Ten ways to beat the new drug rep syndrome

July 1, 2002
Ananda Laberge
Ananda Laberge

Ananda Laberge is a senior therapeutic sales representative with New York-based Pfizer Inc.’s anti-infective division. She is currently working on a book about the pharmaceutical industry. If you would like a free copy, please e-mail her at alaberge@usa.net.

Pharmaceutical Representative

Facing new physicians' offices can be daunting and nerve-wracking.

We've all been through it at one time or another - the first day in a new office. Whether you are a new pharmaceutical representative, a seasoned veteran in a new territory or a casualty of a territory realignment, facing new offices can be daunting and nerve-wracking. We want to make the right impression on that all-important first call, but every office, doctor, nurse, physician's assistant and nurse practitioner is different. So how do you do it? With a human touch. Simply follow these common-sense tips and watch your territory flourish!

Be yourself

Having a personality can be your best asset on a first call, so don't try to hide it! New reps often get so bogged down by details that they forget about being themselves. You have so much new product information in your head that you become micro-focused on just getting the information out. Remember, you won't make any friends until you show a genuine interest in the doctors and their staff and become someone they can trust. The best way to do this is to be yourself. The old sales adage "we buy from those we like" stands true in pharmaceuticals as well.

The 30-second slam

Picture the scene: It's your first day as the new territory representative, and after a few deep breaths, you walk into your first office. You notice the doctor is running and won't have time to talk for very long. You finally catch the doctor's attention and give him a quick 30-second detail of a product he may or may not know about, and then the doctor is off. You think to yourself, "Will he remember me the next time?" Probably not, mainly because this is the approach 99% of your competition takes, and physicians are annoyed with it. Try a different tack instead. Start by introducing yourself and getting to know the physician by asking a few quick questions about him. Chances are that the doctor will be so surprised by this more personal approach that he will give you a little more time than the other 10 reps who were in before you. But make it quick; you don't want to bog the physician down with small talk. At the end of your call, do the old Columbo: "By the way, my products are … and I thank you for writing them." You will have plenty of time in the future to discuss the pharmacological advantages of your products with the physician; don't antagonize him or her on the first visit by coming across like all the other reps.

Listen, listen, listen

Many reps make the mistake of asking physicians and their staff excellent questions, only to follow up by not listening to their answers. You've put the effort into asking those perfect questions; don't ruin it by missing the best part - their responses! Those replies will allow you to ask more questions and find out the best way to become a value-added service provider to the office. Don't think about what you are going to say right away; instead, listen and ask another question that will shed more light on what is important to the doctor.

Put yourself in their shoes

Imagine what it's like for the doctor's primary nurse on a busy Monday. To start off, the doctor walks in late and there are already 12 patients in the waiting room, the phone keeps ringing, patient files aren't where they're supposed to be, and there have already been eight reps in the office in the past two hours. That is the moment you - the rep - walk in. The only way to handle this situation is carefully. Be aware of the craziness and let the nurse see that you are sensitive to his or her stress level. As a rep, you are there to do your job, but how you do it is how you will be remembered. Politeness goes a long way.

Know your products

For some reason, many reps think that knowing their products runs contrary to being amiable. Believe it or not, reps can be both knowledgeable and likeable. Great social skills can take you far, but don't make the mistake of becoming too friendly and not being a product resource to the physicians and their staff. On the flip side, great product knowledge without the finesse of social skills will only close doors for you. It is a fine balance between these two important traits; if you perfect each of them you will become invaluable to that office.

Remember the office staff

I so often hear the nurses talk about the rep who came in and made a beeline to the doctor without so much as a hello to the office staff and exited in a similar fashion. What chance does this rep have of getting back there the next time, never mind being successful in that office? The office staff can make or break you. They are sometimes more important than the doctor, depending on the relationship they have with that physician. Their power to influence the doctor's writing habits is often ignored, and the rep then wonders, "Why is that office not using my drug?" Always get friendly with the office staff first; they are a valuable resource and your key to unlocking the physician's potential for writing your drug.

Adapt to the mood

The same tactics don't work with every office; there are numerous dynamics at play that will help or hinder your approach. If you are intuitive - which I believe is a requirement for a successful rep - and you notice the mood is heavy, lighten it up with a joke or just inquire if something is wrong. If the doctor is in a particularly sour mood, be sensitive, and don't outlast your welcome that day. You want the office to see you not just as another rep, but also as a person. This will also help break any potential negative rep stereotype that might have been formed of you.

Always close with managed care

Numerous surveys have shown that physicians want to be kept up to date with the latest managed care information in their area. This is not surprising, given the constantly evolving climate of healthcare in this day and age. If you make it a habit to leave them valuable managed care data on every visit, doctors and staff will come to expect it. That's what you want! But leave it at the end of your call; you want to be sure they hear your detail first. Before long, they will be coming to you with their questions, because they will know that you have - or can get - the answers.

Drop the jargon

So, you've just completed your training and you are ready to hit the road. You walk into your first office of the day and can't wait to tell the doctor and her staff how much you know about your products. That's great, except that when you open your mouth you sound like you've been brainwashed. Remember, the training you just completed is there to give you a road map; that doesn't mean you can't develop your own style. Give yourself a chance to digest the product information before dishing it out verbatim. You will not only come across as more genuine, but also more professional.

Keep on smiling!

Sometimes the hardest part of being a rep is keeping a smile on your face. We can all relate to having a bad call and letting it ruin the rest of our day. It seems counterintuitive to smile when we are in a bad mood. However, that is the best thing we can do! Offices do not respond to dour sales reps. Your chances of improving the day are dependent on your ability to lighten up on your next call. Look at each call as an opportunity to turn things around.

If these tips seem obvious to you, that's because they are! They are also very rarely applied consistently, call after call. Try them out today, and dramatically shorten the time it takes you to become an essential part of each office. The results will be a flood of new prescriptions for your drugs and an office staff that will look forward to seeing you on every call. Good luck! PR

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