S&R Blog

It’s Time To Earn Back The Trust – Part 1 — The Sales Representative
January 26, 2009, 10:20 pm
Filed under: pharmaceutical marketing | Tags:

By David Recht, CEO, North State Resources

After 37 years in the pharmaceutical business I can finally say that I am embarrassed by the industry that once gave me great pride, confidence and a feeling of really contributing to the good of society.  Yes, the pharmaceutical industry has contributed to our overall well being with amazing innovation, life-saving therapies, improvement in our lives, longer life and immense cost savings. But a great deal of formerly well-deserved respect for this industry has evaporated as it has lost the trust of its most important customer – the physician.  How do I come to that conclusion?  I listen, I read, and I watch.

Our industry has lost much of its clout by marginalizing its greatest asset: its sales force.  The pharmaceutical detail rep was once regarded as a valuable, credible source of information.  Physicians looked to the “detail man” for information about new and existing products, insights into how these products were most effectively used, and the presentation of clinical data that supported the efficacy and safety of any given product.

Yet over the course of 15-20 years, the “detail man/woman” has lost the shine and presence that once existed.  Fewer and fewer physicians will now see pharmaceutical representatives. Yes, that is often because of increased demands upon their time, but also because many physicians now find the representatives less informative, less trustworthy, and less engaging.  Many physicians look at sales reps as mere “lunch delivery” people.  How did this happen?

It happened for a number of reasons.  A recent conversation with a group of physicians indicated that the sales reps no longer brought anything of value to the discussion.  And this is something I have heard, read, and watched for the last 5 years.  According to this group of physicians, reps typically had watered-down sales presentations, used poorly designed sales materials, and spouted “robot-like” information that centered only on what the company wanted the physician to know.

Another reason often mentioned is that today’s sales representatives are not very knowledgeable about the products they sell, much less the diseases that these products are supposed to treat.  Many physicians have stated that it is hard to believe a sales presentation when the rep simply does not understand the disease, its processes and the pharmacology of how a given product acts.

Adding further fuel to the discussion is a continuing suspicion that the pharma companies are not totally coming clean with their data.  Reps are simply repeating the “good” data but will not discuss the fair balance and sometimes negative data that often comes years after the product has been released.  This nagging suspicion has brought many physicians to the level where they simply don’t trust anything that the company says, be it the sales representative, promotional materials, even educational presentations.

So, amongst all this skepticism, how might the industry proceed to reinstall the trust, confidence and relationships that were once so welcome?

First, retool the sales force.  Make reps knowledgeable by providing high quality levels of training on disease state, pharmacology, and the products that these reps are asked to sell.  This also means that reps need to understand their competition as well as they do their own product to be able to effectively differentiate their product where possible.

Second, provide sales reps with effective and efficient sales presentation skills.  It’s not just about the presentation of product information.  It’s also about listening, hearing, and understanding the physicians’ concerns and recognizing that your product can’t be everything to every patient.  Understand the product’s limits and speak about them honestly.

Third, stop scrubbing data.  Present the real data, the real truth and make sure that the physician truly understands the appropriate types of patients and conditions that best suit the use of your product.  This is a critical factor in bringing back the trust and credibility.

Finally, help the sales reps build relationships with their physicians.  Provide them not only with the real product and disease information that they can share, but also provide them with the tools and services that make the physician’s office life easier – e.g. reliable, unbiased patient information; real and balanced educational opportunities; a sales rep with personality and common sense.

The industry will only regain a presence and place at the table by providing highly qualified and knowledgeable sales reps.  That is the first piece of the trust puzzle.  More to come later!


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