The platinum rule

June 1, 2003
Gwen McLean
Gwen McLean

Gwen McLean is a managing editor at Walpole, MA-based Informa Training Partners. For more information on training materials that prepare pharmaceutical sales professionals to succeed in today's marketplace, contact Informa Training Partners at (508) 668-0288 or visit Informa online at

Pharmaceutical Representative

What would you say to build rapport with your doctors?

Face it. You and your fellow sales representatives are not the people physicians and their staff generally welcome with open arms. While physicians and allied health professionals may rely on you for product information, and likely samples, the time they have to spend with their patients – let alone sales representatives – is extremely limited.

Given the realities of today's busy practice environment, how do you gain, or continue to gain, access to your customers? One way is to build relationships and develop a strong rapport with the entire office staff - everyone from the office receptionist and business manager, to the nurses and medical assistants, to the physicians themselves. This is nothing new. But imagine if you built these relationships based on the behavioral styles of each of your customers. Now that may be something you haven't tried.

Build rapport with the 'platinum rule'

To develop rapport, you must be able to read people and adjust the way you interact with them to accommodate them. This has been called the "platinum rule," coined by Tony Alessandra, an author and keynote speaker specializing in behavioral styles. As opposed to the "golden rule," which advocates treating people as you would like to be treated, the platinum rule takes the concept one step further, advocating that you treat people the way they would like to be treated.

To determine how a person would like to be treated, you need to be able to identify which behavioral style they most favor. Most people tend to embody one of four different behavioral styles. These styles have been labeled in a variety of ways, but for the purposes of this article, let's use the four labels coined by psychologists David Merrill and Roger Reid:

•Â Analytical.

•Â Amiable.

•Â Driver.

•Â Expressive.

While most people may exhibit traits of more than one of these styles, or even all styles, people tend to communicate and interact with others predominantly in one style. By understanding the four behavioral styles and figuring out which style dominates a particular customer's personality most, you can work on adjusting your own behavior to make your customer feel more comfortable and receptive to your sales messages.

Understanding behavioral styles

As mentioned previously, the four behavioral styles are: Analytical, Amiable, Driver and Expressive. The table above lists general characteristics of each style.

Once you understand the four behavioral styles, you can identify which style each of your customers tends to favor. For example, if you see that the receptionist has several family pictures and personal items on her desk and she has a friendly demeanor, she likely favors an amiable behavioral style. On the other hand, if you see that the receptionist has not personalized her work space at all, has a very serious expression and is concentrating on her computer screen while getting verbally impatient with someone on the other end of her phone, you may conclude that she is a driver.

Accommodating behavioral styles

In sales, as opposed to more personal relationships, opposites hardly ever attract. Thus, once you have identified which behavioral styles characterize your customers, you will need to adapt your own style to better match theirs if you hope to develop a strong rapport with them. Read the following scenarios, consider the behavioral style of each customer, and then choose what you would say or do by circling the appropriate response.

1. You enter a new group practice for the first time, hoping to see Dr. Robert Carter, a family practitioner. The receptionist informs you flatly that he is not available and says, "Just leave the information with me, and I'll pass on anything useful to him." From her statements and demeanor, you conclude that she is an analytical. What should you do next?

A. Comment about the picture of the child on her desk and tell her about a child in your own life.

B. Ask her if you need an appointment to see Dr. Carter and, if so, how you could go about arranging one.

C. Ask her whether she made her sweater and, if so, compliment her on her creative talents. Then ask her when a better time would be to try to catch Dr. Carter.

D. Acknowledge that you know she is very busy, but press her a little to find out when you might be able to get in to see Dr. Carter.

2. On a scheduled call to a new physician, the office manager at the front desk asks how he can help you. You identify yourself and let him know you have an appointment with Dr. Iris Chatas. He then informs you that Dr. Chatas is running late and tells you to sit in the lobby to wait. You ask how backed up Dr. Chatas is, and the office manager tells you again just to sit down. You consider his behavior and determine that he is a driver. What should you do next?

A. Smile, complement his tie and ask where he got it, and get to know him a little before you take a seat.

B. Maintain a serious expression and ask his advice on what he would do if he were you. Would he wait, or would he come back another time?

C. Smile, let him know you are going to get a cup of coffee for your wait and ask him if he would like you to get anything for him on your way.

D. Thank him and tell him where you'll be sitting in the waiting room so that he can let you know as soon as the physician is available.

3. You arrive on time for your appointment with Dr. Steve Bruce, but learn from the receptionist that the new nurse, Nina Mitchell, is seeing pharmaceutical representatives today. Nina is wearing a colorful barrette and artsy, purple and green enameled earrings. You notice that she also has rainbow-striped laces in her white nursing shoes. She turns to you, gives you a big smile and asks, "Mind if I call you Joe?" then laughs a little. Given these observations, you conclude that Nina is a bit quirky, impulsive and an overall expressive. How should you respond?

A. "Sure, if that's what you'd like to call me. Whatever you want. I'm here to work with you."

B. "Actually, my name is Jeff Simms, so I'd prefer you call me Jeff, please."

C. "Not at all. I like the name Joe. What would you like me to call you?"

D. "My name is Jeff Simms. You can call me Jeff or Mr. Simms, whichever you prefer. I'm here to tell you about a new clinical study for my product, so please, can we get started?"

4. From two previous meetings with Dr. Joshua Benz, you have determined that he is an amiable. In the past, he has nodded his way through your calls but then failed to prescribe your product. You are a driver, and have determined that to influence Dr. Benz's prescribing behavior, you need to be less aggressive and spend some time building rapport on his level. What should you say to open your call with Dr. Benz?

A. "Hello, Dr. Benz. I hope you've been doing well since my last visit. Did your daughter's basketball team reach the finals?"

B. "Hi, Dr. Benz. I'll get straight to the point today. Every time we meet, you say you like my product, but then you never prescribe it. What are your reasons?"

C. "Hello, Dr. Benz. I know I'm going out on a limb here, but can you just tell me why you still are not prescribing my product?"

D. "Hi, Dr. Benz. I'm here today to talk to you more about my product in hopes of getting you to prescribe it for your patients who would benefit from it."

Now check your answers against the correct ones: 1:B, 2:D, 3:C and 4:A.

Did you notice that all the A options were appropriate for Amiables, B options for Analyticals, C options for Expressives and D options for Drivers? If not, take some time to reread the options with this in mind. See how each answer is tailored to accommodate a specific behavioral style, based on the characteristics laid out in the behavioral style characteristics table.

Influencing prescribing behavior

Maybe it's a stretch to say that building good customer relationships with physicians and office staff drives sales and market share. However, it definitely doesn't hurt. One of the most effective ways to develop rapport is to identify the behavioral styles of your customers and adjust your own behavior to match theirs. If you haven't tried, give it a go. Following the platinum rule might give you the edge you need to gain access, determine needs and position your product as a solution, in ways that suit your customers. pr

Related Content: