Relationship building: A potent tool

Pharmaceutical Representative

It seems nothing short of amazing to me that the vast majority of pharmaceutical reps bypass what is surely the most potent sales tool that exists. Before I became a provider 22 years ago, I was involved in sales. It was then that I realized that sales are greatly influenced by the nature and quality of the relationships between salespeople and their customers. Failure on the part of pharmaceutical representatives to develop good, strong relationships most often leads to poor prescribing habits on the part of the provider.

It seems nothing short of amazing to me that the vast majority of pharmaceutical reps bypass what is surely the most potent sales tool that exists. Before I became a provider 22 years ago, I was involved in sales. It was then that I realized that sales are greatly influenced by the nature and quality of the relationships between salespeople and their customers. Failure on the part of pharmaceutical representatives to develop good, strong relationships most often leads to poor prescribing habits on the part of the provider.

Without a doubt, the very best sales representatives all know this. Yet it has been my observation that the vast majority of reps settle for brief, cookie-cutter encounters that produce poor relationships, which have little positive impact on the providers' prescribing habits. Learning to do a good "detail piece" alone does not typically produce firm product loyalty. It most assuredly does not produce the most potent type of loyalty – one that leads to consistently better sales. I call this type of loyalty "rep loyalty" - the loyalty a provider has to a sales representative. Though product loyalty can favorably influence prescribing habits, rep loyalty is much more effective. The combination of product loyalty and rep loyalty brings about better sales than either does alone. Yet the vast majority of reps are not particularly good at developing product loyalty and are very weak at fostering rep loyalty.

Why is that so? The answer is simple: Most reps just don't know how. Ironically, the problem is compounded by the fact that even though just about everyone recognizes the positive impact that good relationships have on sales, the industry by-and-large commits very limited resources to training reps how to build them. The industry seems to be cynical and skeptical about whether relationship-building can be effectively taught at all. I sense that the industry tries to hire people who demonstrate good relationship skills. The goal then appears to be to simply outfit them with some technical training, and voila! – a rep is born. Such a plan is short-sighted and is largely to blame for ineffectual and often unenthusiastic, discouraged reps who accomplish little in regards to their goal - getting me (the provider) to prescribe the product they represent.

It's wrong to believe that relationship-building cannot be effectively taught - or at least minimally invested in with time and money. Relationships have many aspects, and every one of them is teachable.

A few pointers

One trap many reps fall into is "wallet fixation." Good reps have their minds fixed on the relationships they are developing with their customers. A mindset that is focused on how much the next bonus check will be worth comes through in a representative's sales presentations and makes him or her look insincere - which is damaging to relationships.

Representatives also need to learn to accept one-way relationships. In the course of our lives, we would like all of our personal relationships to be of a two-way nature. But in this case, the rep should let his or her customer be the one who gets the attention and praise, the admiration and appreciation, and not expect it in return. The wise rep trains him or herself to not only accept one-way relationships, but to actually enjoy them.

The good relationships needed for strong, effective and continued sales require that reps be taught and trained, and then persistently coached and encouraged. Reps who practice the principals learned in effective relationship training will not only feel more secure and content, but will also have consistently better sales. PR