Closing the sales call

July 1, 2002
Leah Fiorelli

Leah Fiorelli has been a pharmaceutical sales representative for West Orange, NJ-based Organon Inc. since 1999. Prior to this position, she sold windows, doors, sunrooms and cemetary property, positions she says gave her experience selling both luxury and necessary items and also taught her to sell in both one-call close and long-term relationship selling situations.

Pharmaceutical Representative

Most sales experts agree that an effective close to a presentation is probably the most crucial aspect of making a sale.

Most sales experts agree that an effective close to a presentation is probably the most crucial aspect of making a sale. Why is it, then, that this vital ingredient of the sales call is so neglected in pharmaceutical sales? The simple task of gaining a commitment from a practitioner can strike fear into the hearts of the most talented sales representatives. Due to this uncomfortable feeling, when asking for prescriptions, or "closing the sale," the sales representative is often too aggressive or not aggressive enough, or simply neglects the close entirely.

I find that overly aggressive sales representatives tend to be confrontational in their closing technique. Often I hear physicians being asked questions like "Will you write XYZ product for your next 10 patients?" or "Doctor, you only wrote five scripts of ABC drug last month, so how about writing eight this month?" This type of closing technique is often harsh and offensive to the provider, and makes him or her feel pressured and uncomfortable. Practitioners do not want to feel they are being sold a drug, and most will agree that this type of questioning often results in fewer prescriptions. Asking for a certain number of scripts sometimes indicates to a provider that the representative is interested in his or her own sales numbers and not the best interests of the patients.

Non-aggressive representatives feel that they need to earn the right to close the doctor. They feel they earn this right through many visits, building relationships with providers and staffs, and establishing their trust. This type of salesperson is afraid to overstep the boundaries of the delicate doctor/representative relationship he or she has worked so hard to establish. Although this is a valiant effort from the sales representative, most often there is not enough time to accomplish these goals. It could take years of selling to providers before a relationship and trust are established. Sometimes, there may be only one visit per year, and that is the only chance to sell and close the practitioner. Representatives can't pass up such a golden opportunity because they feel timid.

Finally, there are the representatives who choose to neglect the close entirely. Often this is because they believe that their product, personality and superb product presentation are so overwhelmingly convincing that the physician does not need to actually be closed. The truth of the matter is that as sales representatives, we do not like to hear the word no. We are afraid to ask for a commitment because we don't want to be rejected. Too often, sales representatives avoid the negativity by asking for a commitment weakly or not asking for a commitment at all.

Through my years of selling, I have learned different techniques that allow me to lead into and close the sale with ease. Salespeople and managers have told me that I have a "soft sell" or "soft close." By this they mean I do not ask for a number of scripts at the end of my detail, but I still gain a commitment. I do not believe I have a soft sell; rather, I take opportunities throughout the presentation to gain commitments and get the provider to agree on various selling points. These smaller commitments provide a natural progression to the larger commitment at the end. In other words, I am closing the sale throughout the product presentation. This makes asking for the scripts easier later. Also, the practitioner does not feel like he or she is being closed. As a matter of fact, the more positive agreements obtained by the provider during the presentation, the more likely he or she is to agree and commit in the end.

Techniques for closing

Here are some closing techniques that can be used throughout the detail:

Assuming the sale. This method is just what it sounds like. Throughout the product presentation, you assume that the provider is interested and will be writing prescriptions for the product. You can say, "when you prescribe this," instead of "if you prescribe this." This technique gets the provider thinking in terms of already making the decision to prescribe the drug. Assuming the sale can be in words that you say, and also in actions that you take. For example, by having the providers sign for samples of your product, you are, in a way, assuming a sale. You are assuming that they will write prescriptions for your drug and will therefore need samples to get patients started. Even simple statements such as "Doctor, please remember to write DAW on the script" assume the physician will be writing prescriptions.

Objections. Objections do not necessarily come at the end of a detail. They can be at the beginning, middle or end. Often objections are viewed negatively by sales representatives. However, they are not necessarily a bad thing. If providers take the time to ask a question and wait for an answer, this is an indication that they are genuinely interested in the product. They just need more information before they feel comfortable enough to write a prescription. The most important thing is to clear the objection immediately. If the question is not answered after it is asked, the physician hears nothing else of your presentation. He or she may even think you are trying to hide something. Or worse, you may run out of time before you get to handle the objection, and it may be months before you have another opportunity to clarify.

Trial close. Using trial closes is an extremely powerful selling tool. They are questions to the physician that allow the representative to gain agreements about the usefulness, effectiveness and other benefits of the product. Trial closes can be used in different ways. One way is to gain more information from the provider about where his or her comfort level is for prescribing the product. Trial closes can bring out underlying objections that the provider was hiding, allowing the representative the opportunity to clarify any misconceptions.

Another way to use trial closes is to test the waters to see if the provider is ready to give an affirmative commitment. After every objection or question that is answered during the presentation, a trial close can be made. At this time, if the physician does not agree with the statement or question, there is no need to go further in your presentation. The provider will not use your product until that objection is uncovered, discussed and overcome. It is helpful to use trial closes after each objection is clarified. An example of a trial close is "Doctor, can you see how ABC drug's faster onset of action can help your patients get back to their normal daily activities sooner?" If the provider replies that there is insufficient evidence to prove this, or it does not matter to him or her that the drug is faster as long as it is more effective, you know you have more work ahead of you before you can close your sale. It is unlikely that practitioners will make a true commitment to prescribe if their concerns are not met. Even if it means returning next visit with the information requested, it is worth the time to solve that objection. It will show the provider that the representatives really are listening to his or her concerns and want to help.

Once all objections are cleared, it is okay to begin the final close. Even before this, it helps to lead with a final trial close such as "Doctor, after all we've discussed today about XYZ drug, do you see a place in your practice for it?" One may even ask, "Now that you feel more comfortable with ABC drug, can you think of any patients in your practice who may benefit from it?" These questions are directed at putting the providers in control of the prescriptions. They are the ones who came up with numbers of patients in their heads, not the representative. Trial closes help ease the presentation into the final closing request for the business.

Final closing. At this point, the representative has given a product presentation along with assumptive closes, all objections have been answered and trial close questions have been answered with positive responses. The next step is to ask for the final commitment. This follows a progression that feels natural to both the representative and the provider. It is now with ease and comfort that one can ask: "Doctor, will you use XYZ drug for those patients you're thinking of now?" This type of question follows in line with the rest of the presentation. It is assertive, rather than aggressive, to the provider. After all the positive affirmations from the trial closes, it is only reasonable that the provider will again give a positive response to the final request. Even after a commitment is obtained, one can use a final assumptive close such as "I am looking forward to hearing about your XYZ drug success stories when I come back next time" or "Which nurse would you like me to tell to expect these scripts from you?"

A service to the patients

When it comes to pharmaceutical sales, it is important to remember that you represent an excellent product that improves the lives of many people. If you do not convince the doctors of this and gain their commitment to write prescriptions for it, you are doing a disservice to both the physicians and their patients. The role of the pharmaceutical salesperson is an integral part of the healthcare system. We provide the product knowledge necessary for practitioners to choose the best treatments for their patients. When I get an affirmative commitment from a doctor, I do not just think of the potential bonus to be made (although it does cross my mind); I feel good about the patients who will benefit from using my company's product. Nothing gives me a better feeling than when a provider tells me he or she used my product for a difficult-to-treat patient, and as a result, the patient is doing much better. This can only happen if one is not afraid to close the sale.

Just as the dramatic ending of a good book or movie depends on the build-up of the plot, successful sales come from implementing a multitude of steps. They include earning a trusting and respectful relationship with the physician, making a flawless product presentation, answering all questions and objections satisfactorily, and in the end, gaining commitment. If all the pieces are in place, the ending should come naturally and smoothly. Asking the physician to write prescriptions should not be something forced, feared or neglected, but thought of as the final ingredient of a presentation that will ensure sales success. PR

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