Pacing: Get in step with clinicians

January 1, 2002
Lori Gross

Lori Gross is a Wisconsin-based specialty representative with Forest Specialty Sales, a division of Forest Pharmaceuticals Inc., St. Louis.

Pharmaceutical Representative

Listen to physicians and go at their pace.

An exceptional medical representative consistently in the top one percent of his company recently told me, "I've been in this industry for 15 years, and the most important thing I do to excel is listen to the physicians and go at their pace." While this sounds very simple, developing this skill requires practice and a commitment to being truly clinician-focused.

The influence of empathy

A skill required throughout the customer development process is the ability to get in step, or get back in step, with your clinicians.

As pharmaceutical representatives, we need to get in step with our prospects by being like them. This creates feelings of trust and rapport, and actually helps us empathize. Stephen Covey, in his book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," describes empathic listening as listening with the eyes, ears and heart. Empathic listening is listening for feeling and for meaning, listening to understand, not just listening to respond. One way to accomplish this is with pacing.

You may find that this strategy works more quickly and predictably, and can be easier to remember, than the common "personality styles" approach (for example, director/driver, socializer/expressive, thinker/analytic, relater/amiable).

The benefits are real

Specific techniques for pacing do exist. However, in its simplest form, the essence of pacing is to go at the physician's tempo: slow, medium or fast. If the physician speaks slowly, the representative responds slowly. If the physician moves quickly, the rep moves quickly, etc.

Consider this scenario: Have you ever been driving down the highway at a speed in sync with the flow of traffic, and watched someone blow by you as though you were standing still? What were the first words that came to mind to describe that person? Were they kind words? If not, why? What did that person do to you to deserve that response? All the driver did was break your pace. When people operate at a much faster pace than we do, it tends to make us feel uncomfortable.

On the other hand, do you know what it is like when you get stuck on the road behind someone who drives just five miles per hour slower than you? Suppose you are on your way to pick up lunch for a clinic and the person in front of you is driving too slow. Even if you are not yelling, it most likely bothers you. Even when we are not in a hurry, we hate operating more slowly than our normal pace. When people operate at a slower pace than we do, we tend to feel anxious or stifled.

The same is true when pharmaceutical consultants meet with clinicians. We should make pace adjustments so our clinicians do not feel anxious or uncomfortable.

Is it possible that physicians would decide not to write our products or to listen to us just because our pace is uncomfortable for them? According to one of the psychiatrists in my territory, the answer is yes.

One reason pacing is so powerful is that we tend to trust individuals who are like us. According to Constanz Hartney, a clinical director from one of my clinics, numerous studies have been conducted that support these observations:

Pacing allows you to:

•Â Get in sync with clinicians.

•Â Build trust in every communication and presentation.

•Â Dramatically expand your personal and professional flexibility.

What should you pace yourself with?

•Â Clinicians' stance or overall position.

•Â Any consistent shrugs, gestures, head nods, etc., or any shift in behavior.

•Â Breathing: depth and speed.

•Â Voice: tone, tempo, volume, intensity and intonation.

Physical pacing

What does it mean to keep pace with someone physically? It means to act like they act, move like they move and even talk like they talk.

For example, when guests arrive at your home for a social function, you are probably concerned with their comfort. You may not rearrange the furniture, but you may make an adjustment in the temperature to ensure the comfort of your guests. That is what pacing is in this context: an adjustment to ensure the comfort of your physicians. Listen and go at their pace.

Some examples of physical pacing:

•Â You might meet with a clinician who wears glasses and tends to push them up on his or her nose with an index finger. If you do not wear glasses, you will look foolish poking yourself between your eyes. Instead, you can scratch the bridge of your nose to pace the behavior without looking silly.

•Â Some people tend to clear their throats often while they talk. Instead of clearing your throat when you respond, you can simply speak a bit more slowly and pause with a similar rhythm.

•Â Men sometimes cross their legs. Women can effectively pace by also crossing their legs in a manner that is appropriate, either at the ankle or knee.

Inconsiderate pharmaceutical representatives present at their own pace and expect the clinicians to respond anyway.

Leading your physicians

Leading can help you determine how comfortable the physician is with you. After you have paced for a few minutes or seconds, depending on how much time you have in the presentation, simply adjust your physical position and be aware of whether the physician follows you or not. If the doctor follows you, it means he or she is comfortable, at ease. If not, continue to pace.

Within a very short period of time, pacing and leading can become second nature. It's difficult to pace while you are talking. It's easy to pace while you are listening. This is another reason why becoming good at asking meaningful questions and listening with empathy is crucial to a representative's success.

Pacing can create rapport and build relationships. Leading can allow you to move your clinicians to the next step in the process. PR

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