Training pays off

September 1, 2002
Paul Pinsonault
Pharmaceutical Representative

How coaches can help you make the most of your assets.

Pharmaceutical sales representatives are a unique breed of people. In fact, one of the primary reasons your company hired you is the collection of special qualities you possess – intrinsic qualities that are essential for success in today's increasingly competitive sales environment. Interestingly, what makes the special features of your personality so unique is that you have to be born with them. You can't buy them online, you can't learn them in a classroom and, no, you can't get them by taking a pill!

Chances are that your friends and family members consider you an ambitious self-starter. People who know you describe you as smart and independent, highly self-motivated, and very persistent. You are definitely a "people person," but prefer to work independently and set your own schedule. You like to be well-prepared with all the right tools before tackling a job, and you always have a "Plan B" ready, just in case your day doesn't go exactly as scheduled. You enjoy following your intuition and taking the lead, but at the same time, you understand the importance of staying within the bounds of your company's guidelines, as well as respecting the rules of the physicians' offices you call on each day. Have I described you to a T? I'll bet I have!

Time out of the field

As a self-motivated sales representative, you are accustomed to working independently and living life on the run. Therefore, sitting in sales training classes all day or having a district manager ride along with you does not blend particularly well with your fast-paced lifestyle. In fact, you may often feel that the compulsory ride-alongs, training sessions and plan-of-action meetings that come with being a rep are just torturous obstacles that keep you from what you really need to be doing in the field each day. After all, your primary objective is to influence prescribing behavior by promoting the clinical and cost benefits of your products throughout your territory - and how can you accomplish that goal if you're stuck in a training class or being observed and evaluated by your district manager all day?

The funny thing is, in one sense, you're absolutely right. Time out of your territory - whether it's spent in a district, regional or national sales meeting, or reviewing your performance with a field trainer or DM after each call - prevents you from getting your message to as many prescribers as you can. And let's face it: In today's highly competitive environment, every detail counts. In fact, studies show that every detail you make can affect the sales and market share of your products, even if you only get 15 seconds of face-to-face time with the prescriber. This is a major reason why your company values you and the job you do so greatly and why such significant amounts of time and resources are invested in your training. Your company has a keen interest in making sure that you are able to deliver the best possible performance on each and every sales call, because every call matters and you only get one chance to make a lasting impression.

In today's increasingly competitive sales environment, your company is more concerned than ever before that your face-to-face time with prescribers is well spent. The information you provide must be perceived as valuable by healthcare providers who have less and less time to spend with you and the other sales representatives who compete for their attention. If there is no perceived value in your visits, these busy professionals may choose to further restrict or completely eliminate the time they are willing to spend with you, which is clearly not in the best interest of sales and market share potential. With this in mind, it seems there must be some pretty significant reasons why your company believes it is worthwhile for you to come out of the field now and then to spend a little time with your DM and the sales training department.

Cope with change through practice

Consider this: Despite all of your knowledge and sales training experience, the environment in which you work and compete each day is constantly changing, like shifting sand beneath your feet. And many of these changes - even the most significant ones - may not be visible to you, despite the fact that they can dramatically impact the sales and market share of your products. For this reason, your company wants to ensure that you are adequately prepared to handle and overcome any new and emerging obstacles that may threaten to limit the growth potential of your products, and the best way to do this is by regularly providing you with the assistance of a knowledgeable and supportive observer who can coach you to maximize your potential.

Just pause and think about it for a moment: The most accomplished Olympic athletes and the most highly paid professional sports figures spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars each year to be coached by knowledgeable and experienced individuals who help them to continually refine and improve their performance. Under these incredibly competitive circumstances, where so much is at stake, coaching is absolutely necessary in order to stay ahead of the improvements and innovations that competitors always seem to be coming up with. These dynamics of competition and the need to continually improve one's game in the face of new challenges are not unlike the competitive environment you experience each day in the pharmaceutical marketplace. You need to be continually coached on the changes impacting your own product line, as well as the competition's. The players are endlessly changing, new strategies are implemented mid-game and the ball seems to come at you from every direction! Now, doesn't it make sense that the benefits of coaching in extreme athletic conditions also apply in today's pharmaceutical sales environment, where the same dynamics of ever-increasing competition are in place? If coaching can work wonders for top athletes, why not let it work for you?

The fact is, an effective coach can guide you to unlock your potential and maximize your performance by showing you ways to make changes that will lead to your own self-improvement. Ideally, a coach leads you to take ownership of the actions necessary to bring about these changes, and shows you how to reach the next level of performance through your own efforts. For coaching to work best, the relationship between you and the coach must be one of partnership, trust, safety and minimal pressure, just as in athletic competition. An effective coach should provide constructive and positive feedback on your efforts, and likewise, you should provide feedback on the coach's instruction to ensure that your objectives and expectations are being met. A coach should always help you stay focused on realistic and achievable goals that encourage you to bend without breaking, and should empower you by helping to create a plan of action that allows you to overcome the changes and obstacles that present themselves each day.

Undoubtedly, your company keeps you well-informed of any changes in the clinical and prescribing information for both your products and the competition's, including any new or revised therapeutic indications. These updates are reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration and carry the same meaning and implications anywhere in the country. In these instances, there are rarely any geographic subtleties that would impact your local territory and require the intensive services of a coach. Likewise, revisions to the corporate sales objectives you carry out on behalf of your company are also explicitly conveyed to you, usually in the form of new detail pieces distributed at POA meetings that are held on an annual, semi-annual or quarterly basis. These changes in corporate sales focus are always spelled out clearly and are easy to recognize and react to. However, there are many other changes that are not so easy to recognize, and it is in these challenges that the assistance of an effective coach can truly help bring out the best in your performance.

A shifting marketplace

Among the most difficult obstacles to recognize are the local healthcare marketplace changes that occur on an almost daily basis throughout your territory. These changes come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can significantly impact your products' sales and market share, despite your best efforts. They may come in the form of new co-pay or retail pricing differentials between your product and the competition's. They may also come in the form of changing formulary status, new step-therapy guidelines or new prior-authorization requirements for your product or the competition's. They may even come in the form of changes in product reimbursement coverage due to financial circumstances or restrictive insurance policy issues at a major employer in your area.

Making matters even more complicated, these changes may occur on national, regional or local levels at health plans, pharmacy benefit managers, hospitals or major medical groups that impact the sales of your territory. In this situation, not even the level or source of marketplace changes is predictable! Given the increasingly complex and erratic nature of prescription drug coverage, how can any rep be expected to keep up with all of the changes occurring in today's healthcare environment, even with the assistance of a coach?

Once you have the clinical and sales basics down, you can start by taking full advantage of the information your company provides for you, in particular, the prescribing and formulary data for your products and the competition's. When you're armed with this information, you've got the essential materials you need to keep healthcare providers in your territory well-informed on the latest cost and insurance coverage data for the products that fall within your brand's therapeutic class. Also, be sure to maintain regular contact with your company's managed care account managers, who are responsible for calling on national and regional accounts that impact your territory. These account managers are your best resource for the latest competitive intelligence on matters such as product formulary status, co-pay differentials, prior authorization requirements, and generic and therapeutic substitution policies that may be quietly occurring in your territory without your knowledge.

Most important, it is critical that you be prepared to overcome any prescribing objection a physician, physician's assistant or nurse practitioner may raise, and be able to reduce these objections to non-issues with simple, practical solutions. You should practice overcoming these objections as often as possible with a competent coach so you can confidently address any prescribing concerns that the providers in your territory may be faced with. The fact is, today's healthcare providers are busier than ever filling out paperwork, charts and other documentation that prevent them from spending time with patients – and spending time with reps. Therefore, the most valuable service you can provide these busy professionals is giving them clear and concise information on how your product will save their practice time, money and energy. The safety, dosing and clinical attributes of your products are always of prime importance as well, but realistically, today's providers want and need to know whether or not the health plans they belong to will allow them to prescribe your drugs in the first place, no matter how cost-effective and efficacious they are!

The truth is, if it's a hassle to write for your products, prescribers will be unlikely to go through the trouble to write for them - unless you've been proactive and shown them how to gain access for the appropriate patient type in a quick and easy fashion. If there are prescribing obstacles in place for your product at either the health plan or pharmacy benefit manager level, providers need to know about these issues in advance. Furthermore, you must be able to convey quick, simple instructions on how to obtain your product for the appropriate patient type despite these obstacles, or you risk losing physicians' commitment to advocate your product. In fact, if you don't provide this information proactively, attempts at writing your product may result in a maze of complex prior-authorization requirements and a deluge of phone calls, letters and faxes that will discourage prescribers from ever writing for your product again, even if it demonstrates good clinical results for their patients. On the other hand, prescribers may write for your product, but generic or therapeutic substitutions may occur systematically at the retail level with or without their knowledge, effectively wiping out any increase in sales or market share for your territory. Therefore, unless you've informed providers and their office staff members on how to ensure their patients receive your brand when they write for it, your sales efforts will deliver much less impact than if you had delivered the information today's prescribers want and need to guarantee access to your products.

The importance of training

The moral of the story is this: Take full advantage of every occasion your company provides for you to work with your DM and your company's sales training staff. Think of it as an opportunity to have a personal sales training coach! Be open to the suggestions your DM and the training staff will provide to help you improve your performance and deliver the type of information today's healthcare providers want and need. Provide your coaches with ample feedback on their directions to you to ensure that your needs and objectives are being met. Pay close attention to their instructions, and be confident in your ability to deliver valuable information to the healthcare providers in your territory. Let your coaches know about specific areas where you may need targeted training, and be sure to stay focused on realistic and attainable goals for yourself as you are coached on your path to success. PR