Start a rep association from scratch

May 1, 2000
Scott Berghoff

Pharmaceutical Representative

One rep shares his remedy for field competitiveness.

One of my first impressions working in the field as a pharmaceutical sales representative was that sales reps from competing companies were not very friendly to each other. I saw reps who would ignore each other in hallways, avoid eye contact within offices or conventions and rush to an office door to be the first one inside. As I spent more time in the field, I also noticed the reaction of the prescribers we call on. So often they told me that the previous rep was just in using the "negative detail" technique, or that they noticed a bit of unprofessional competitiveness back in the lab or sample closet. Today, with the influx of so many new and highly competitive reps, I have even heard stories about reps pulling down dosing charts, defacing competitive literature, burying samples, throwing samples away and even questioning a physician's moral choice of the medications they use – all behavior that is totally inappropriate and unprofessional.

But what can you do about behavior like that? I chose to try and change it by starting the Alaska Pharmaceutical Representative Association. My initial goals were to bring as many reps as I could together in a noncompetitive arena where we could utilize some of our energies, focus on the positive and raise the perception of our industry within our offices.

First steps

My first step was to contact the list of rep associations published in Pharmaceutical Representative magazine and to see what they did to get - and keep - their associations strong. I heard back from Atlanta Medical and Pharmaceutical Rep Association's president at the time, Pam Bailey. Pam was extremely helpful in guiding me through the first steps of getting everyone together.

After digesting the information Pam sent me, I went to our largest hospital and reserved a room for one month at 5:00 p.m. Next, I went to as many resources as I could find to get the names and addresses of the reps living in the Anchorage area. After compiling a database, I drafted a letter of invitation with enclosures, including: goals, possible guidelines, a working mission statement and, most importantly, the reason I was starting the association.

The day before the initial meeting, I made follow-up phone calls to all the reps who were sent invitations and received confirmation from about 12 of the approximately 60 reps in the area.

On the night of the meeting, my anxiety level was high. It was getting close to 5:00 p.m., and no one was there yet. Finally they began to trickle in, and relief settled over my perspiring forehead. That first night we voted on an executive committee and decided what our dues would be, when and where we would meet and what topics we would like to hear about in the months ahead. We were on our way.

A year on

Now the first year has come and gone. What have we accomplished? Most noticeably, the hallways and the offices are friendlier. We stop to talk to each other in the parking lots. We work together when there are scheduling conflicts. We have helped keep offices open, and offices have told us how pleased they are with the association and the behavior of its members. In December, we had a year-end party. We rented a bus and traveled between three homes. Seeing all these highly competitive people socializing in my home and the homes of two other APRA members was a wonderful thing.

We continue to meet on the second Monday of each month. At each meeting, we try to have a professional from the community come and speak to us. We have hosted panels with physician assistants, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and other professionals on topics ranging from managed care to grand rounds, the busy doctor to personal security and selling to the government. Some of the benefits we have been able to give to our members have been things like small discounts at businesses we use daily, discounts on the state medical directory, access to the job bank and a place to network.

I am pleased to say that we have come together as an efficient group. We have put together a couple of task forces to gather information and help on issues of importance to us (grand rounds, scheduling at large and busy offices and managed care). We are also working on charity events to benefit The Children's Miracle Network, our association's focus charity, as well as our first golf tournament and a blood drive.

But by far the most satisfaction I get out of the rep association is the knowledge that these very competitive people can meet, leave all the petty sniping at the door and work together for a common goal.

As for those companies who do not allow their reps to join associations, they should definitely reconsider. Not only do associations like ours have the opportunity to save their members money on lunches, etc., but they also enable their members to learn and grow to become better reps. Face it, the canned approach we get from corporate training is not what the real world is like. The cutthroat competitive attitude that is instilled in so many new recruits does not have to be reality, either. All reps know what their primary function is: increase market share. But I have become a much better rep by interacting with my peers within our association. And guess what? I've increased market share, too. PR