Find a key to the impossible account

February 1, 2000
Anita Sirianni

Pharmaceutical Representative

Since sales success starts by reaching the decision-maker, sales representatives must find creative ways to penetrate the barriers that surround the toughest accounts.

Since sales success starts by reaching the decision-maker, sales representatives must find creative ways to penetrate the barriers that surround the toughest accounts.

Just as the tenacious shell of an oyster is easier to open with the right tool, the hardest accounts are easier to crack with the right approach.

Voice mail, answering machines and savvy gatekeepers have made selling harder than ever before. A tough gatekeeper or receptionist can be a rep's biggest enemy or greatest ally.

After hundreds of interviews with office managers, receptionists and physician staff members, I can tell you that one common mistake salespeople make is ignoring the gatekeeper or failing to recognize their importance in the selling process.

Office managers have eagerly shared stories of how reps talked down to them or failed to learn their names after many years of contact with the practice. Gatekeepers want to be respected and treated with importance.

Salespeople are typically seen as interruptions to office managers who are hired to keep the schedule and the office staff focused on patients and the practice. So be sure to lead with specific product advantages for the gatekeeper. Clearly explain how your offering will help make his or her job easier or more effective. Then ask for his or her advice on the best way to meet the decision maker and work with their office.

Respect the gatekeeper by asking - instead of pushing. Undoubtedly, your efforts will quickly be rewarded with access to the practice.

No reps allowed

While most healthcare professionals acknowledge the important contribution reps make, there are some physicians who just refuse to see salespeople. But before you change your business card, there may be a way to pry the doors open long enough for you to get your foot in the door.

Consider sending a fax or e-mail with a concise summary of your purpose. Describe what is so special about your offering and why the decision-maker should care. Remember to keep it short and simple. To create a sense of urgency and importance, send the note via FedEx or courier.

Remember, when times get tough, sales pros get creative. If you really want to go out on an interesting limb, send an electronic greeting card by contacting www.bluemountain.com or www.pcgreetings.com. Being creative without being weird is the key to getting in to see tough accounts.

Since so many reps bombard a typical practice, it is especially important to set yourself apart from the masses. Establishing rapport with a staff member is one way to get the front door of offices to swing wide open.

There are some great ways you can create a positive impression and have a great time doing it. I know of a pharmaceutical rep who became top rep in the company by doing magic tricks in the waiting room. If you are good at telling funny stories or tasteful jokes, use them to create a good impression.

Your ticket to entry may literally be a game of chance. Tape a lottery ticket to the back of your business card and tell gatekeepers "It's worth a million bucks if you could introduce me to the doctor!" or "My product is the winning ticket to success."

Another way to get in the front door is to ask other reps or vendors for advice on how to approach the practice or, better yet, ask them for an introduction.

The right place at the right time

Selling in healthcare is difficult because prospects are busy with emergencies or attending to sick patients. Another reason reps fail to make contact with the decision-maker is that they are not available. Often we are not competing with other vendors we are competing against the availability of our customers.

When calling on offices in person, remember to be persistent, solicit the advice of the gatekeeper and be flexible to the practice's schedule instead of your own.

Voice mail makes contacting busy prospects more difficult. However, you can dramatically improve your contact ratio by preparing a compelling message before you pick up the telephone. Leave an interest-getting message that leaves the prospect wanting more. Be sure to provide several ways to reach you along with the times when you will be available. This will cut down on the frustrating game of telephone tag that nobody wins.

Pharmaceutical sales reps often wait too long to make follow-up calls or make them too far apart. A good way to create a sense of urgency is to call within a two-week period. One of the biggest reasons sales reps are unsuccessful at reaching decision-makers is they repeatedly try to reach the decision-makers at the same inconvenient time. Be sure to call at different times or, even better, call back at a time the gatekeeper recommends.

Knock down those barriers, pry open those doors and use these ideas to turn the toughest of accounts into customers. PR

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