Are you asking smart questions?

January 1, 1999
Michael Kessler
Michael Kessler

Michael Kessler is a physician and is president and CEO of the Atlanta-based Medical Communications Center. He conducts beginning, intermediate and advanced sales training workshops for the pharmaceutical, medical product and device industries. He can be reached at MKessler@repsuccess.net or (404) 257-1251.

Pharmaceutical Representative

Focus groups reveal docs want better queries.

In every sales rep's territory, there are doctors who are not using or prescribing their products. Ten to forty percent of them are what a sales rep might consider "difficult doctors." According to numerous focus groups of physicians such as these, one reason why they don't prescribe certain products is because the sales reps who promote them ask questions that turn them off before the products are even considered.

In order to be more successful with these and other doctors, you need to separate yourself from all the other sellers out there who have been in front of that doctor. That means every salesperson from your pharmaceutical archrival to the Amway sales rep, because a difficult doctor perceives you all the same. You need to become a credible and valuable resource to your customers. You need to stand out from the crowd and be different!

One way you can do that is to eliminate questions that difficult doctors consider useless probes. Here are some examples of questions that doctors cited in focus groups, and alternative ways to get the information and results that you want.

"Doctor, tell me, how do you treat condition x?"

This is a loaded question. Doctors know that whatever they say - other than that they use your product - you're going to tell them that they're wrong and that you know a better way to treat the condition. How often do you hear doctors admit to not treating the proper way? You should have a good idea of how they treat before you walk in the door. Why would you want to put doctors and yourself in this no-win situation?

A better and more successful way to approach the situation is to briefly present a clinical research study that documents how the experts are treating patients with your product. Then ask a smart question that challenges the doctor to use the product to get the same results in the same patient profile that the author did. If the doctor says no, your next question is "why?" Then you'll hear the objections and how they treat. By doing this, you have educated the doctor first before asking for something else. You have separated yourself from 95% of all the other reps out there.

"Doctor, what are the problems/challenges that you face when you treat condition x?"

This question can lead you nowhere. Many doctors will say, "I don't have any." Or the challenges may not be the ones that key into your detail. Again, this is a time waster for both you and the doctor.

A more effective approach is to quote a clinical research study that documents the challenges faced by doctors in treating a disease and how they have been overcome. Assume that the doctor faces the same challenges. Then ask a smart question that challenges the doctor to use the product to get the same results.

"Doctor, do you see patients with condition x?"

This is a totally useless question, but typical of what is asked in the industry. You should know what kind of patients doctors treat before you see them. If you don't know what they treat, you have no business being in their office. It's just a waste of everybody's time.

"Do you see these side effects in those patients who are taking product z?"

Again, this question forces doctors to admit negative things, which is something most try to avoid. And if the doctor says 'no,' then what do you do?

Use a clinical research paper to give statistics on what experts are seeing. Then assume the doctor sees these side effects because the clinical literature proves it. Use a clinical research paper that documents a decrease or absence of these side effects when using your product. Then ask a smart question that challenges the doctor to use the product to get the same results that the author of the study did. If the doctor says he or she doesn't see these side effects, you can ask a smart question that challenges the doctor as to why he or she thinks the patient population is different than the one quoted in the study.

"Would it be important to you to have a product/device that doesn't (fill in the blank) and that helps your patients get better faster?"

Why ask the obvious? Of course doctors would want that. It's a typical sales question that turns away doctors and once again implies that they are not treating properly.

By now, you can see that you should be asking doctors smart questions based on clinical literature. By doing this, you give information to them in a way that they like it and are used to it and in a way that they share it with one another. When you ask smart questions, you are perceived as being more objective. When you give the doctor something first, in the form of education, before you ask for something from them, you are seen as a valuable resource. By doing this, you will separate yourself from 95% of all the other salespeople calling on the doctor. PR

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