Are you a business ally?

January 1, 1998

Pharmaceutical Representative

Provide more than product knowledge to your customers.

There are three key players who affect the market share of a pharmaceutical product: the sales representative, who educates the health care provider; the health care provider, who writes prescriptions that get filled by the pharmacist; and the pharmacist, who delivers the product to the patient.

As sales representatives, we already understand our business interests and goals. But if we want to be successful, we need to understand the business objectives of health care providers and pharmacists as well. We need to see the world through their eyes. Doing so positions us as business consultants and allies, rather than as "detail people" who merely dump data and samples like the other 99% of reps in the territory.

Health care providers

Health care providers are not concerned with how many prescriptions they write. First and foremost, they are concerned with making their patients well by enabling them to comply with assigned regimens. This is true whether a provider is a family practitioner or a nurse practitioner, a podiatrist or a dermatologist. Secondly, they need to keep their practices fiscally sound and attractive to potential patients. In other words, they must be viable businesses with minimal liabilities.

To address the first concern, ask yourself how your drug can help providers get their patients well. This might include compliance advantages, formulary access, side-effect profiles or safety and efficacy for the patient. Speak in terms of the patient instead of the drug. Be knowledgeable of your drug's features so you can stress to the provider the benefits to the patient.

To address the business part, remember that time is money to a physician. Respect this important principle and you will stand out. Communicate clearly and concisely and take extra time only when you're giving them valuable information.

Keep in mind that prior authorization processes take time. If your drug has limited formulary access, find out which formularies dominate the practice. Focus on what phraseology is required for approval. Then assure the provider that you will pass this knowledge to the nurse or nearest pharmacist who has to process the form. Use this as leverage to ask for more use of your drug. Then do exactly that. Complete the loop by educating other key people involved in the process.

You can also become a business ally by sharing sound business information, such as changes in HMOs or formularies. Make providers aware of any plans for expansions or new hiring in the clinic. Perhaps you know of an excellent physician's assistant or nurse practitioner who's looking to transfer; if so, pass the information on to the doctor. These are valuable business contributions.

Finally, find out if the practice is on capitation basis with a certain health maintenance organization. This may give you insight to why your business is not growing with the practice. Knowing this can help you revise your strategy or focus.

Pharmacists

Speak the language of pharmacists. In business schools, students learn about a marketing strategy that usually involves seven steps. After the first three steps - researching consumers, the relevant market and the competition, - the fourth step is the selection of distribution channels. In our industry, the product, or drug, reaches the end consumer (also known as the patient) via the pharmacy. A breakdown at this juncture can kill your business.

The pharmacist cannot fill a prescription for your product if he or she does not know the correct information needed for prior authorization, It's also likely that he or she won't do so if the authorization process seems like a cumbersome process. Make it easy for them to fill prescriptions.

Pharmacists, especially independent pharmacists, are concerned with customer care, store traffic and profitability. Talk to them in these terms. Provide them with information about your drug, including dosing, safety, formulary coverage and advantages. Tell them how they can attain their margins by sharing how they can get prior authorizations approved and move products off the shelf. Know the various processing fees and the levels of reimbursements that HMOs pay them. This is important business to them.

Business relationships

Take a long, honest look at your relationships with health care providers and pharmacists. Ask yourself tough questions. What are your true relationships? Do your customers respect you, or are they just being polite to you? Do you make contributions to their business, or are you viewed as a time-waster? Earn the right to ask and receive your customers' business support by giving them useful insight.

Train yourself in business relationships. Many sales trainers focus strongly on product knowledge but rarely discuss the development of business relationships. If this is the case in your company, then you'll have to train yourself. You can do so through reading and preceptorships in clinics and pharmacies, for example.

Be more than just the "detail person" who brings lunch. Educate yourself so you dress, talk and serve your customers like a businessperson. PR