Pharmaceutical Sales: How to Stand Out

Jeff Cochran


One of the toughest sales jobs in business today is that of the pharmaceutical sales representative. There are so many barriers to the traditional process of selling…limited access, managed care, limited resources and generic drugs in a time when every patient and physician is hyper-sensitive to costs. According to SK&A Associates, a leading provider of healthcare information and research basedin Irvine CA, the number of practices that no longer see reps has increased to 38.5%

Add to that the fact that a pharmaceutical sales rep rarely gets to see the “sale” at the point of the prescribing decision – that moment is rightfully reserved for the examining room – and you can see why the pharma sales job in an increasingly demanding position. It is really an “influencing job” rather than a more tactical selling approach.

A primary care physician (who gives access) sees an average of 35 reps per week and spends less than 90 seconds with each rep on average. What can reasonably be accomplished in 90 seconds in terms of effective selling? Most reps use the time to do a quick detail of the product they are promoting and than try to engage the Doctor for additional time by asking questions about disease states, personal interests and patient feedback on their product. The Doctor usually gives the rep an “auto-response”, in effect telling the rep what they believe the rep wants to hear for the singular purpose of getting the rep to leave their samples and then leave the office.

This equates to a tremendous waste of time for both the rep and the physician.

We suggest that a pharmaceutical rep has to differentiate their approach in order to effectively capture a physician’s attention. We have been working with reps to develop what we call a “Doc Stopper” questioning approach. The rep grabs the attention to the physician by asking a question that defies the “auto-response” and promotes a more open and honest conversation….it does not necessarily add time to the average sales call but garners a deeper, more thoughtful response.

One rep was constantly being told by a physician that any drug in their class would work for patients presenting a particular disease state. Since there are five drugs indicated for that disease state, the rep grabbed their attention by asking “Would you agree that it makes the most sense to spread your prescribing more equally among all five products to create competition and drive down the average sales price?

The Doctor stopped for a moment, considered the question and replied that economically it made sense, but admitted that there were partcular clinical circumstances that affected her decision on which product to write for a specific patient. The Doctor went on to explain her thought process.

By asking the “Doc Stopper” question, the rep was able to move past the usual interaction and learn:

  • How the physican was actually differentiating the five drugs in the class.
  • That the presence of samples had an impact on prescribing decisions in some cases but not others.
  • That the economics of the drugs in the class had limited, if any, impact on the prescribing decision with this physician.

Pretty valuable information from a 90 second interaction, and certainly more useful than the usual message – personal connection – signature routine.

Other Doc Stopper Questions

  • How has the influx of “urgent care” facilities in the area affected your practice?
  • What are your thoughts about the changes in how we market our products?
  • How much will it cost your practice to convert your medical records to electronic files (if it becomes law)?
  • Do you find that your patients are waiting longer to come in for office visits in this economy?
  • What is your biggest business challenge today?
  • What are your thoughts on “boutique” practices?
  • How do you attract new patients to your practice? What differentiates you?

For more information on how this approach and other influencing techniques can help you make the most from every sales call, please call us at 410-662-4764.

Jump Starting Stalled Negotiations

Jeff Cochran


Negotiations deadlock for many reasons. When both sides refuse to budge, it’s time to be creative. Here are some guidelines to get the other side talking again:

  • Start Over. When Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev deadlocked during arms talks, Reagan reached across the table and said, “Hello, Mikhail, my name is Ron, and I think it’s time we talked about the arms race.” This broke the tension and led to meaningful discussions. 
  • Keep a Secret. Some negotiations stall because negotiators want to please third parties (such as bosses). If you suspect this, assure the other person that you’ll keep the conversation’s details confidential. The negotiator won’t worry that something he says will get back to the boss. 
  • Recount interests. Don’t talk about positions – focus on each side’s real needs. Say, for example, “It seems you’re most interested in delivery to meet your customers’ timetable.” If the other party agrees, ask, “What do you think are my main interests?” Highlighting the main interests, rather than side issues, helps you create room for new solutions.

Excerpted from The Power of Nice. Ronald M. Shapiro and Mark A. Jankowski.

The SL Economy and the Worldwide Economy

Jeff Cochran


Very well… thank you very much!

First Quarter results were released today in the Linden Blog. Highlights of the quarter include:

  • 124 Million User Hours, an increase of 42% from the same quarter last year
  • Peak concurrent users of 88,200, an increase of 33% from the same quarter last year
  • 120M in user-to-user transactions, up 65% from the same quarter last year
  • The Islandmarket has stabilized, although overall square meters of resident owned Land has decreased
  • Gross sales on the Xstreet SL marketplace grew 23% over Q4 of 2008 and 72% over the same quarter last year

Growth numbers of ranging from 23% to 75% are impressive for any business in any economic cycle. The fact that Linden is posting these numbers during this economy is extraordinary, though not unexpected. IMHO, the following factors in the corporate training community are adding wind to SL sails:

Travel Budgets: While there are many elements that drive the SL economy, the fact that travel budgets have been slashed, if not completely eliminated, plays into the hands of SL, which allows companies to continue training sessions and meetings without touching their travel budget.

Small Business: Because there are few (if any) established 800 pound guerillas in SL, small businesses are flourishing. Small businesses are suffering in the US because of the credit crunch. In SL, the barriers to entry are low (other than time spent on the learning curve). The low cost of start-ups means that bank financing is unnecessary, and therefore the credit crunch does not impact as many small business in SL

Free Time: Displaced employees are seeing SL as an opportunity to grow their skills without paying tuition or spending hours and hours in a physical classroom. It would be rare for an employee to be commended for spending time in SL while at work. Now that so many people, unfortunately, out of work, they are less hesitant to tune in and turn on.

Why Wonderland May Fall Short

Jeff Cochran


It is easier for a competitor in its early stages to promise many of the advances discussed in the last blog entry. Of course, large questions remain with regard to Wonderland’s ability to deliver on its promises. The challenges include:

Too Few Developers within Sun: Wonderland remains in the research phase and there are only 8 developers within Sun working on the project. (Recently fixes were delayed because the 2 developers working on the project went on vacation…)

Small External Development Community: So far Wonderland has not been able to attract an external development community comparable to OpenSim and SL.

Budget: Sun’s current business challenges (and possible acquisition by IBM) may stop the project in its tracks.

That being said, there remains a great deal of excitement surrounding Wonderland, and it is worth it to keep an eye on its progress over the next year or so.

Wonderland is Wonderful

Jeff Cochran


I just attended a meeting in Second Life where SunMicrosystems’ Nicole Yankelovich described Sun’s Wonderland 0.5, which is planned to be released this summer. While a 0.5 version in any software program demonstrates that it is in its earliest stages, Wonderland is trying to address many of the concerns corporate training departments have expressed about Second Life.

Some examples:

Firewall Issues: While SL is planning to release a version that can exist “behind the firewall,” Wonderland has been built from the ground up with the intention of existing behind the firewall.

Remote Access: In SL, employees who do not have access to a computer are not able to participate in meetings. Sun has addressed this issue by creating an inworld phone system where people can call in and attend the meeting. While it is obviously more beneficial to have everyone inworld during the meeting, this dial in approach at least allows employees to participate at some level.

Business Tool Focus: Because Wonderland is focused on business and education, it includes tools built specifically for those purposes and therefore incorporates powerpoint slides, white boards, Web integration and data visualization.

Multiple Conversations: SL started with text chat communication and then integrated voice. Wonderland has been built with a focus on voice chat. Therefore they have developed tools such as a microphone that allows front of the room speakers to extend the reach of their voice, while attendees can reduce the extent of their voice projection so that they can essentially conduct IM Voice Chats.

While these are interesting developments, Wonderland has a long way to go before it overtakes Second Life. Tomorrow we will discuss some of the limitations of Wonderland that may prevent it from reaching a 1.0 level…

SNI in SL: Learning in the Virtual World of SecondLife

Jeff Cochran


SNI has developed a presence in Secondlife to deliver content without the expense and hassle of travelling to a training progam. SNI’s founder, Mark Jankowski, has emerged as one of the industries thought leaders on using the virtual world to enhance the learning experience for SNI clients.

Listening Tips for Negotiators

Jeff Cochran


When we teach people to be more effective negotiators, we tend to focus on our Three Ps – Preparation, Probing and Proposing. Perhaps even more important than these threeskills is being a good listener. This area is often neglected because few people think that there is skill in listening, and even more believe it is inheritied and cannot be learned. It is assumed that if I hear what you say that I’m also listening to what you say. This is a bad assumption. Here are ideas and comments about listening that might help you improve your abilities in this often neglected area.

Learn Your Blind Spots – These are words, ideas, and topics we have strong feelings about and, therefore, tend not to be able to listen to very well. We become over-excited by them and stop listening. Alternatively, we become angry, frustrated, or simply refuse to hear and block them out. Try to identify three of these “blind spots” and consciously work to listen when they arise in conversation.

The “Rehearsal Effect” – Most of us are wrapped up in our own lives and we find it boring and painful to let someone else talk. We are absorbed in self-concern. I recall reading in Carnegies “How to Win Friends and Influence People that Dale Carnegie was regarded as a great “conversationalist” by a woman to whom he merely questioned and then listened to her responses intently. Try to enjoy the part of the conversation where you are learning about the other side!

Speed of Thought – The difference in the time it takes to talk and the time it takes to listen is another barrier to effective listening. The average speaker delivers at about 140 words per minute. The average listener, on the other hand, can listen comfortably at about 300 words per minute. Instead of using the time differential to analyze the speaker’s message, we tend to fade out, day dream, think about other things we have to do, or plan what we want to say next. The only way to combat this is to try and jot down brief notes when listening…this activity will use the remaining excess”bandwidth” in your brain.

Distracted by Speaker Behaviors – Most people do not talk in a very organized fashion. Speakers tend to “think out loud” and grope for the idea they want to convey. This process often causes us to give up trying to decipher their message. Other reasons listeners may tune us out include irritating mannerisms and talking a long time. Ask paraphraing questions thoughout, and summarize what you heard to fight this tendency.

Focus on Body Language – Approximately two-thirds of a speaker’s message in any conversation is not contained in the words themselves. It is instead conveyed by the speaker’s tone of voice, body language, and word tense. Listening only for the words and not for the feelings behind them is another common listening problem. So listen for the meaning behind the words and ask questions about what you observe.

Distractions – Disruptions in our environment can affect our ability to focus on what the speaker is saying. Some typical examples of disruptive factors in work environments which could impair your ability to listen effectively include ringing phones, slamming doors, people walking in and out, street noises, etc. If you are engaged in an important conversation, try to have it in a prvate area with minimal distractions.

We’re BACCCK! Negotiating in the Pharmaceutical Industry!

Jeff Cochran


Sorry about the long stretch since our last update…we have been on the road conducting research with some of our favorite clients – pharmaceutical companies! The prevailing opinion among the reps that we ride along with at the start of the day is that “We don’t negotiate! We’re not allowed to negotiate!” While we at SNI understand the FDArules and PhRMA guidelines (and the reasons they exist), we also know that negotiation is a process, not an event. Wenever recommend using the “traditional” negotiating techniques like quid pro quo (“I’ll buy you lunch when you start writing more _____!”), but we do recognize that other negotiation habits such as preparation, probing and proposing are vital tools for any sales professional.

There have been many recent changes in the pharmaceutical industry that make the use of effective negotiation skills even more relevant in today’s business marketplace for the pharma rep. Three changes that we have studied closely in our recent research are:

Recent restructuring makes the “feet on the street” approach antiquated and ineffective.

With thousands of pharma reps being laid off in recent months, most pharma companies are moving away from the “reach and frequency” model of sending one rep after another to keep the name of their product and the short clinical message in front of their target physicians. One reason is that there simply aren’t enough reps left to call on a doctor 2 or 3 times a week with the same message. Another reason is that pharma companies are hearing the cries of their customers….the physicians. In a managed care environment, doctors maximize their profitability by seeing as many patients as possible every day. The mere presence of a rep is an interruption to this business reality, and many practices are limiting access to the reps in order to keep patient “traffic” moving along. Doctors told SNI in recent interviews that one effective rep has a greater impact on their writing habits than having 2 or 3 reps repeating the same message over and over again.

Resources are limited and reps must capture value (market share, volume, etc) for value delivered.

With PhRMA guidelines abolishing the practice of delivering office supplies, personal hygiene supplies, and other product-branded materials to their customers, reps have to be even more creative about how they remind doctors of their products benefits after they leave the office. Many pharma companies are also limiting their samples and educational materials in an effort to contain expenses and manage their inventories more effectively. By using proven negotiation techniques, reps can leverage their resources to drive business in the most efficient and profitable way without offending the PhRMA guidelines (or, more importantly, the physicians and their staff!)

Mergers and acquisitions provide an opportunity to develop a shared, more effective sales approach.

Recently, mergers between former competitors (Merck and Schering-Plough, Wyeth and Pfizer, et al) have created an opportunity for these companies to come together and develop a shared sales model and culture. The benefit is that the reps will be learning a new approach together, saving the stress (and the accompanying sales “dip”) that goes along with abandoning old methods while adopting those of the other company. By jumping into a new model together, merged companies can tap into the strengths of both sides and start anew with a shared, collaborative model for effective sales. At SNI, we believe that the adoption of negotiation-based selling will prevent the sales lag while giving the reps new tools and techniques for moving forward in a more efficient, value-based sales culture.

Usually, by the end of a day on the road with a pharma rep, they acknowledge that they do negotiate…on just about every call! Whether it is for access, information, or when allocating their own limited resources. Our proven methodology has helped reps do more than just detail doctors – by building credibility, value and trust via effective negotiating…these reps have a clear advantage in an ever-changing marketplace.

In upcoming entries, we will share some of the specific findings from our 6-week immersion into the pharma world and provide some new ways for today’s pharmaceutical rep to maximize the opportunities that the “new world” provides.

Influencing: Communication with a Goal in Mind

Jeff Cochran


Influencing is communicating with a goal in mind. In essence, influencing is a requesting process. You are requesting that the other person (or group) do something or achieve an outcome.

Because you are making a request, there is inherently more accountability for both parties, thus more potential risk of tension, misunderstanding, defensiveness and conflict.

Often people use their every day communication skills when influencing, find that they don’t work, and wonder why. The reason is that the influencing process is different and requires different skills.

Don’t focus on what has been done in the past – wasting time and apportioning blame here is pointless.

* Concentrate on activities that can lead to sales in the future. Expand your resources in this area and if necessary enlist the assistance of other management and staff. Get professional assistance to quickly analyse your sales “inventory” of selling skills and resources.

* Immediately start a sales forecasting system, by customer, by product, by value and by month. Lock in sales that you are certain that you will be getting. Update this forecast on a weekly basis.

* Eighty-five per cent of business comes from existing customers, so start there. Contact all of your previous customers and start initiating sales activities. The 80/20 rule applies, so concentrate on the top 20 per cent of clients, but make sure that your proposition is well thought out.

* Fifteen per cent of business typically comes from new business accounts, and sales from this can be time-consuming and longer-term. It is a trap to divert more than 15 per cent of your sales resource to chase after people who have never done business with you.

* Don’t fall for the salespeople saying they need new systems and marketing material to be able to sell. There were sales before computers.

* Try to sell, not discount. Understand your gross margin and whether discounts will make you a profit. Too often, people equate discounts with more business, when in fact they become a false economy.

* Remember selling starts when the customer says “No” – otherwise you are leaving good money on the table. Anyone can give away products. Get fair value for your products, as every dollar in this market is worth three in a boom market.

There may be a tendency for a senior manager to start doing the selling himself or herself, or to get involved with major customers. If you have sales experience, then this may be an option. If not, beware, as creating the wrong impression can lead to a loss of business for a long time.

Whatever you do during this time, remember it and keep doing it when good times come again. Business cycles come and go, and you will ensure that the next time a recession comes you will have the tools in place to see it coming and to make the adjustments you need to ensure that your business does not end up on the rocks.

Back to Basics

Jeff Cochran


Relationship Value
SNI believes that Relationship Value is the product of:

1. The level of TRUST you gain from a person.

2. The level of CREDBILITY you have with a person.

3. The amount of VALUE that you deliver to a person.

Trust is defined as firm reliance on the integrity, ability or character if a person or thing. In business, trust is a hard won attribute and can only be achieved over time. In our programs, we emphasize that building trust is not an event, but a process that takes place over a period of time. To gain trust, you have to think ahead and consider the consequences of every decision you make in a business setting. What impact will my decision have on the level of trust I am trying to develop?

Credibility is the quality, capability, or power to elicit belief. SNI focuses on one’s personal ability to get a person/customer to believe that you are the best resource available at any given point to deliver whatever they need to be successful. In our programs, we teach that the best way to get what you want from is to help the other side get what they want. In a tough economy, everyone is looking out for their own best interests, whether it is saving money, extracting additional value or reducing risk. By being transparent enough to demonstrate that you care about more than the bottom line and confidently approaching objections and challenges with straight talk and follow through – you can increase your credibility significantly.

Value is receiving fair value in return for any investment – be it money, time or effort. Your products and services have to be perceived to have value in order to sustain a business relationship. Sales professionals are usually well-versed in stating a value proposition for their products and services, but the critical factor in building value is identifying what is most important to the other side at any given point in time. A low price might be a good value in most situations, but you may leave money on the table by failing to discover that quicker delivery, personal service or flexibility in payment terms can be more important in turbulent economic times. SNI teaches that consistent, effective probing is the only way to ensure that you fully understand the best value you can offer as the business environment changes.

SNI is a premier provider of customized business negotiations and influencing training to companies around the world. To learn more about SNI, please visit