The ten most common marketing mistakes

August 1, 2001
Christopher E. McCarthy

Pharmaceutical Representative

Tips from a doctor's perspective.

You have learned a lot of great information in your training to be a pharmaceutical representative. Now you are ready to go out and take on the world. Before you step into your next physician's office, however, you will need to forget some things you were taught in training. As a primary care physician, I would like to share with you the ten most common mistakes you were taught in training:

1. Asking for commitment. You have finished your presentation and you are ready to make your closing. You have been taught to ask your physician to commit to prescribing your drug to the next few patients. When you ask, though, the physician gets a pained look on his or her face. Why the look? It's because doctors know that there is a whole host of factors that will influence which drugs they may prescribe for the next few patients. Now their choice is either to lie to you or spend more time trying to explain why they cannot agree to your request. Don't put your doctor in that position. Physicians universally hate being asked for commitment. If you have done a good job of presenting your product, it will sell itself.

2. "Pimping" the doctor. There is a hierarchy in medical school, from the professor to the chief resident on down to the lowly third-year medical student. This hierarchy is maintained through a process known as "pimping." It works like this: You ask someone a question that you know the answer to and that he or she probably does not. When he or she cannot answer the question, you show everyone what a great physician you are. Pharmaceutical representatives frequently make the mistake of trying to open a conversation by asking the physician a question. Frequently this question is designed to make a point about a drug, but instead it smacks of pimping. No physician likes to be pimped. Therefore, do not go into a physician's office and start asking questions. If you want to make a point about the incidence of a symptom, side effects or cost, make it. Don't ask the physician a question about it.

3. Nitpicking the PDR. The "Physician's Desk Reference" has become a common battleground in the marketing of pharmaceuticals. The representative pulls out the package insert of the competition and starts tearing it apart. The reality, though, is that almost 85% of physician prescribing is determined by clinical experience. Be careful about quoting some obscure fact or statistic from the PDR. If this fact or statistic has no clinical relevance, it will make you appear to be desperate for some ammunition to use against your competition. Try to use the PDR only when it really points out a significant clinical difference between your drug and your competitor's.

4. Cytochrome P450. Today there is a tremendous amount of interest in potential drug interactions. Fortunately for the patients, most of these drug-to-drug interactions are of a subclinical nature. This means that although the interaction may occur, it does not have any clinical relevance to the care of the average patient. Do not try to dazzle us with all your drug's effects on the cytochrome system. Do not keep showing us charts with all the different classes of the cytochrome system. It gets too overwhelming and confusing for us, and we get tired of hearing about it. If the interaction has serious potential for adverse consequences, then yes, please remind us time and again. However, do not try to use this as the strongest selling point for your drug unless this is a huge issue in prescribing it.

5. Too much information. The amount of information we can absorb about a particular drug is somewhat limited. If you bombard us with all sorts of clinically irrelevant facts and figures, your main message will get lost. You should emphasize about five or six important points, because that is about all we can reasonably be expected to remember in the long run. This does not mean that you should not have a complete understanding of your drug. Just don't try to tell us everything about it every time we see you.

6. Spin doctor. If something has just come out, or is about to come out, that is damaging to your drug, please tell us. We don't want to find out from our patients that the drug we just prescribed to them is about to be pulled from the market. Give us the facts, be they good or bad, as soon as you are aware of them. We are your ultimate sales force. Do not expect us to try to continue selling your drug to our patients if you are not honest and upfront with us about it. Sure, you may lose some sales; however, you will not lose your credibility in our eyes. Once you lose your credibility, physicians will have a very difficult time believing anything you tell them about any drug, either new or old.

7. Toys. Your company has spent a lot of money developing little "reminders" to help us remember the name of your product. No matter what the people in marketing told you, forget it. Those cute little toys don't sell pharmaceuticals. Instead, spend time working on presenting yourself in a professional manner.

8. Not knowing your drug. You are the expert on your drug, or at least you should be. We expect you to know everything about your drug. If you do not, your credibility is diminished. We need an instant resource when we have questions about your drug. If you have to ask the research department to send us something, chances are we will never read it. Be familiar with all the latest articles in the commonly read medical journals. If you do not know which journals to look at, ask your physicians. Try to think of yourself as a pharmaceutical consultant, not a salesperson.

9. Not knowing your disease. The world of medicine is changing at an ever-increasing pace. Be sure you know what the latest disease models are for the disease or diseases your drugs treat. If you want to be treated as a professional who can help us do our job, be up-to-date in your field. The information is readily available. If your company cannot provide it, again ask your physician where you should be looking to keep up.

10. Regurgitation. The last and one of the most deadly sins of pharmaceutical sales is the "closing." We are not consumers trying to decide which toothpaste to buy. We are professionals trying to decide how best to care for our patients.

As a pharmaceutical representative, you can be a tremendous aid to the practicing physician. Act professionally, know your drug and your disease, and we will be able to help each other now and in the future. PR

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