A day in the field

September 1, 2002
Joe Renda
Joe Renda

Joe Renda, formerly the director of U.S. pharmaceutical management development for New York-based Pfizer Inc., is currently overseeing business operations for Pfizer's global learning and development organization.

Pharmaceutical Representative

Preparing to ride along with your reps.

It is Sunday night and tomorrow you are working with one of your representatives. What are you going to do to prepare? How are you going to help him or her? What can you offer?

The most important things we do as district managers are working in the field and coaching our representatives. What follows are some of the things you might consider before, during and after a ride-along with one of your representatives.

Before the ride-along

As you expect your representatives to prepare for their calls with customers, so too should you prepare for days with your customers – your representatives.


• Review previous coaching summaries/coaching notes.


• Review the sales data for that representative and his or her territory.


• Review the representative's file.


• Review the representative's appraisal and development plan.


• Be sure the representative knows when and where to meet you. You may want to have him or her suggest the starting and ending times for the day; this will give you an indication of how the rep works his or her days.

The representative should plan the day as a normal day. Of course, there may be some "special" doctors the representative wants to take you to see. Ideally, you want to see what the representative does on a day-to-day basis.

During the ride-along


• Start the day by turning off your cell phone – be with your representative, not somewhere else; also try to resist the urge to check voice mail.


• Consider beginning your day with a business review and having the representative prepare and deliver it.


• See if your representative, using a blank sheet of paper, can name the top 10 doctors for each product and the three areas with the biggest market share potential in his or her assignment.


• Ask for an update on any programs or projects taking place in the territory, as well as any managed care formulary projects or programs.


• See how well he or she can analyze the territory's business issues.


• The representative should provide you with a plan for the day, complete with the customers' names, rankings, and which products he or she will be detailing.

Pre-call. Before going into a call, the representative should do a thorough pre-call analysis. Questions you can ask to be certain the rep is prepared for a call include:


• What is your objective going into this call?


• Where is this doctor along the prescribing continuum?


• What took place on the last call?


• What is your strategy? What detail piece or article do you plan on using?

Post-call. After the call takes place, it is time for the post-call analysis. Consider asking your representative some of these questions:


• Did you meet your objective?


• What went well?


• What would you have done differently?


• What new information did you learn about the doctor and office?

One thing you can consider expecting your representatives to do as part of the post-call process is to input detailed notes of what took place during the call in their computer or palm pilot, or on paper; this is a good time for you to input your observational notes. Also, have them construct a plan - which will be their pre-call for the next visit - of what to do the next time they see the doctor (for example, which piece to use, which article to follow up with, what data to bring, what questions to ask).

So often, representatives omit the post-call step in the call process. They are so determined to get to the next office that they skip this step, with hopes of inputting the information when they get home. The problem with this tactic is that they have forgotten most of the details by the time they get home. If you have representatives who do not believe in the value of post-call analysis, try this: The next time you work with the representative, after each call, take notes on what you observed - you do the post-call analysis. At the end of the day, compare your detailed notes with your representative's sketchy memory, and he or she will see how much important information was missed.

What to look for during the day. Here are some things to look for while observing your representatives during a ride-along:


•Â How organized is the representative?


•Â How well does the rep know his or her accounts?


•Â How does the office welcome the representative?


•Â Does he or she address everyone by name?


•Â What is the doctor's reaction to seeing the representative?


•Â Are you seeing the same doctors on every ride-along?


•Â How well does the representative know his or her data (prescription patterns, market share trends, etc.)?


•Â How well does the rep know the most current product information (recent studies, competition, detail pieces, etc.)?


•Â What is the representative's knowledge of the managed care environment? Of Medicare and Medicaid? Does the representative discuss managed care with doctors? Does the rep know what plans most of his or her customers are affiliated with and the formulary status of his or her products? Is the representative working with managed care reps and getting doctors to do prior authorizations? What is the latest update on formulary projects?


•Â Does the representative obtain useful information from any pharmacies or pharmacists?


•Â Is the rep having fun? Does he or she enjoy the job?


•Â How open is the representative to your feedback?


•Â What is his or her level of enthusiasm?

Documentation. Provide specific, positive and corrective verbal and written feedback based on your observations throughout the coaching visit. Let the representative know upfront that you will be taking notes throughout the day so you can be sure to capture everything that takes place. Here is a suggestion: Use the back of the doctors' business cards to write some of your notes; you will be able to go back and refer to specific behaviors with each doctor. When creating the coaching form, solicit the representative's input (for example, what were his or her observations, and which areas does he or she see as strengths or opportunities for improvement). Discuss the coaching form together. Try to make certain the representative gets a copy of the coaching form at the end of the ride-along or within the next 24 to 48 hours. Here are some things to consider when composing your coaching form:


•Â If you are handwriting the form, be sure it is legible.


•Â Is the coaching form consistent with your observations?


•Â Is it consistent with your verbal comments?


•Â Have you provided specific examples of what you observed? Example: "Jane's call with Dr. Smith could have been more effective if she had used a detail piece and included a close."


•Â Have you provided specific action steps for the representative to work on, complete with specific dates?

Professional athletes review videotape recordings to observe their form, look for strengths and find areas for improvement. The coaching form you provide to your representatives is their videotape. Without a thorough, clear, well-written coaching form, your representatives may be unable to perform at their highest level.

On-the-spot recognition. Representatives love to be recognized in front of their colleagues, and especially while they are spending an anxiety-filled day with their manager. If you are having a great day with one of your reps, recognize it! Here are some suggestions:


•Â Give the rep a gift certificate (for a video store, restaurant, etc.).


•Â Give the rep cash. For example, if your rep just nailed a call, after walking out give her $10 and a high five – it will blow her away!).


•Â If you are having a good day, get out your cell phone and call your regional sales director in front of the representative and praise him over the phone.


•Â Take your rep to get his favorite food.


•Â Take her to a movie or sporting event as a reward.

Finally, remember to ask about your representatives' spouse or significant other, children, pets, etc. It is important to get to know your representatives on a personal basis. The better you know what motivates them, the more you will be able to make an impact on them and their business.

After the ride-along

Even the best program is only truly effective if there is thorough follow-up. Immediate and thorough follow-up after a program, versus a program with little or no follow-up, makes the difference between significant return on investment and low return on investment. Proper follow-up with your representatives has the same impact, and your representatives will better follow your example. Here are some suggestions:


•Â Be sure to provide any support you promised your representative (for example, a phone call you were going to make for the rep, an article you were going to send, or a meeting you were going to have him or her attend). These actions build a trusting relationship and show the representative that you are reliable and supportive.


•Â Check in with your representative a few days after your ride-along and see if he or she has any questions or is implementing the things you discussed.


•Â Follow up on timelines outlined in the coaching form. Representatives respect what you inspect, so inspect anything you expect to be completed!

Time with your reps is some of the best time you can spend as a district manager. Hopefully, some of these ideas of what to consider before, during and after a ride-along will support what you are already doing to be effective while with your representatives. Bottom line: Get out in the field - that is where you will maximize ROI. PRMG

Joe Renda is a training manager for Peapack, NJ-based Pharmacia Corp.'s district sales manager training and development department.

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