On the flip side: Doctors detail the rep

Pharmaceutical Representative

How one rep turned the tables.

I remember my first dash-and-dine program. I was very new to my job and, for that matter, to the pharmaceutical industry. I arrived at the Olive Garden slightly nervous, but I anticipated making a huge impact on the doctors, nurses and physician assistants who would be in attendance.

I had just completed six weeks of field training and I knew my stuff. In fact, I was ready to execute three-product details on every customer within 100 feet of my shiny new name badge. I was ready for my customers that evening.

However, they were not ready for me. What they were ready for was a free dinner for themselves, their families and even a few cousins from Georgia.

As I stood poised with Fifth Avenue detail pieces in hand, my most important targets flocked in. I made an effort to get my message across, but they kept looking over my shoulder, trying to figure out where to go next. They all spoke the same words: "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I love your product. I use it all the time." But their nonverbal clues clearly said: "Now leave me alone, get out of my way and give me my free lasagna! Oh, and throw in a few meatballs for my dog."

I learned a lot from my first dash-and-dine. It was easy to buy dinner or other gifts for my customers, but it was close to impossible to truly get my message across. And, if I was successful, how could I really be sure that they got the message?

I asked dozens of reps what they had done in the past to promote their products. At first blush, their answers sounded very different from one another. I listened to stories about flower shops, movie theaters, car washes and bookstores. Each story had an element of creativity, but they all ended the same way: "When the doctor gets there, you detail him. Then he gets his flowers/movie tickets/car wash/free book."

I realized that all of these ideas had the potential to turn out just like my dash-and-dine. I found myself right back where I had started, with no proof that I was getting my message across.

A week after my dine-and-dash program, I spent a day with my manager. She gave me a lot of great feedback. One of her comments was that I make excellent use of a detail aid. She could see that I had a solid understanding of the products and that I could use the visuals to compliment my understanding. On some calls, however, I don't use the detail piece and rely instead on product knowledge and conversation. I didn't want to tell my manager this, so I responded to her feedback by asking, "Do you have to use the visual on every call?"

She replied, "John, the day you walk into your customer's office and he or she sees your face, says the name of your product and spouts out its marketing message, indications and dosage, then you can stop using the detail."

It was at that point that I knew how to get through to my customers. I had to set up a program where my customers tell me about my product.

As soon as I returned home from the day with my manager, I planned a "Detail the Rep" program. It was March, so I chose March Madness for my theme. I invited 50 customers to come out and receive a basketball and a specialty gift basket for themselves or their spouse.

My invitation explained that this was the first-ever "Detail the Rep" program, and I promised not to detail the doctor. I included a "slim-jim" product brochure and asked my customers to review it before attending. When they arrived, they were supposed to briefly detail me based on what they had read about my product.

I held the program in a local restaurant. Although there was a blizzard that night and road conditions were poor, 18 customers attended. I was amazed at what I saw. My most important targets walked up to me and gave full product details without missing a word. Some were even a little nervous, hoping to get their detail just right.

At one point, two doctors who share the same office told me they had discussed the program earlier that day. They described how each had tried to find out what the other was going to say in his detail, but neither would disclose it to the other for fear that his ideas would be stolen.

I walked away that evening feeling like I had cured a major disease! In a sense, I found a way to penetrate customers' resistance to my message. I watched as they told me everything I had been trying to say to them about my products. And I had the proof that it worked: The proof came right out of their mouths! PR