The journey

July 1, 2001
Mike Jackson

Pharmaceutical Representative

Three steps to career success.

Experience has shown that the most successful reps master their craft through a deliberate and disciplined approach to learning. Your company's initial training program can offer this structure. However, the new rep can augment this process to further ensure success.

Experience has shown that the most successful reps master their craft through a deliberate and disciplined approach to learning. Your company's initial training program can offer this structure. However, the new rep can augment this process to further ensure success.

The journey to a successful sales career can be divided into three segments of equal importance. For the new representative just entering the industry, this process could be designed as a three-year program, with each segment receiving increased focus during its year of emphasis. For the experienced rep seeking to rejuvenate a stagnant career, the same sequence can be customized to accommodate a much shorter time frame. Managers can also use this process as a means of designing and implementing a developmental plan, customized to meet the needs of the individual and the organization. It can be structured to coincide with the company's performance evaluation period, the bonus/incentive plan period, the product promotional campaign or the ongoing corporate training process.

The three segments, in proper order, are:


•Â Learn your products.


•Â Learn your territory.


•Â Learn your industry.

Learn your products

As salespeople, our first responsibility is to develop a credible level of knowledge and understanding of our products and the disease states for which those products are indicated. There is no substitute for gaining and maintaining (and being able to communicate) an array of relevant information that allows the customer to make the appropriate and desired choice of product to effectively treat the patient. In fact, most, if not all, corporate training programs put the initial emphasis on acquiring such knowledge. Mastery of this information, and the ability to convey it appropriately, is paramount to initial and lasting success.

For the new rep, the journey begins with participation in the first of the formal training programs. Reps are given the opportunity to acquire needed knowledge and skills through such methods as lectures, required readings, discussions, tests, role-plays and videotaped presentations. Classes follow the normal work day/week, and generally last from a few days to several weeks.

Training classes are (or should be) designed to impart an enormous amount of information in a limited amount of time. Every person who has been through an initial training class will admit that he or she was surprised by the amount of information to be learned, yet in most cases was equally surprised by the retention of the material. In other words, when properly designed and implemented, the process works.

Immediately upon re-turning from initial training, you should design and begin implementing a home study program that will add to your ever-growing reservoir of clinical knowledge. Here are some practical steps:


•Â First, assess your weaknesses as they relate to your products. What areas do you feel need extra work? What information are you struggling with? Make a list of those areas you feel need some additional study or insight.


•Â Based on the current promotional strategy, prioritize the information that you need to learn to more effectively implement the sales plan. If you are not sure where the priorities should be, seek input from your manager, your trainer or your colleagues.


•Â Recognize and accept the fact that you can't do it all. There is much to learn, but remember that you are at the beginning of your journey. Your goal is to build a strong foundation upon which all future growth will be built.


•Â Commit to one hour per day of focused study on the designated topics. But be forewarned that this hour comes before or after your normal field activities.


•Â Trust the process. Thousands of reps have gone through exactly the same process, and most have survived it!

Learn your territory

As important as it is, you cannot spend all of your time in training classes or home study. For pharmaceutical reps, that means getting in your car and going to see your customers. And that requires a structured and disciplined approach.

Although every company has a slightly different approach to call cycles, all basically work from the same premise: The most important customers should be seen first and most often. Each company will seek to measure and quantify the potential sales value each customer represents. It will then assign a rating or ranking to that customer, thus creating a self-evident call cycle. Your manager, trainer, colleagues or predecessor will get you started in this endeavor, and you would be wise to initially follow their direction.

Territory management is a dynamic aspect of your work. You should be constantly monitoring the nuances of your territory and adjusting your call activity accordingly. During the first segment of your journey, you should be content to follow the dictated call patterns, but as you grow in your knowledge and confidence, you will want to put your own indelible stamp on the territory by making appropriate adjustments to gain maximum exposure among your key customers.

Maintain and upgrade your data collection system, whether it is a notebook, index cards or a computer database. Make it a point to perform regular checkups (weekly, monthly, quarterly) on your call cycle and territory management. Are you seeing the right people, with the right message, with the right frequency? Are you grouping your call activities to minimize driving time? Are you giving adequate time to important but ancillary customers? Only you, as you grow in your understanding of the territory, can make these important adjustments to maximize your company's return on investment.

During this time of focus on territory management, don't forget to continue to improve upon your product knowledge. By this time, you should be feeling more confident in your understanding of your products and your promotional strategies. Now is the time to give more focused attention to expanding your understanding of your competitors' products, disease states and treatment protocols, as well as ancillary issues such as managed care, formulary processes and lab testing. Make a list of all of those issues you would like to increase your understanding of, prioritize the list and develop a plan to acquire this new knowledge. You could design additional home study, take courses, read books, seek the input of experienced reps and managers or perform preceptorships. Focus on one issue per month, and design a learning experience that will provide specific and relevant information to increase your understanding.

Learn your industry

In the first two segments of your journey, you concentrated on areas that are essential to your future success as a pharma rep. With a solid knowledge of your products and your customers, you are on the right path to a long and successful career.

At this point, you can and should be ready to expand your knowledge of the many facets of the pharma industry and the healthcare environment. By increasing your understanding in this area, you benefit your company, your customers and your own career aspirations.

Your desired career track may offer a predetermined direction for you to follow, and your company may provide a formal career development program to aid you in this process. If not, you can create your own career development track by seeking out the following learning experiences:


•Â If you have a medical school, teaching hospital or large community hospital within your territory, visit the medical library or (with permission) the physician reading lounge. Browse through the relevant journals and periodicals for subjects of interest. Do not limit yourself to only those articles dealing with your products, your competitors or the disease states in which you compete. Instead, look for articles that address the more global issues of healthcare, physician/pharmacist practices or the pharmaceutical industry.


•Â Take the time to clip and read any articles in your local newspaper that deal with issues relevant to the healthcare industry. If you have Internet access, set your browser to search the newswire services for related articles, and set aside some time each week for review.


•Â Ask your manager what books or magazines he or she reads and would recommend to broaden your perspective.


•Â If your company offers structured classes, select and participate in those courses that will give you the additional insights you seek. Such classes may be conducted by your company's training department, or may utilize an outside vendor. Check with your local university or community college for relevant programs. Perhaps your company offers a tuition assistance program for audited courses that can enhance your professional development.


•Â Several reputable vendors offer excellent home-study courses that utilize computer-based, video/audiotape or printed materials, all of which are self-paced and conducted from the comfort of your own home.

It's all up to you

With patience, commitment and diligence, any pharmaceutical rep can embark upon an exciting journey that can lead to both personal and professional satisfaction. This journey is not limited to the beginning of one's career. It can be equally important (if not more so) at different stages of a tenured rep's career. Success in this dynamic industry is a never-ending journey that we must all take. PR