Accelerated Evolution - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Accelerated Evolution
Adapting training techniques is necessary to thrive in the fast-changing dynamic of a physician's office


Pharmaceutical Executive


Tweak the Selling Model

For many years, pharmaceutical companies have relied on selling models adopted from other industries. Until recently, these models worked. However, in the early 1990s, when physicians had less time to meet with sales representatives, consultative and other "long-sell" models became less effective.

Today's selling models fail to provide representatives with adequate guidance during brief physician interactions. Trying to cram a consultative sell into a quick hallway call is like trying to force a square peg into a round hole. It doesn't work, and it angers physicians. A more flexible selling model is desperately needed, and modern advances in consumer psychology point the way.

Consider the work of Dr. Shelly Chaiken and her colleagues at New York University. According to Chaiken, the pace of modern medicine has forced physicians to use a different set of criteria to judge products. In the past, when physicians had more time, they wanted to know about studies. They scrutinized data. Today's physicians are increasingly forced to rely on a more efficient set of mental criteria. Psychologists now know a great deal about these criteria, and new selling models have emerged from their work.

In essence, the work of Chaiken and other psychologists stimulated 30 years of research into "short call" models. While beyond the scope of this article, these models offer two distinct advantages. First, because they are in sync with the way physicians make decisions in fast-paced environments, new models offer more effective selling systems. Second, new models offer the flexibility of adjusting to shorter time frames, thereby making physicians more satisfied with representative interactions.

When implemented in the field, sales leaders find that new models blend nicely with existing models. Training directors, for example, are able to maintain the core structure and philosophy of their current selling systems while integrating critical elements of newer systems. Ultimately, sales performance is enhanced.

Put an Emphasis on Access

An updated sales model is one step toward improving pharma's sales force, but it's not enough. Access continues to be a hurdle. According to SK&A, up to 50 percent of physician offices now restrict representative access. The key word is restrict. Most physicians are neither completely open nor completely closed to representatives but somewhere in between. This means that representatives with access skills can improve sales by reaching more high-prescribing physicians.

To date, pharma has addressed the access challenge by either A) telling their representatives, "Go where the doctors will see you;" or B) providing representatives with nebulous instructions such as, "Implement the total office call." This is not enough, and minor changes to sales representative training can lead to significant improvements in access.

In office-based settings, training needs to be focused on three points of contact:

1) How does the rep get beyond the gatekeeper?

2) How does the rep get beyond secondary gatekeepers, including nurses and offices managers? and

3) How does the representative engage the physician in meaningful product discussions?

The good news is that access can be taught and learned. In fact, when you look at the behavior of the best representatives, you find that they successfully access many physicians that average representatives cannot. Moreover, they use a common set of strategies to do so. These strategies can be systematically learned, trained, and coached.

Randomize Field Rides

While a great coaching tool, field rides fall short when it comes to helping representatives adapt to the new selling environment. The reason for this is lack of randomization. Over and over again, sales representatives take their managers to the same subset of offices within their territories. These offices are almost always open access and representative friendly. Sales representatives refer to these offices as "milk runs." They offer easy opportunities to impress managers.

While most companies feel that this practice is acceptable, there is a hidden detriment. When representatives know their managers will not be asking to visit their most challenging offices, performance in these offices lacks during ordinary visits.

One way to help sales representatives adapt to the new selling climate is to randomize field rides. When representatives know that managers will be visiting all of their offices, things begin to change. Calls that were once nothing more than a sample drop become filled with a purpose (if nothing more to impress the manager on upcoming visits). Suddenly, knowing names, understanding office dynamics, and consistently accessing the physician is a priority. Ultimately, market share begins to improve, and representatives learn to adapt.

This approach comes with a caveat. In difficult offices, initial standards for success need to be relaxed. Progress should be measured in gradual steps. For example, initial success means that the representative has an understanding of office dynamics and has created allies with key office personnel; secondary success means that the representative consistently details the nurse, accesses the physician, and delivers a successful sales call.

In the end, representatives who succeed in their most challenging offices learn skills that can be used in all of their offices.

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


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