In Defense of the Battered Sales Rep - Pharmaceutical Executive


In Defense of the Battered Sales Rep

Pharmaceutical Executive

How to Make Reps More Effective

While reps offer qualities that are hard to replace by other marketing methods, the room for improvement is enormous. With few exceptions, most training departments continue to train 1990's sales strategies. Why? Changes have happened so rapidly that it's hard to keep up. In addition, changes like access restrictions and managed care formulary restrictions seem insurmountable. How can we improve the process? Consider the following.

Access skills According to SK&A, the number of offices that restrict representative access is close to 50 percent. The key word is "restrict." Most offices are neither completely open nor completely closed; they are somewhere in between. Some reps successfully access physicians, many cannot. The good news? We know what makes the difference.

When it comes to improving the ability to access physicians, the results can be immediate and dramatic. Unfortunately, most companies have given up on access. Rather than providing access training, they say, "Go where the doctors will see you." This is a mistake. In fact, it takes very little effort to improve access to physicians. As of this writing, the most popular mode of accessing a busy physician is as follows. The rep enters a busy clinic. The rep greets the receptionists and says, "I'm wondering if you need samples." The receptionist informs the representative that they have plenty of samples. The rep turns and says, "See you next time." Certainly we can do better.

Even when the office is in need of samples—and the rep has the opportunity to interact with the physician—there is typically failure when it comes to transitioning from a sample signature into a product discussion. Reps can be trained to overcome access objections like "The doctors are busy" and "We only see reps at lunch." My personal research shows that the majority of reps fail to ever ask to see the physician. Simply making the request has the potential to improve physician access rates. The point? Reps can access more physicians, and basic access training programs can accelerate the process. The potential for increased reach and frequency is extraordinary.

Messaging skills Over the last several years, there has been a revolution in messaging technology. Social scientists and communications experts have found truth in the cultural adage, "It's not just what you say but how you say it." Books like "Chip" and Dan Heath's "Made to Stick" show us that slight modifications in the way representatives deliver a message can make an enormous difference to results. While communications advances are being used to train sales representatives in other industries, they have been largely ignored by pharma. Perhaps this is a manifestation of pharma's feeling that the sales rep will soon be a thing of the past. Whatever the cause, there now exists a simple technology to go beyond features and benefits selling. Companies that take advantage of this technology can quickly maximize revenue.

Improve morale Reps don't have the same spirit they had 10 years ago. Declining profits, patent expirations, and layoffs are now a part of their daily reality. While reps once looked forward to their future with spirit and enthusiasm, the new realities of an uncertain future bring fear and apathy. The morale of many sales reps has started to erode. Why is this important? Enthusiasm is an important driver of sales and low morale thwarts enthusiasm.

What can you do to boost the morale of your reps? Advertise positive news. A pep talk at the national meeting is no longer enough. Companies need to frequently advertise company victories, new product possibilities, and reasons to have faith in the future. Even the slightest victory has the potential to change attitudes, increase morale, and make your reps more effective salespeople.

Build in office relationship skills Building physician relationships outside of the office is no longer an option. PhRMA guidelines and other restrictions have made one-on-one physician dinners a thing of the past. Unfortunately, it was easier to create relationships over an elegant dinner than the confines of a busy practice. Nevertheless, we need to adapt to the new environment. That means getting better at building relationships during work hours.

A simple technology for building relationships in a fraction of the time now exists. Training programs that stress in-office relationship skills can be used to help your reps become more influential within the context of a busy office practice. Reps who increase their ability to influence key office players more quickly will be more successful.

In summary, reps are here to stay, at least until a new selling model can effectively replace their superior ability to create repetitive messages, leverage relationships, and challenge the treatment decisions of physicians. Nevertheless, there is great room for improvement. Companies can immediately increase representative ROI by providing access training and teaching their reps to take advantage of new messaging technology. In addition, in light of PhRMA guidelines, reps should be trained with new skills that will enable them to more quickly and effectively build relationships with physicians within the confines of a busy medical setting. Last, companies that focus on increasing rep morale can build a better emotional foundation for creating rep enthusiasm and improving sales.

Scott Moldenhauer is president of the Persuasion Consultants, LLC. He can be reached at


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