Refresher course: office courtesy

November 1, 1998
Pam Bailey Marinko

Pam Bailey Marinko is director of professional development for Wilmington, NC-based aaiPharma Inc. She is also a co-founder of the Atlanta Medical and Pharmaceutical Representative's Association and a member of the Pharmaceutical Representative editorial advisory board.

Pharmaceutical Representative

Treating other reps well can be good for everyone.

"We're not seeing reps anymore." "What? But, I know Dr. Smith personally, I'm sure he'll see me."

"No, I'm sorry, there was a rep who came in earlier this week and spoiled it for the rest of you. We just can't have this happening in our office anymore. You can leave samples if you want…."

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever been the one who caused such a result? If you were the one, you might not have even known about it until it was too late.

It may seem to experienced sales reps that most of the things we do professionally are common sense. But we have many new sales representatives who are seeing this industry for the first time. We need to be sure that we all understand the finer selling points in this unique environment.

This article provides guidelines for office courtesy. Even if you are an experienced sales representative, the information might be of importance to you. And if you are new to pharmaceutical sales, verify these guidelines with an experienced rep in your area. After all, there are exceptions to every rule and some things may not apply in your territory.

The rules

As pharmaceutical reps, we need to be sensitive to the needs of physicians, who are our primary customers. But we serve a lot of other customers as well. Office staff, nurses, assistants, pharmacists, wholesalers and, ultimately, patients are all customers. We need to consider all of them when we make our calls.

Parking lot: Avoid parking in the handicap spaces, ambulance zone, patient drop-off area or in prime spots. These are reserved for the patients and will annoy the doctors, staff and/or patients who will certainly notice and might say something to the doctor or the staff.

You do not have to "win the race" to the front door of the clinic or office. If you see another rep preparing to go into the office, stop and introduce yourself or at least allow them to go first. There is opportunity for all of us to do our jobs.

If you are approached by a curious patient or just a passer-by, quickly close your trunk, lock your car and proceed to your appointment. If they try to engage you in conversation, politely tell them you are rushing to an appointment, or something else you feel comfortable saying, and proceed to the office closest to you. Be aware of your surroundings and try not to linger or do paperwork in your car. A coffee shop is a better choice.

Waiting room and patient reception area: Introduce yourself to the receptionist and always present him or her with your business card, even if you have been calling on this office for years. It shows respect and professionalism. The front office staff will probably control rep traffic if they are aware you are there. In addition, there may be an emergency or a situation which you are not aware of.

Wear your name tag, preferably on your right side so others can read it easily. Wear it as a courtesy to the office staff and physicians; do not "challenge" them to remember the name of every rep who comes through the door. Even if they've known you for years, everyone makes a mistake now and then, and no one wants to forget your name.

If a waiting room is full, evaluate whether it would be better to come back another day or at another time.

Be aware of the patients waiting to see the doctor. Typically, these patients are not feeling well or are unhappy about having to wait to see the doctor. Try to speak in a low voice and understand that your purpose for being there is quite different from theirs. Act accordingly.

If there is another rep waiting, introduce yourself. Check with the rep and/or the receptionist if it's permissible for more than one rep to wait to see the doctor. If so, keep conversation quiet and courteous.

Check with the staff before leaving any literature of patient education materials in the waiting room. Often, there are restrictions that vary from place to place.

Thank the office staff often, and be pleasant.

Sampling and the sample closet: As a rule, the sample closet is there for the doctor's convenience. Remember that we "rent" space in the closet; we do not own it. Be aware of the organization of the closet, whether it is by drug class, alphabetical order or otherwise. If it's your first time in an office, or if there has been a change in procedure, ask where you should leave samples.

When you are sampling, be aware of these things:


• Over-sampling may help your inventory, but it will hurt your sales and your reputation. Furthermore, if you are working with others from your company who sample the same products, you might make it harder for them to gain access to this office next time.


• In some areas, there are extra procedures for leaving samples, such as registering the expiration dates, documenting the lot numbers and quantities, or making a list of what is in the closet. Make sure you ask if there is any way you can make this process easier for the person who usually does it.


• Check the expiration dates of your samples often and alert the appropriate staff member if an item has expired. Do not accept these items back into your inventory or dispose of them yourself. Both actions violate the federal rules for sampling pharmaceutical products.


• Hiding competitive samples, or placing yours in front of theirs, will certainly make someone angry, but it will probably be the doctor and not your competitor. Unlike going to the grocery store and picking out a box of cereal, choosing a medication is not dependent on which is the prettiest, most prominent box. When physicians cannot find a particular drug they are seeking, they can become frustrated.


• Do not throw away competitive samples or literature. This will always backfire.


• Witness the physician signing for your samples. This is a federal regulation.


• When you are waiting for a signature, stand in a place where the doctor will see you, but be sure you are out of the flow of traffic. If you are in the way, you will leave a very bad impression.

Pam Bailey is a sales training consultant for Searle, and a member of Pharmaceutical Representative's editorial advisory board.

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