Missed opportunities

January 1, 2002
Christopher E. McCarthy
Pharmaceutical Representative

How to make the most out of closing.

One of the most difficult times during a pharmaceutical sales call is that awkward moment when you have finished your presentation and are ready to end the conversation. You need to say something to the physician to signal that you are done and are ready to move on to your next call. Much of your training has been spent on this critical moment of "closing." You have a number of different avenues to choose from. You may want to ask for a commitment from your physician. Alternatively, you may say that you appreciate his or her support of your product. Signing for your samples may be all that you ask him or her to do. No matter what you do, it takes a long time to get comfortable with what works for you and your physicians. Initially you may feel anxious and slightly embarrassed, not knowing quite what to say. After a while, as you get to know your physicians and you become more experienced, closing becomes easier for you. It may even become fairly routine.

I have listened to several thousand closings in my almost 20 years of medical practice, and I am amazed at how often pharmaceutical reps miss this golden opportunity to make themselves stand out above the competition. As the conversation ends, you have two opportunities. The first is to make sure that you have done your job in communicating your information to the physicians. The second is to use that moment to "partner" with your physician and make yourself a consultant, not just a sales rep. You may be thinking, "How do I partner with my physicians? How do I make sure I have communicated my message properly?" I will guide you through some of the ways these goals can be accomplished.

Presenting the relevant information

One of the most important things you need to be sure of when you finish your sales call is that your physician has all the basic information he or she needs to feel comfortable prescribing your drug. Physicians organize their drug information into bullet point-type databases. This is the only way we can remember everything we need to know when we choose a drug. If we do not have a complete database on your drug committed to memory, we will tend not to use it. It just takes too much time to look up the information. The average length of time we take to choose a drug for a particular patient is about thirty seconds. That is why you have to be sure we have all the relevant information we need to feel comfortable with your drug.

The components of the database are well-known to you. Effectiveness, dosage schedule, side effects, cost, drug interactions, monitoring, formulary coverage, safety and sample availability are the nine main criteria for drug selection. You would be surprised at how often physicians forget some of these characteristics of your drug. This is especially true if the drug is new or if it has some unusual properties. You have to be sure your doctor has no blank spots about your drug in his or her database. Ask your physicians if they have any specific questions or concerns about some or all of the nine criteria. This allows them to focus their thought processes – if they have any concerns or questions, they are much more likely to remember them when you specifically mention these areas. It also allows you to identify areas where you have done a good job of communicating and where you have not, to see where you should concentrate your marketing in relationship to your drug, and to identify which of those nine criteria are most important to a particular physician when he or she thinks about your drug. Asking doctors to make a quick mental scan of your drug's characteristics serves to reinforce their familiarity with your drug. If they don't have any questions, run through the database quickly in a bullet point-style presentation, just to be sure they remember.

Become a partner

"Partnering" with your physicians can take many forms. One of the simplest is bringing in all your company's patient educational materials, spreading them out and asking the physician if he or she would like any of them. It really helps to actually bring in the material for us to see, rather than just telling us that you have some pamphlets for patients. If you have written instructions for patients on how to use your drug, show them to your physicians. It saves us a great deal of time if we can hand patients some written instructions on how to take a medication. We have to be able to "sell" your drug to our patients, and these written materials go a long way toward helping us do that.

The rate of information growth in today's world of medicine makes it virtually impossible for physicians to keep up. Our patients frequently know about new developments in medicine and pharmaceuticals before we do. Ask your physicians, "How do you keep up? Is there something my company can do to make it easier for you to stay informed? Are there textbooks you need or journals you would like to subscribe to?" If you can identify a particular area the physician is interested in, such as sports medicine, find out from other physicians in this field how they keep up. When physicians feel like you are trying to help them do their job, they really do appreciate it and will remember your efforts.

Running an office practice is getting more and more complex. Billing issues, the new Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act rules, and the Medicare Small Practice Compliance Rules are just a few of the new factors that are making office practice very difficult. If you have access to resources through your company that can help in these areas, please mention them. You may be surprised by your doctors' eagerness to utilize your company's expertise.

Physicians' incomes are decreasing. If you know of some way for a practice to increase its revenue, consider mentioning it. For example, if you sell antibiotics, consider finding out what is involved in doing rapid strep tests in the office. How difficult is it? What is the reimbursement? How profitable is it in practices that do it? Once you know these answers, you can consider presenting this information. You are not telling your physicians how to practice; you are just making them aware of ways to potentially increase their bottom line.

You have the advantage of seeing how different practices are run. This means everything from the front desk to the nurse's aides to prescription refills. Do you notice things that make some office operations run more smoothly? Does your company have any information on best practices for medical offices? If so, consider offering this information to your doctors. You may be surprised by their reaction. Running a medical practice is not something we learned in medical school.

As you get to know the physicians you work with, there is nothing wrong with asking them how they would like to see the office sales call end. This will help defuse that awkward moment when you are not quite sure what to say. The physician may ask you to quickly review some aspect of your drug ("Tell me again what the liver monitoring schedule is"). If the doctor is uncomfortable with a particular sales technique, such as asking for commitment, you will know to avoid this kind of closing. If you can't think of anything else to say, ask how you might help them with their daily grind. The practice of medicine is very stressful, and more and more physicians are leaving practice or going into retirement early. The more your doctors feel that you are on their side, the more they will value you and your products. PR