Advice for Lone Ranger reps

October 1, 1998
Terry Rodgers

Pharmaceutical Representative

Create you own success by coaching yourself.

You may not remember the Lone Ranger, but if you're like many pharmaceutical sales reps, you may often feel like him! Just you and the open trail, with no one at your side to tell you what to do and not do.

We all need feedback and coaching, but in our business there are times when we have no choice but to go at it alone. Most district managers can only work with us a few times a year, and others don't add much as coaches even when they ride alongside us once a month. Regardless, even the best district managers can't coach us everyday. This means we're Lone Rangers, of sorts, and need to coach ourselves.

Essentials for the trail

The first thing we need to do is plan. If you've heard of pre-call planning, consider this pre-coach planning.

Take a few minutes to jot down the skills that you want to work on. Maybe you need to improve your opening questions, or maybe you need to close better. Whatever the skill you need to tweak, make a note of it.

Next, ask yourself what that skill is supposed to look like. What would be a good opening question? What would be an assertive close? If you are not sure, then you need to consult with someone.

Pick a senior representative in your area to use as a mentor, someone skilled whom you respect and who is willing to help you. Think other reps won't want to make time for you? You might be surprised at how many experienced reps would jump at the chance to share what they have learned over the years.

If there is no senior representative in your area to act as a mentor, then dig out those old selling skills binders that you used in training. Dig out all the recent memos from marketing and training that give you hints on how to use the current sales material. I know you read them and have probably filed them nicely, but dig them out and give them a second look.

Once you know what a good skill looks like, record it. A small cassette recorder can be a great investment for this purpose. It allows you to practice and play back the results. Practice in front of a mirror. You want to be able to see as well as hear your performance. If you own a video camera, that's even better. Videotape your practice.

Once you know how you look and how you sound, it's easier to coach yourself in offices. You become an objective observer as well as a participant in the sales call.

Remember, one of the reasons that coaching is important is competition. You must continue to improve your skills and maintain that competitive edge. If you don't have a coach to help you, then you must help yourself.

Trail guidance

So far, you have figured out what a good skill looks like and you have recorded it. You are practicing diligently in the mirror to see your results and you are using all possible avenues of assistance. You have completed your pre-call planning and you are ready to hit the streets. Don't forget a notebook or something in which to keep track of your progress on your physician calls. You will want this to be separate from your territory records.

Remember the rules of good coaching. You will need to follow them in order to coach yourself.

Be specific: This is even more important when you are coaching yourself. When you come out of a call, write down everything you can remember about the call. Write down quotes. What did you say, and what did the physician say in return? How did you summarize and ask for the business?

Review your pre-call planning. What was your objective with the physician? Did you meet that objective? What could you have done differently to meet the objective better? What did you do that really seemed to work?

Be timely: If you don't review a call as soon as you come out of an office, the chances of your memory not being accurate goes up dramatically. A long pencil is better than a short memory any day, so write it down.

Try to review each call as you go through your day. If there were some calls that feel like they were too short to coach, analyze why were they so short. What could you have done differently to get more time with the physician?

Also, don't forget to give yourself credit for a job well done. When you coach yourself you have to be your own support system, too. No Tonto here!

Make observations about your behaviors, and don't judge yourself: A bad call does not mean you are an outlaw. As your own coach you must be careful not to beat yourself up because your skills are not perfect. Don't forget to share your experiences with your chosen mentor. If you don't have a mentor, ask a friend or significant other to be your sounding board. You can also give them a rundown on the sales call and ask them to share their impressions. We are all customers and make buying decisions everyday. The pharmaceutical industry is no different - we just have different products.

Be honest: This is even more critical when you are coaching yourself. You will never get better if you are not honest with yourself.

Happy trails

Finally, remember to have fun! Role-playing with a mirror or even a friend can seem silly at first (although it really does work) so enjoy it. Ham it up a little and soon you will be coaching yourself like a pro.

And at the end of the day, you can drive your silver Taurus into the sunset of your territory with the knowledge that you are coaching yourself to success!

Terry Rodgers is a training and management consultant based in Wappingers Falls, NY, and a board member of NSPST.

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