Back to basics

July 1, 2002
Josh D. Deakin

Josh D. Deakin is a senior professional representative with Bridgewater, NJ-based Aventis Pharma AG. His territory currently covers the north shore area of Chicago, including Skokie, Evanston, Glenview and North Chicago.

Pharmaceutical Representative

Cleaning up our industry image.

Recent media attention has not been kind to the pharmaceutical industry and, in particular, the practices representatives employ to disseminate their product information. Whether it is recent television specials or local media attacks, our industry is under fire. In an effort to improve our image and practices, the Washington-based Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America has initiated a set of guidelines to be followed while promoting our products to our customers. Initially this list of rules may be seen as restrictive and limiting, but I view it as simply returning our industry to a focus on the promotional efforts that we all strive for: educational, evidence-based peer-to-peer promotion.

As pharmaceutical representatives, we must view ourselves as an integral part of the overall medical process. As representatives of our respective products, we provide education on proper usage of new and innovative products, new indications for existing products, and comparisons between varying products in a therapeutic category. Our role is an essential one that ultimately achieves the goal of better health for the individual patient.

That said, how do we make promotional efforts for our products in a manner that falls within the PhRMA guidelines and, most importantly, is viewed by the public as an appropriate expenditure of resources? This can be done by simply getting back to basic promotional programs like educational grand rounds, CME accredited programs and partnering opportunities with key customer groups. In addition to these programs, we can take a needs-based selling approach in our daily detailing activities that will help to ensure that we are viewed as a resource by our customers.

Educational grand rounds

One opportunity that almost every territory has to drive sales through educationally based programs is that of the community hospital grand rounds. By their nature, these programs ensure that proper promotional guidelines are followed, and they are a great way to get a clinical message across not only to attending physicians, but also to students and residents employed in the hospital. These residents are the customers of tomorrow, and local physicians attend the programs not only for their educational benefits, but also for their continuing medical education value. If you have yet to sponsor one of these programs, begin by visiting with the CME department and reviewing the guidelines and availability of grand round programs. Some hospitals will even offer other CME-related programs that you can sponsor, such as a professional lecture series.

CME accredited programs

Another related opportunity to attract physician attendance at a speaker program is to hold a CME accredited program. These programs can be held at a site of choice, but have to be educational. In order to begin the process of planning something of this nature, first speak with one of your customers who is in charge of medical education. He or she will be able to inform you of the guidelines for holding such a program, and may even be willing to assist in the development of such a program. In addition to physician groups you may want to get in touch with, many pharmacist groups have similar organizations and a need for continuing education programs you can sponsor. In many instances, these programs are well-attended or even mandatory for the pharmacy groups.

Partnering opportunities

In the current environment of managed care, many physicians are banding together to form physician groups or independent practice associations. Within such organizations, opportunities may be available for partnering relationships that are beneficial to both parties involved. Once you have identified physician groups within your territory, try to determine who an administrative contact may be. Try to meet with this individual and discuss the issues they face as an organization. For example, they may have need for an initiative to improve diabetes control within their patient base, or to better control the usage of non-formulary products, which are costing the organization capitation dollars. If you have the ability to provide a diabetes speaker to the group, or offer formulary products that, when utilized, will save the group money, an excellent promotional opportunity may be waiting. Many times these organizations will have well-attended monthly or quarterly meetings at which a guest speaker could present on the benefits of your product.

Needs-based selling

A final approach to ensure that we are viewed as a resource by our customers is to employ needs-based selling. I am sure we have all been exposed to this philosophy in one way or another with our respective companies, but do we always employ the methods? A needs-based selling approach, simply stated, is just a way to ensure that we are selling to our customers based upon their main concerns as they relate to the use of our products. Rather than simply presenting all of the information we have on our product in a one-way dialog format, we can ask a few simple questions at the beginning of our presentation to discover such information as: what types of patients in this therapeutic category they see, and how large a population this is; what products they have used in the past, and more importantly, why; what problems or concerns they have had with other products in this category; and what their overall treatment goals with these patients are. Obviously, there are many more qualifying questions we can ask, and these should be chosen carefully, so as to get the most important information from the customer as it relates to your specific product. The most important message here is that we are striving to meet the specific needs of each customer and thereby become a resource as opposed to a perceived nuisance.

Other resources

Keep in mind that in addition to the aforementioned ways to position ourselves as resources, we do have a variety of other methods at our fingertips. Most companies provide their representatives with a variety of patient education materials for use with our customers. In many cases, we can utilize our account managers to assist in disseminating the economic value of our products to the administrative heads of physician group practices. Our scientific specialist representatives can be used for specific questions that may arise from our customers. All of these methods will help to again position ourselves as a resource to our customers.

As we continue with our selling efforts in the field this year, there is one constant that will remain, and that is that our industry will continue to change and grow in the wake of media and public attention. As individual representatives, we each have an obligation to help improve our industry image each and every day. Keep in mind that you are an important part of the medical process and, most importantly, patient care. By positioning yourself as an invaluable resource to your customers and patients, you will in turn ensure a successful career in this industry. PR

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