Help doctors kick their prescribing habits

December 1, 1997
Kristen Scott

Kristen Scott is a professional hospital/specialty rep and regional training rep in Philadelphia for Janssen Pharmaceutica.

Pharmaceutical Representative

One team of reps joined forces to make a difference.

If you have a product on a physician's top 20 list, you know how habit dictates prescribing practices. If you are trying to get a product on that list, you probably have an even deeper appreciation for the exclusivity of this phenomenon. Many physicians develop their prescribing habits during residency, which they may learn from their mentors and colleagues, and they continue the same practices as they move into their reserve specialties.

Primary care physicians quickly learn to identify the most common and routine complaints and develop a mental "reference guide" to treatment. Each positive outcome serves to reinforce the choices the physicians have made, creating a vicious circle and seemingly impenetrable barrier for pharmaceutical representatives.

Several years ago, Janssen Pharmaceutica's Philadelphia district launched a new product and received overwhelming support from physicians in the area. Market share quickly soared and success stories from doctors flooded in.

But about two years after the product entered the market, it appeared that Philadelphia-area physicians were not putting their enthusiasm into practice. Reps weren't hearing specific resistance about the product, but growth slowed.

Local reps met to brainstorm on how they could "relaunch" the product with their doctors and regain the initial enthusiasm and commitment. They needed to identify the real issues and find ways to successfully overcome them. Their unanimous conclusion, based on honest feedback from doctors, was habit. Old habits were holding doctors back from approaching treatment in a different way, although they often agreed that the product offered many benefits to their patients.

The question, therefore, was how to break doctors' old habits and create new ones that were just as powerful? The solution? A 21-day challenge.

Because 80% of sales came from only 20% of the doctors on whom reps were calling, each district rep chose one or two of his or her most influential doctors and focused exclusively on creating a new habit in those doctors.

First, the office staffs had to be informed. The reps explained that the doctors' support was very crucial and that they'd like "permission" to try to change the doctors' habits. The doctors were also informed from the onset. The reps explained their goals and intentions and requested the physicians' permission to try to change their habits. Most doctors were curious and looked forward to the challenge. Of course, the reps had to know their customers; not all offices would have responded favorably.

The 21 days were laid out on a calendar and each day had a specific focus with a targeted message. Because it was not geographically feasible for a rep to physically visit the office each day, the Philadelphia team pooled their resources and designed creative mailings, faxes and drop-offs so that the office would receive a reminder of the product each and every day for 21 straight days. The district came up with fun riddles, poems, candy, toys - inexpensive but powerful messages to keep the product in the doctors' minds each day. Messages centered around product effectiveness, safety, cost-savings and managed care benefits for patients and doctors.

In the past, individual reps had attempted similar ideas in their territories (some for five days in a row) and reported very positive feedback, but it was difficult to handle all the responsibility alone. What made the challenge a success was teamwork.

One rep left daily voice mail messages for participating district reps to remind them of which day of the challenge it was, what the goals of the day were and what marketing phrase the doctor's offices would hear that day. Another rep was responsible for mailing letters, another was in charge of faxing and another would send the toys or candy. The synergism made the 21-day challenge a unique and fun way to target key physicians and increase sales.

Response from the staff was also terrific. They looked forward to what would come each day. The doctors admired the drive and determination of the reps and they seemed flattered to have been singled out as the "most important." They also appreciated the staff involvement.

Overall, the challenge enhanced rapport with the doctors and the staff and helped reps gain future access to tough-to-see physicians. Although it was fun for everyone, it also served professional goals. Follow-up has been critical to avoid allowing doctors to slip back into their old habits. And because the challenge required relatively little effort to gain great results, and the Philadelphia team and other Janssen district sales forces plan to challenge more offices in the future! PR

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