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Access to high-prescribing physicians continues to challenge the industry. Still, some representatives succeed while others do not. Pharmaceutical Representative and Health Strategies Group take a look at the state of the selling environment in 2006.
"A valuable representative knows my practice, is familiar with my patient population and focuses discussions accordingly." A typical physician like the one quoted here meets with 112 representatives. Fewer than one in four of these representatives consistently demonstrates the traits and actions that are valuable to the customer. These select representatives ensure ongoing access to their most important physicians by delivering value during each interaction. How can pharmaceutical sales representatives join this group and differentiate themselves from the crowd?
Each year, the Health Strategies Group assesses the state of the selling environment. This year, our research included 663 high-prescribing physicians in 13 specialties, supplemented with an online survey of 101 pharmaceutical sales representatives from more than 10 companies that call on these physicians.
Call activity remains high. The average representative calls on 41 physicians, nine nurse practitioners/physician assistants and 23 ancillary personnel each week. The average primary care physician interacts with 29 sales representatives each week, and the average specialist interacts with 15. A little over half of these interactions include a product discussion (see figure 1).
Figure 1. Physician interactions
Physician access is holding steady. The proportions of physicians considered hard or easy to see remain similar to those seen in last year's report (see figure 2). Representatives continue to cite physician time constraints as the number-one reason they interact with target physicians less than they would like (see figure 3). In response, representatives continue to develop nontraditional call types. Breakfast meetings make up a small but growing percentage of calls. And because of physician time constraints, representatives often only discuss one product (see figure 4).
Figure 2. Access to physicians
How can sales representatives differentiate themselves from the constant flow of representatives streaming into their target physicians' offices? Physicians describe the ideal sales representative as "well trained," "respectful of the physician's time" and "fully informed on scientific studies." The sidebar summarizes the top 10 traits and actions that physicians seek in their pharmaceutical sales representatives.
Figure 3. Barriers to access
But such traits and actions are only part of the equation; effective use of resources can help increase the perception of value. Of the various resources available, physicians value product samples most, followed by new product information and patient education.
Figure 4. Product discussions
Effective representatives succeed with gatekeepers and optimize resource use. To increase access, the most effective representatives follow seven rules for succeeding with gatekeepers (see "7 rules for reps to live by") and employ four strategies for using their clinical resources more effectively:
Networking works :take advantage of peer networks
They highlight key points from clinical papers. Physicians appreciate clinical data that are clear and easy to understand, particularly if the representative is building on a previous call.
They emphasize the relevant page of the detail aid. If a representative is making a key point regarding the efficacy of the product, opening the detail aid to the efficacy page provides visual reinforcement.
They focus on relevant topics. Physicians say the best representatives know the practice, are familiar with the patient population and focus their discussions.
Succeed with gatekeepers: 7 rules for reps to live by
They strive for clarity and simplicity. In a world of information overload, being brief and to the point will make an impact.
Using resources in these ways helps representatives make the most of their limited time with customers.
What can you do to become more successful? Be open to improving your skills! Embrace the opportunity to learn from customers and managers. Develop and leverage peer networks (see "Networking works"). For example, you can read medical journals to become more comfortable talking about clinical studies or ask to attend the next internal training program to develop advanced selling skills.
The ideal representative: the top 10 traits and actions physicians look for in representatives
Access to high-prescribing physicians continues to challenge the industry. Still, some representatives succeed while others do not. Once again, in 2006 the effective representatives share three success factors that lead physicians to agree to see them even if the waiting room is full:
Good territory management. Effective representatives are good at pre-call planning, use appropriate resources, and coordinate and communicate well with their counterparts.
Physician-focused interactions. Effective representatives see each physician as an individual and tailor their interactions appropriately. The goal is to bring value to every call.
Effective sales practices. Effective representatives engage customers in dialogue that is supported by relevant resources and content.
These strategies work. Effective representatives spend 44% more time with customers each week (by having longer calls, not more calls) and are 50% more likely to exceed their sales goals than their average peers. One thing that hasn't changed: Focusing on meeting customer needs is still the best strategy for success. Good luck and good selling!