Close the sale

October 1, 2000
Michael Dorfman

Pharmaceutical Representative

There is a saying, "If you don't ask for it, you don't get it." In pharmaceutical sales, as well as most other sales jobs, this saying usually holds true.

There is a saying, "If you don't ask for it, you don't get it." In pharmaceutical sales, as well as most other sales jobs, this saying usually holds true. I learned the importance of closing, also known as "asking for the business," with my first sales job out of college. I was raw, full of energy and very excited about selling copy machines door to door in New York City. During sales training we were taught the ABCs (Always Be Closing) for good reason. Once I was on the street, competition was fierce. Every prospective customer was looking at five different machines, and I only had one or two calls to make my sale. It was imperative that I walk away with a check in my hand and a signed contract. If I didn't make the sale by the second call it was usually a lost cause.

As a copier sales representative, I was given a base salary of $150.00 per week, with no expense account. No, this was not 1932; it was 1986, a very enlightening year for me. There were monthly quotas to be met, and all sales went up on the board for all 100 salespersons to view. Each month was a clean board. I reported to the office at 8 a.m. to make phone calls and do paperwork. Then, at 9:30 a.m., I would proceed to my territory and "cold call" offices to try and generate leads.

After knocking on 60 to 90 doors on a given day, I was thrilled if I got four or five prospects (not sales, just prospects). At our weekly sales meetings my manager would ask the team, "Did you earn the right to ask for the business? Did you present all the benefits of our products and our customer service?" If we did indeed meet the customer's needs, then we earned the right to close for the business. Very rarely would I make a sale without asking the customer something like "So when do you want me to have the machine delivered?" or "If I meet all your needs, can we do business today?" If I didn't close sales and earn commission, my weekly pay after expenses and taxes would be about $65.00. Thus I learned the importance of closing for the business.

Even with this pressure to close, there were still reps who were closeaphobic. These were the reps who very rarely made their quota and didn't last more than six months as a copier representative.

Ahhh, pharmaceutical sales

The world of pharmaceutical sales is quite different. We, the pharmaceutical representatives, are given very decent base salaries, expense accounts and company cars, and we get to meet with our potential customers many times during the year. As a matter of fact, this is one of the few sales jobs where it is almost expected that we show up each month and try to make the sale. Because we have these salaries and the ability to go back so frequently, it is human nature to forget the urgency of asking the doctor for the business.

On the job

It's no secret. We are hired to make sales. Can we build great relationships/friendships in the process? Can we educate our customers on the many benefits of our products? Can we offer great customer service to our accounts? I hope the answer is yes to all these questions. But make no mistake, we are hired first and foremost to sell medicine, increase market share and bring in revenue for our firms. Knowing how to ask for the business is definitely a part of success in pharmaceutical sales.

In today's competitive pharmaceutical market, many selling skills are needed to change a doctor's prescribing habits. You can do many things right call after call, and the doctors might try your product based on this. However, if they are happy with a similar product, why should they change? Did you ask them to? What kind of close did you use? A very common end-of-call statement by representatives is to thank doctors for their continued support. Simply thanking them for their continued support is not a close (especially when a doctor only prescribed your product twice last month). Asking them, "Do you feel comfortable prescribing X product?" is a good trial close, but not good enough to end a call and gain business with. Doctors may honestly feel very comfortable with your product and answer "yes" to your question, but that doesn't mean they will prescribe it.

You didn't ask them to change; you asked if they felt comfortable. They are also comfortable and experienced with Y product, so why should they change? If you don't ask for your deserved share of business with specific closes, then doctors will most certainly stay committed to products they are used to.

If you've presented your product appropriately and the product offers benefits to their patients, then haven't you earned the right to ask doctors to use your product? So what is a strong close? "Dr. Smith, based on all the benefits X offers over Y, will you now prescribe X to all your chronically silly patients?" is an example of a good direct close. After you ask a question such as this, if the doctor looks you in the eye as a person (hopefully one he or she likes) and says, "I will prescribe your product," then you have a real chance at seeing business. Now you can go back on your next call to that doctor and say, "Dr. Smith, last time I was here you said you would prescribe X product."

If you have established strong relationships and have presented the benefits of your product, then asking for the business won't hurt your relationships. Doctors know we are there to make sales. If they make a commitment to you, it is okay to ask them to come through on it. Do you have to close on every call? This depends on your frequency. Obviously if you visit a doctor every 10 days, then closing strong on every call would be obnoxious, and probably do more harm than good. However, more often than not, it can't hurt to get some kind of commitment for product use. Present your product well and you earn the right to ask for the business.

For the love of this job

This truly is a one-of-a-kind sales job. We have our independence in the field, good incomes, benefits and company cars. With most of our doctors, we get to go back again and again to make the sale. But no matter how often you go back, if you don't ask for the business you're probably not going to get it. Ask for it and it will come, and so will your incentive checks. PR

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