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All things Pharma

The big turn-off

WHILE JUDGING for this year’s Pharmaceutical Sales Awards, I had to role-play a GP. As I have been a medical sales representative, a regional business manager and a director of sales training, it wasn’t too difficult – but it was a revelation to observe the different approaches taken by a cross-section of medical representatives. I began to see why doctors behave the way they often do, which I have always thought of as defensive behaviour. Now I think I understand their response with more empathy. The pressure on the representative is always to deliver key messages, and often they know that their call will be monitored by DFUs (Detail Follow-Ups) . . . so they do what their employer requires, regardless of the doctor’s level of interest. We all know that it is important to uncover the doctor’s needs, so questions are asked – but often in a manipulative manner, and when no rapport has been built. Therefore, the response from the doctor is often “Just tell me about your product and don’t ask me any questions,” because they know that their views will then be disregarded during a manipulative presentation of the representative’s product.
None of us like to be told what to do, and so this manner of presenting is off-putting to the customer. Of course the key messages need to be delivered, but what is often forgotten is that how they are delivered is the key to achieving a successful outcome, i.e. the prescribing of the representative’s product.
Let’s talk this over
There are two types of representative. The first – let’s call him Fred – carries out a one-way ‘tell sell’, doesn’t listen, interrogates, gives mostly irrelevant information and focuses on his own agenda. The second – let’s call her Freda – engages in a two-way conversation, listens, ensures that her questions are linked, provides information relevant to the customer and focuses on her customer’s agenda or interests.
Let’s consider Fred’s approach for a moment. What does this look like from the doctor’s point of view? In other words, what behaviour does the doctor see in that sales person? An approach that is sending out the message: “I’m here to make a sale.” The doctor will see a pressuring, pushy person focused on himself as opposed to the customer. He is hurried in his responses, not listening, and manipulative.
On the other hand, let’s think about Freda’s approach: “I’m here to help the doctor and to sell my products.” This representative comes over as one who’s interested in what the doctor wants. She asks questions, solves problems, listens and provides information about how others have solved these problems. She demonstrates honesty, integrity and patience.
The focus for Fred is on the product; but for Freda the focus is on the doctor. Freda’s purpose is actually to sell solutions, but her objective is to sell the company’s products through a problemsolving approach that also provides solutions.
Freda’s approach is much more likely to be successful. It’s a ‘win-win’ approach, which means that both the sales person and the customer benefit from the solution. This attitude will be at the forefront of the sales person’s mind, and thus easily read by the doctor.
You’ve tried the rest . . .
When thinking about product features and benefits, let’s go back to a few basics that usually get forgotten when a representative launches into a tell sell. Your role is to help your customers buy what they think will satisfy a particular need.
Those needs are likely to be:
     • efficacy
     • safety
     • compliance
     • cost.
Now here’s a thought – every product on the market offers these features and the associated benefits, which is why your product will never sound different to the doctor. So how can you make it sound different?
Look at your watch. All watches serve the same purpose – i.e. they tell you the time! So what persuaded you to buy yours? Brand, quality, reliability? People buy particular watches for many reasons. Would it have helped you in any way if the salesperson had informed you that a particular watch told the time and looked nice? No – so we also need to make the product features and benefits sound more personally appealing.
To do this, we need to make sure that the presentation of your product or solution is tailored to what the doctor wants. We can only do this if we enter into an adult-to-adult conversation, and we can only do that if we have demonstrated the right kind of behaviour from the start of the call. If we go into the call to tell the doctor why what she has been prescribing is wrong, and that we know best, we don’t stand a chance regardless of the key messages!
Before any brand managers threaten to kill me, let me reassure them that it’s not the delivery of these key messages I oppose: it’s the manner in which they are delivered. I asked a brand manager from a large pharmaceutical company for his view:
“I think [your] views are a bit hard-hitting, but in fairness, maybe that’s what’s needed in the current environment. Our representatives probably deliver the key messages too soon, before a relationship has been established, which is why they don’t always have the impact that I’d like to see. Also, I think that there is a lack of intelligent questioning, i.e. ‘What can I tell you about this product that would be of genuine interest to you?’” I agree with this perspective!
The sordid details
I’ve been training sales people this week, and I asked for their views. Here are a couple of typical responses:
“We know what we should be doing, but we feel compelled to deliver the key messages. So we deliver them, but we know that they often fall on deaf ears.”
“A doctor will say ‘Don’t ask me questions, just tell me about your product.’ So we do, but we know that we haven’t really sold.”
I then spoke to the most important people – our customers. The GPs I spoke to are used by In2Focus for their Sales Force Effectiveness events. These GPs are experts at assessing the representative behaviours they consider effective in persuading GPs to prescribe a particular product.
Dr Carl Dunford from London told me: “I see representatives quite frequently who just tell me their key messages. I become quite impatient with this as they don’t seem interested in, and don’t regard as important, what my practice is or my prescribing habits are.”
Dr Raj Sekhon from Horsham echoes this view: “I appreciate representatives have a certain agenda, but they do need to take into account a doctor’s needs. If these are not met, the doctor will not be ready to prescribe that particular product.” When asked what makes for a poor detail, GPs often say something like “Lack of flexibility in tailoring information to needs, no rapport building, speaking as if by rote, pushiness.”
Good selling skills are defined by Dr Jeremy Wheeler from Maidenhead, who comments: “To have good selling skills you need to have good listening skills. Representatives need the ability to take on board what they have heard me say and then adapt their messages to it.” Thus the doctor’s perspective is clear: sales representatives need to be able to tailor their messages to each particular customer’s needs and interests, and to deliver the information in a way that the doctor is comfortable with.
Get the message
Finally, I asked Gary Killington, the Sales Force Effectiveness Business Development Director of In2Focus, what he thought pharmaceutical companies needed to do in order to raise their game.
Gary said: “Our analysis of sales forces shows clearly the absolute link between understanding the doctor’s needs and the willingness of the GP to commit to increasing his prescribing. To improve sales force effectiveness, companies should use their own customers to assess and measure the skills used by representatives. When you measure the skills objectively – for example, using our ICQ process – you can use the data to help train and develop an individual, knowing exactly what that individual’s strengths and areas for development are. However, it is crucial that pharmaceutical companies help their managers and field trainers to diagnose accurately what is happening in a call. How can we expect coaching to have any real impact or consistent direction if the vital step of correct evaluation of the representative’s call is missing? Ability to evaluate a call is critical – after all, if representatives knew how to improve their performance by themselves, most would do it instantly. Quality coaching in the right areas will make a huge difference to performance.”
These are interesting views. The onus, it seems, is on all parties – not just the representative, but also those involved in coaching and training – to help ensure that selling skills are consistently measured, monitored and improved in order to achieve tailored message delivery and thus increase sales.
Why not share?
So although we are often faced with a GP who just says, “You have two minutes,” remember that we can talk . . . but we won’t sell. We need to use those two minutes to build rapport, perhaps by asking “How can I fill these two minutes in the most useful way for you?” If you get more time, then use it to build a genuine rapport with your customer. We all know that people buy from people, and we need to gain their respect instead of just vomiting our key messages.
When we deliver these key messages, let’s do it in a way that is meaningful to the customers. We can only do that if we know something about their individual concerns, and the only way we can find that out is by building rapport. That is why our interpersonal and communication skills are the key to our success.
It’s possible to build rapport in the first minute of a call – we have all done that. However, we need to have the confidence to do the same thing every time. So don’t forget the reason why you were given the job in the first place: make sure that you deliver your key messages in a way that is interesting and relevant to your customers. By doing so, you’ll avoid the big turn-off!

Susan Glenn is a partner of The Portland Partnership, which specialises in offering people skills programmes based on accelerated learning principles. For further information on the range of services offered by The Portland Partnership, contact Susan on susan@portlandpartnership.com or Mark Murphy on mark@portlandpartnership.com or call 01494 670264.
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