Tame your difficult customers

April 1, 1997

Pharmaceutical Representative

Pharmaceutical salespeople may have the most difficult customers there are: physicians and other high-level professionals who are indifferent, combative or just won't see them.

Pharmaceutical salespeople may have the most difficult customers there are: physicians and other high-level professionals who are indifferent, combative or just won't see them.

No matter how grim a selling situation appears, sales reps shouldn't give up hope, says Josh Gordon, author of "Tough Calls: Selling Strategies to Win Over Your Most Difficult Customers" (Amacom).

In a recent interview, Gordon offered several strategies that salespeople can use to tame doctors who have specific problems.

No-see doctors

A common dilemma for pharmaceutical salespeople is dealing with those phantom doctors who just won't see them. While persistence is important with these customers, your actions should be subtle.

"You just can't force customers to see you," Gordon said. "So instead of trying to push your way in, you want to encourage doctors to pull you in. You have to generate the interest for them."

To build a customer's curiosity, your first communication with him or her is critical. Gordon suggested that sales reps write a brief letter to the doctor. "It should state some specific benefit that you will offer when you meet."

In your letter, promise the doctor you won't waste his or her time. Then follow-up the letter with a phone call and try to schedule a meeting. "Again, don't be pushy on the phone. Be extremely professional."

Second in line

A different strategy is required for doctors who aren't interested in trying your product and only prescribe your competitor's drug.

"These doctors are probably comfortable prescribing competitive products because they don't see enough of a difference between your product and the other product. They are familiar with the other drug's side effects and results, and they don't see a lot of motivation to change," Gordon said.

"One thing you can do with these doctors is focus on relationship selling. If there is no significant difference between the products, a doctor's prescribing decision will be made on emotional terms rather than on logical terms."

In selling to these doctors, reps may also want to suggest that patients may prefer their brand to the competitor's. Gordon calls this "appealing to the doctor through his or her constituency." Try to back up your claims with articles and studies, if possible.

Indifferent customers

Doctors are often very proud people that society puts on a pedestal. As a result, some physicians may not see the value in speaking with salespeople or learning about the subtle differences between products.

If you have indifferent doctors in your territory, Gordon suggests focusing the meat of the sales call on the doctors themselves. "Don't try to control the call too much. Instead, ask their opinions on your class of drugs, or what their experience with the drugs has been like in the past."

Know-it-all doctors

If you have a know-it-all doctor in your territory, you can sabotage your sales efforts by coming across like a traditional salesperson, Gordon said. "A doctor is not going to put up with someone who looks and acts like a used car salesman."

Gordon warns against being overly enthusiastic with these doctors. "Your objective should be to act like a consultant. And when you act like a consultant, you have to be more low key."

This means using a gentle approach: Try leading these customers to your selling points by asking questions.

For example, "Doctor, have you ever considered what the patient benefits would be if someone produced a pill that could offer [a benefit]? Well, actually, we have developed a drug that can do that..." PR

To order Gordon's book, call Amacom at (800) 262-9699.