Can you overcome these objections?

May 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

A physician's advice on countering objections.

Physicians have an implicit knowledge of their clinical experience. This clinical experience has been labeled as "knowing in practice" by researchers. For example, many experienced physicians can arrive at a tentative diagnosis after only a few moments of history-taking, although it would be difficult for them to explain the method they used.

"Knowing in practice" plays three important roles in the practice of medicine, according to researchers who have studied the subject. These roles are: developing diagnostic experience over time, developing motor skills used in physical diagnosis and learning to hear what patients are saying within the context of the physician's own needs and desires.

Many physicians have come to rely on this "knowing in practice" to judge the efficacy and safety of the diagnostic and therapeutic interventions they use in daily practice. Hence they often say to sales reps: "In my clinical experience, I don't see that in my patients."

However, managed care, data collection and analysis have shown that such conclusions are not necessarily correct and certainly not scientifically valid.

Double standard

Despite this subjective approach, physicians require sales reps to justify the safety and efficacy of a diagnostic or therapeutic intervention through scientific rigor and statistical analysis. They demand that your information be based on randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies. They demand to know statistical significance, the percentage of patients who responded, side effects of drugs and more.

Then, when sales reps present this information, the physicians come up with objections like "not enough people in the study," "the study was not 'real world,'" "we used the drug and it didn't work" or "the study was not published in a reputable journal."

Many sales reps try to overcome these objections by saying: "Well, Doctor, how many people would be enough?"; "Maybe you didn't use it properly"; or "Doctor, which journal do you feel is reputable?" These are questions that physicians have heard hundreds of times before, and they get sales reps nowhere but sent out the door.

Counter attack

In order to overcome common objections, sales reps need to understand why physicians make these objections in the first place.

The majority of physician objections are smoke screens designed to put sales reps on the defensive and test their knowledge. And, in all fairness to physicians, many reps don't know anything more about the information or study they are presenting than what their marketing department tells them. Sales reps often misrepresent data and don't tell physicians the whole story.

So, in order to be able to overcome objections, sales reps must know their information inside and out. Not just the high points, but all of it.

Sales reps must also learn how the objection game is played among physicians. If a physician at a medical meeting or lecture challenges the presenter by saying, "I used it and it doesn't work," "I don't see that in my practice" or "Your results weren't published in a reputable journal," that physician would be challenged in return. Consider the following dialogue as an example of how that exchange might ensue:

Presenter: "All right, Doctor. In my study there were 500 patients. How many were in your study?"

Physician: "Four or five."

Presenter: "Doctor, are you telling me that you are basing your results on a study of only four patients? What was the study criteria? Was the study randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled? What methods did you use to assess the results? What percentage were responders? Of those, what percentage had side effects? What was the level of significance of the study results?"

Obviously, the physician whose judgement of the safety and efficacy of a diagnostic or therapeutic intervention is based on his or her clinical experience has no scientific rigor and statistical analysis to back up his or her position. In fact, the above dialogue would never happen between physicians because they know better than to say these kinds of things around their peers. But they will say such things to you.

When a physician uses these kinds of objections, a sales rep should politely ask the physician to back up his or her statement/judgement with data. His or her colleagues certainly would do so. And it's fair play; after all, they make sales reps back up what they say.

Sales reps could counter by saying, "Doctor, I understand that your clinical experience leads you to that conclusion, and I respect that, but…" and then politely posing some of the same questions that the hypothetical presenter did.

By asking these questions, sales reps signal to physicians that they understand how to play the game and that they know what is going on. This will help sales reps gain respect, show physicians that they are different from their peers and overcome objections. PR

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