Transition from general rep to specialty rep

April 1, 2002
Sandra M. Peters

Pharmaceutical Representative

Many pharmaceutical companies have several sales forces to target their physicians.

One of the biggest challenges for representatives in the year 2002 is how to sell aggressively against our competitors with roughly 75,000 pharmaceutical reps nationwide. To address this concern, many pharmaceutical companies have several sales forces to target their physicians.

The majority of companies have two separate sales forces: primary care/general practice representatives and specialty/hospital representatives. The differences between the two sales forces have to do with expertise, knowledge and clinical information.

When a GP pharmaceutical representative is first hired, his or her job is to call on the primary care or general practitioners. The physicians who fall into this category are family practitioners and internal medicine doctors. These physicians see a large patient audience, ranging from adolescents to elderly patients. Since these doctors have such a broad clientele, they often deal with a range of different consultations. This is why the number of GP/FP representatives is constantly increasing in these offices. These doctors often prescribe all types of medications (for example, antibiotics, ACE inhibitors, COX-2 inhibitors and opioids). Specialty reps, on the other hand, call on specialists who mostly deal with one disease state and class of drug.

How to get hired as a specialty rep

Several factors are considered when a general representative is hired or promoted to a specialty representative position. First is the amount of time the rep has been selling pharmaceuticals to physicians. Secondly, does the rep have an excellent sales record? Achievements, awards and contests won are crucial factors companies and managers also consider. Third, the rep has to have built good rapport and relationships with all doctors, nurses and staff in his or her territory. Has the rep outperformed his or her counterparts by getting advocates? Has the representative worked closely with co-workers to help get certain products on formularies in major institutions? Also, has the representative sold more because of his or her product knowledge and ability to identify objectives and hot buttons to sell and, finally, to close? Finally, the rep's scientific knowledge is a determining factor; scientific knowledge, including use of studies and where to find these studies, is extremely important in selling to physicians.

What to expect when you get the job

When a general rep gets promoted to specialty rep, he or she is expected to sell to doctors in a more professional manner. That means coming up with solutions to make you stand out among your competition (for instance, by becoming a partner with the physicians and bringing added value to the sales call). Specialists are more conservative and precise. Access to specialists is tougher, they're pressed for time, and they're interested in clinical information, reprints and data.

The specialty representative has to be knowledgeable and up-to-date on the most recent product information in the pharmaceutical industry. Representatives who are widely educated in all products, competition and managed care have the advantage when selling.

A successful specialty rep:


•Â Has strong interpersonal skills.


•Â Has strong scientific and product knowledge.


•Â Is highly motivated and independent.


•Â Has excellent knowledge of customers and territory.


•Â Is effective, precise and well-organized.


•Â Is ambitious and goal-oriented.


•Â Is flexible and intuitive.


•Â Has a professional manner and image.


•Â Is ethical.

How to deal with differences

Representatives are faced with new changes and challenges on an ongoing basis. One of the challenges facing all specialty reps is how to get the business from this smaller group of physicians. Another important point to address is that the representative needs to be more knowledgeable and focused when calling on specialists because of their higher level of expertise. Specialty representatives need to be well-versed in sophisticated therapeutic areas like oncology, cardiology or neurology. It's also important that the rep be more knowledgeable in all areas and work on the following:


•Â Product knowledge.


•Â Scientific knowledge (anatomy, physiology, chemistry, biology, disease states, etc.).


•Â Knowledge of clinical reprints and data.


•Â Constant self-improvement and achievement in all areas (products, new products, competition).


•Â Better-planned calls, delivered in a more timely and precise manner.


•Â Quick, concise presentations that are specific to the doctor's needs and wants.


•Â Industry knowledge.

If you can polish your skills in these specific areas, you're sure to find success in your position as a specialty representative. PR

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