Breaking through the access barrier

October 1, 1999

Pharmaceutical Representative

Pharmaceutical sales representatives claim that up to 45% of the physicians in their territories are difficult – if not impossible – to see. Here's how to get inside the no-see offices.

Most pharmaceutical sales representatives claim that up to 45% of the physicians in their territories are difficult – if not impossible – to see. If they can be seen, it is "catch as catch can" in hallway conversations that last less than a minute.

Once you get your moment to shine with a difficult physician, how should you use that time? And how can you hope to get the opportunity again and again and maybe even extend the time you're allotted?

How to gain access

It's the old Catch-22. Your modus operandi is to approach sales by building relationships, but how can you build relationships when you can't even get the first meeting with some physicians?

Realize that this is a two-step process. Gaining access is going to take an investment of time and repeated efforts on your part. You must find ways to "get in the physician's face" in less than optimum circumstances. Sometimes, this is all you will ever succeed in doing. In other cases, you will gradually earn the privilege of making a traditional sales call.

Know your audience. The success of any communication effort lies largely in how well you know your audience. When's the doctor's birthday? What kind of car does he or she drive? What are the best hours to visit? To whom does he or she refer cases? With which managed care programs is the doctor affiliated? Use a checklist to gather details about the practice so you have clues as to how and when to approach the doctor and how to be effective when you do gain access.

Make friends and influence people. Never underestimate the importance of your relationship with the office staff in determining your fate. Call on a regular basis and be personable. Never show your frustration. If you make a good impression on the staff and supply them with helpful information that they can relay to the physician, they may, in time, suggest to the doctor that you're worth making time to see.

Make yourself useful. One of the services you provide that physicians appreciate the most is also a sure-fire way to gain access - even if only briefly: supplying samples. Ask the staff if you can check the sample closet, and then aim to make a favorable impression on the doctor in the few seconds you have while he or she signs for the samples you leave.

Other ways to gradually prove your value include distributing premiums, mailing informative literature and inviting the physician to attend local speaker/dinner programs or national events sponsored by your company.

In these ways, you can repeatedly position yourself as a valuable resource - someone who is worth letting in.

Branch out. If your attempts at visiting the office during typical hours aren't working, try something new. Try calling when other reps aren't - such as on Saturday mornings. Or, move the venue. Work the hospital. Host an exhibit, attend Grand Rounds, hang out near the physician's lounge or "just happen" to meet the doctor in the hospital parking lot. If you can't get access in the physician's office, go to a place where you can.

Try, try again. As cliché as it sounds, persistence pays. You may have to spend many hours preparing and marketing just to win a single minute of standup presentation to a no-see doctor. If you work to demonstrate your value to physicians, they will eventually want to see you. Be patient.

How to maintain access

Let's imagine now that you've used some novel tactics and gained admission. What's next? How do you make the most of the limited time you have and ensure that you're welcomed back?

Build a relationship. Use some portion of the time you have to discover the common denominator between you and the physician. Ask questions and listen, listen, listen. Consider a rapport-building question such as, "What do you expect from me?" And don't assume that the first answer you get is complete. You can also pick up a lot by "listening" with your eyes - searching for clues in the office environment itself. The more you learn, the more you'll be able to focus on the physician's needs.

Don't outstay your welcome. Respect the physician's time. Don't take longer than you agreed to, and respond to signals that it's time to wrap it up.

Give 'em what they want. Most physicians eagerly accept new information. If you can provide legitimately new information, physicians will usually open their door a crack. And maybe next time, they'll hold it open wider and longer. Here are a few ideas:


•Â Conduct literature searches in advance to find the latest news.


•Â Provide individualized material in response to questions asked on the last visit.


•Â Hold "lunch and learn" sessions for the office.

Keep your instincts in check. In the face of sales quotas and product marketing hype, your enthusiasm may run high - too high for a doctor's taste. Pressure selling will backfire, so, while you have to be assertive to get in the door, you'll get further by knowing your stuff than by going for the jugular.

Final words of advice

Before you admit defeat and write off a large portion of your territory as out of reach, give some of the above techniques a try and then try them again and again. Successful reps have a dogged determination that emanates from a personal commitment to their job.

Several sales reps who are seeing so-called "no-see" physicians offer these secrets to their own success:


•Â "Remain knowledgeable, dependable and personable."


•Â "Follow the doctors' rules and work in their system."


•Â "Be professional. Period."


•Â "Increase your planning time and improve your time management."


•Â "View your job as providing continuing information to physicians so they can better serve and treat their patients, and go from there."

Finally, the best way to look at successfully interacting with no-see physician is to realize that a synonym for "selling" is "helping." If you have but one minute to sell, use it to help the physician and it will amount to the same thing. PR

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