also cover incentives, with an article by Synygy's David Grossberg. He offers some insight on a Towers Perrin survey of 45 companies that focus on the effectiveness of different incentive plans.

This supplement is intended to take a deep dive into these issues and offer some practical solutions to concerns facing today's sales managers. The topics covered bring me back to the thought of my friend, and how in music, just like in sales, you can't just be good—you have to be great to succeed. And if the house band plays the music a little different than what you're used to, adding in some extra beats, not only do you have to be able to pull the improvisation off, but use it to make it that much better of a performance.

Jeannette Park is Pharmaceutical Executive's special projects editor. She can be reached at

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