Become an ethical sales representative

November 1, 2000
Dave Graziano

Pharmaceutical Representative

Work toward credibility and compassion.

Let's try something for fun. Examine the following examples of various professions: doctor, bookie, drug dealer, clergy, teacher, tobacco executive, farmer, politician.

If the average person on the street were asked to separate these into two categories – one comprising "ethical" professions and the other "unethical" ones, the separation would invariably look like this:

Ethical: doctor, clergy, teacher, farmer.

Unethical: bookie, drug dealer, tobacco executive, politician.

With me so far? Good. Now, let's add one more profession to the evaluation – pharmaceutical sales representative. Where would the average person put that one? I would submit that, unfortunately, it would often be placed in the "unethical" category.

Of course, there are good and bad qualities to be found in individuals of all professions. Why is it that our industry suffers from the negative image that is so pervasive in the press? Is the average pharmaceutical sales representative, in the words of a physician acquaintance, a "parasite on the medical field?" Is our sole concern simply to sell as much of our product as possible for the sake of financial gain?

Tough questions

Ask yourself some questions:


•Â Are you proudly representing a product that will bring value to patients by improving their quality of life? Or are you blindly pushing your bag of products without thinking or caring much about the needs and concerns of patients and caregivers?


•Â Is your goal to get as many patients who will clearly benefit from your product placed on it through educating and selling? Or is your goal to sell as much drug as possible without concern for what is best for the patient?


•Â Do you strive to become a top expert in the disease state for which your product is utilized so you can credibly represent it? Or is it back to selling as much drug as possible without regard for the patient?


•Â Do you love the art of the sale and understand that selling is a means of diplomatically conveying the features and benefits of your product and moving people to action? Or is selling a means for you to get others to do what you want?

If you can answer positively to the first question in each bullet point, then you are in the right place.

The road to ethical behavior

Is it realistic to think we can function in this profession in an ethical fashion and still meet our sales goals? I believe so. It starts with your very first call to an office. Make it a point to convey to your customers what you are all about. "Doctor, my hope is to earn credibility and trust, so that patients who need my product will receive it. I am representing company X, which I have chosen to work with due to their relentless focus on the patient and on doing business ethically. I commit to you that I will carry myself with professionalism in your office, and will respect the time of everyone here so that I never interfere with your job while I am doing mine." This approach will probably not change the world in one call, but it will establish in the physician's mind that you have given thought to more than just pushing your agenda.

Building trust and credibility is a long-term project. You will be constantly tested. What happens the first time a physician challenges your product based on misinformation delivered by your competitor? Typical approach: Vehemently counter the misinformation and bash the other sales rep or product back. Ethical response: Support the physician's concern, provide the real facts and move on with your message. "Doctor, I again commit to you that you will always receive credible, fact-based information from me. I will promote my product on its merits, never on my perception of the shortcomings of another product." Which representative will be more trusted and respected in six months?

What happens when your competitor engages in highly aggressive activities to influence the prescribing habits of key physicians? Typical response: Seek ways to up the ante and play the game. Ethical approach: Bring the focus back to the patient. "Doctor, I want you to use my competitor's product – with those patients for whom it is the best treatment available for their condition. Do I have your commitment to use my product in the same fashion?" The ethical approach to pharmaceutical sales is all about building honest partnerships with caregivers – with the ultimate goal of supporting patient care.

What happens when your top writer approaches you for funding for things that you are uncomfortable supporting? For example: "I am going to the big conference in London and am bringing my spouse. I'm looking for sponsorship." Typical response: Panic and seek funding from your district manager to support the doctor. Ethical approach: "Doctor, within American Medical Association guidelines, I will do everything I can to support patient care in your practice. Can we discuss some alternatives that we both can feel confident about when held to that standard?"

Show integrity

Of course, these approaches must be personalized to fit your own style. They should be tailored to established relationships and personalities and can be lightheartedly delivered. The goal is certainly not to be abrasive or judgmental. Rather, it is to establish for our customers, our companies and our peers the boundaries in which our values reside. You will find that, over time, you will earn a great deal of business. Word spreads quickly. For each prescription you lose for "not playing the game," you will earn twice that from physicians who appreciate your integrity.

I appeal to each of you in this profession. Let's make it – person by person – a field that commands respect and brings true value to our customers, patients and healthcare providers alike. PR

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