Decisions determine your destiny

March 1, 2000
Neil Baum

Neil Baum, M.D., is a speaker and consultant to the pharmaceutical industry. He can be reached at www.neilbaum.com.

Pharmaceutical Representative

There are five levels of decision- making that every pharmaceutical sales rep must consider.

Pharmaceutical representatives are frequently confronted with decisions that affect their relationships with their managers. There are five levels of decision- making that every pharmaceutical sales rep must consider.

Level One

Level One decisions involve policy issues where no compromise occurs. These policies have to be clearly communicated and no deviation from them can be tolerated.

Examples of Level One decisions might be discussing off-label use of drugs with physicians or following sample signature protocol. The sales rep is not allowed to enter into a discussion with the physicians about non-approved indications, and there is an absolute rule against leaving samples with a licensed prescriber unless the sales rep has completed the appropriate document and signature. Their input will not be given any consideration, so they don't even bring it up.

Level Two

Level Two decisions occur when a district or regional manager is going to make the decision but he or she wants to take into consideration as much of the representative's opinion as possible. The manager is saying, "Tell me what you are hearing in the field, and then I will use that information to make the decision for our group." By the time the decision has been made, the representative's point of view has been taken into consideration and there has been active listening on the part of the decision-maker. This level of decision-making lets the sales rep know how the decision was reached.

Level Two decision-making includes deciding which kind of physicians to target for sales calls. Should the rep focus on the primary care physician or the specialist? Another Level Two decision would be a discussion of possible invitees to an upcoming marketing consultants' meeting. The manager would want to know why a sales rep thinks certain physicians should attend the program.

Level Three

Level Three decision-making is when everyone is involved in arriving at the decision. This is the worst kind of decision-making, because no one can be held responsible for the outcome. If the decision turns out to be a bad one, there is always the excuse that it was reached by the consensus of the group and therefore no individual is responsible.

The best district managers take every Level Three decision and move it to Level Two or Level Four where someone takes responsibility for it. Avoid Level Three decisions whenever possible.

Level Four

Level Four decisions are the most difficult for a manager to make, because he or she has to relinquish power and allow someone else to take the lead. The manager can have input, but the sales rep is allowed to make the decision. In order for this to work, the manager has to adhere to the decision process and allow the other person to decide and take responsibility for the decision.

An example of Level Four decision would be deciding whether to hold an expensive educational program. It is important that a sales rep obtain the advice of his or her manager to make sure that the opportunity is worth the investment, because this type of program usually impacts the district budget as well as the territory budget. If the funds are available, the manager should respect the experience of the representative, ensure that all other territory opportunities have been considered and empower the sales rep to make the right decision.

Level Five

A Level Five decision is reached without any input from the managers. This level means that the manager trusts the sales rep and his or her ability and insight about what is going on out in the field. Level Five means the manager believes in empowerment. This level indicates that the sales rep has been hired for his or her skills and judgment and the manager doesn't have to monitor every action the sales rep makes. This level says, "I trust you. Just do it. No questions asked."

An example of a Level Five decision is when a sales rep is empowered to decide when to periodically take an afternoon off to catch up with routine administrative work. The sales rep documents and provides a quick rationale of the activity on the routine report but does not need to ask the manager for permission.

These five levels of decision-making emphasize the open communication of an organization, the clarity of authority and who is in charge and responsible for decisions. When you delegate someone as a decision-maker, you make him or her accountable. You are also making it his or her job to follow up and follow through.

Decision-making can be an energizing exercise. Think about your decisions and see which of the five levels they fall into. PR

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