Offer just what the doctor orders

December 1, 1997
Neil Baum

Neil Baum, M.D., is a speaker and consultant to the pharmaceutical industry. He can be reached at www.neilbaum.com.

Pharmaceutical Representative

It is a maxim in business school that in order to make money selling something, you have to identify a need in the marketplace and position a product or service to satisfy that need.

It is a maxim in business school that in order to make money selling something, you have to identify a need in the marketplace and position a product or service to satisfy that need.

In most pharmaceutical sales situations, your company has already done this for you. Your job is to make the market aware of the product and then focus on two or three unique benefits to distinguish it from that of your competitors. You must then make contact with your customers - in most cases, physicians - and prove to them that your product will satisfy their professional need.

With that in mind, consider the following 10 suggestions on how to achieve maximum physician satisfaction.

10 suggestions

One: Tell 'em quick and tell 'em often. It is far better to have five interactions that last three minutes with a physician than one that lasts 15. Repeat your visits over reasonable intervals of time.

Two: Let the physician know that you care about him or her and his or her practice. Physicians don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Three: Focus on the physician and his or her staff as real people. This means you should always be friendly, courteous, patient and helpful to the doctor and the office staff. Although this isn't always easy, there's no excuse for alternative behaviors.

Four: Respond to questions and concerns in a timely manner. Let physicians know that they can always reach you either by voice mail, fax machine or even your home phone number. If possible, return all calls within the same day and no later than 24 hours after you receive the call.

Five: Be responsive. Your high-quality products are irrelevant if a physician asks you a question or requests information and you don't get back to him or her with an answer. If you can't answer the question yourself, don't call your medical director and ask him or her to look up the information and send it to the doctor in a form letter. Call your company yourself for the information, have the information sent directly to you and personally deliver it to the physician.

Six: Become a partner in the doctor's practice. Your physician will believe that you are an asset to his practice when you provide him or her with more than product information, journal reprints and educational materials.

What more can a rep do? I will always be indebted to a representative who listened to my office manager as she called to locate mailing labels. The representative's mother used similar mailing labels so he called her and enlisted her help to locate labels for our practice. That's an example of "extra-mile" mentality.

Seven: Keep in touch with the doctor even when you are not discussing your product. This means sending a doctor a card at Thanksgiving, on a birthday or at other unique times. I remember a representative who sent me a Chanukah card because she knew that a Chanukah card meant more to me than a Christmas card. Another representative knew that I am a Lou Holtz and Notre Dame fan, so she sent me an article on Lou Holtz that she saw in an airline magazine. It reminded me that she was thinking of me even when she wasn't educating me about her products.

Eight: Maximize your personal physician contact. Send doctors an agenda letter that lists the topics that you will be covering on your next visit.

After your visit, send a short personal letter of two or three sentences that summarizes your visit. Remember the lessons of rudimentary speech class. First, tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em. Second, tell 'em. And third, tell 'em what you told 'em.

Nine: Go where the physicians go. Get involved with physicians and their professional groups. Go to the doctors' lounge and have a cup of coffee with them, attend grand rounds even if you and your company are not sponsoring the meet-ing and attend their conferences even when you may not have an exhibit at the conference.

Ten: Ask for regular feedback from your physicians. At least once a year, talk with physicians about your performance. Ask a few simple questions. Were they pleased with your products? With your accessibility? What can you do to improve your service to the physician and his or her practice?

This can be easily done informally during an office visit or over a cup of coffee. Let the physician know in your agenda letter that you'll be asking for feedback on your next visit. This way he or she will be prepared for your questions. Do this on a regular basis and not only after a physician stops using your product or writes fewer prescriptions.

Use common sense

These suggestions may seem obvious. But, in fact, most of the marketing and selling process is simply common sense. You should exercise this common sense consistently each and every time you interact with a doctor and his or her practice.

If you do, you will not only obtain physicians' business but retain it for the long haul. PR

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