Doctor's Orders

June 1, 2008

Pharmaceutical Executive

Volume 0, Issue 0

Dr. Michael Kessler and Mark Vitello of MD Mindset have the cure for the common sales pitch? Look at the transaction from the customer's perspective

As a former practicing physician, Dr. Michael Kessler knows a thing or two about being on the receiving end of a pharma sales pitch. Kessler now heads the consulting group MD Mindset, which has worked with over 100,000 sales representatives in the past 15 years. He and Mark Vitello, vice president of program and business development at MD Mindset, sat down to chat with Pharmaceutical Executive about how reps can upgrade the average pharma sales pitch.

Sara Donnelly

Pharm Exec: First of all, what's wrong with the way pharma companies market to professionals today?

Mark Vitello: There's a lack of focus on the customer himself or herself. Everybody says they aspire to be customer-focused or doctor-focused, but what's happening is that the companies, rightfully, are product-focused. They've got their focus on selling product, and on utilization of product. But what they don't focus on is what the medical professionals really need in order to use the products—be they nurses or clinical practitioners. Reps don't focus on the way the doctors practice or the way the medical professionals make decisions in regard to incorporating new products and new procedures into their clinical practices. It's a unique and specific thought process.

Michael Kessler: I would say that one of the main issues we see is that the industry, in attempting to become customer-centric or doctor-focused as we call it, is still trying to force their marketing and sales process on the doctor—rather than aligning their process with our mindset to give us what we need to use their products.

PE: Do doctors tend to see sales reps as a help or a hindrance?

MK: That all depends on the rep. The latest statistics show that 8 out of 10 won't make it past the doctor's front door. The doctor is denying access to those who are not bringing value.

PE: Do most doctors tend to think and act that way?

MK: Yes. All doctors have been trained the same way in medical school and post-graduate training. They're trained to think a certain way; they're trained to communicate a certain way; they're trained to interpret clinical information a certain way, and to solve patients' problems a certain way. It's all part of their problem-solving process. There are different characteristics and different issues for different specialties, but in general, doctors' mindsets are the same.

PE: You make the distinction between marketing to doctors and marketing to physicians. Can you explain that?

MK: If you are marketing and selling to doctors, you must understand that there are two distinct types of doctors: there are physicians and there are surgeons. Physicians do not consider themselves surgeons, and surgeons do not consider themselves physicians. So if you're talking about doctors and using the word "physician" in your selling and marketing, then basically what you're doing is leaving out the surgeons, in the surgeon's mind.

PE: So you're committing a faux pas, in a sense.

MK: Well, what it shows is that you don't have a good grasp of the mindset of the customer.

PE: What is real doctor-focused selling?

MK: We define doctor-focused selling as aligning existing brand and marketing strategies, messaging and sales materials, clinical knowledge, and selling skills to the specific behaviors doctors need to grant access, enter into clinical discussions, perceive a value proposition, and change their clinical behaviors and prescribing habits.

Again, a company is very much product-focused, whereas doctors are more problem-focused. What sales and marketing need to do is to align their product positioning with the doctor's mindset.

PE: How can pharma companies do that? How can their sales forces align themselves more closely with what doctors want and need?

MV: Consider the way a message is usually crafted: Ad agencies work with the marketers; they conduct focus groups in order to find the best way to promote their product, and they get comments about the information that's been presented. It's a very sterile environment, and the companies are looking at it from the aspect of, "Does it meet my corporate needs?" What the companies should be doing is asking, "How can we craft and deliver the messages in a way that clearly demonstrates a value to the doctors and helps them to achieve their clinical goals? How can we offer our products as solutions to the doctors?" It's not a leap of faith so much as a change in perspective.

The goal of the company, from a financial standpoint, is to improve product utilization. But if that is the sole driving purpose behind your messaging, and your sole driving purpose in training your representatives, then you lose the focus on the fact that there is another part of the equation, which is the doctor and the doctor's role in solving the clinical problems he or she faces on a daily basis.

PE: What sorts of reactions do you hear doctors having to the typical sales calls they get today?

MV: Frustration is a big one. They see more people in the company's rush for reach and frequency. There's a sense of frustration about not only the number of reps and the number of different messages they're hearing, but there's also a frustration with the value of the information.

The one thing that doctors really ask for, in terms of what they want from that relationship between the representative and the doctor, is valuable, balanced, applicable clinical information. "Help me solve the problems of my patients." Without that information, it's no more than a product presentation.

PE: Do docs ever feel that sales representatives may as well be trying to sell them a new type of laundry detergent? In other words, do some reps pitch docs in a way that feels really rote or run-of-the-mill?

MV: If you look at the buildup in the sales forces over the last 10 years—from 35,000 back in 1995 all the way up to 110,000 in recent years—many people were hired with no science background and with no knowledge of the marketplace. That's fine, because you expect the companies to provide the necessary scientific information. But there's been a focus on utilizing sales models that come from outside of the pharmaceutical/biotech industry. And when you take an individual who has no knowledge of the industry, and add a selling model from outside the industry, it really does ring less true with medical professionals.

PE: What are some of the best characteristics of a great sales rep, and what is a great sales experience for you as a doctor?

MK: The reason that doctors are limiting access these days is because the representative is walking in the door and in a sense saying, "Doctor, I want you to stop everything that you're doing. I want you to now involve yourself in my process." Then what I have to do as a doctor is change gears all of a sudden to accommodate the rep. And I don't have time, I don't have the willingness, and frankly, there's no value in me doing that anymore.

What's of value to us is that a sales representative can walk into our office and get us involved in the process. That way, we know what's going on, we're both thinking in the same way, we can understand better what the rep is saying. This all has to do with what we were talking about: the misalignment that exists between the sales representative and the doctor.

Sara Donnelly is Pharmaceutical Executive's associate editor. She can be reached at sara.donnelly@advanstar.com