Negotiating the “Indirect” Sale: Part II

Preparing to Influence at the Practice Level

When getting ready to sell to a physician, the pharmaceutical sales professional has to take many things into account. Every rep knows what the physician is writing, what their share of the market is in whatever class of drug they are selling, and where they stand in regard to their sales goal. Most reps have this information at their fingertips thanks to todays technology.

More seasoned reps also think about who the players are in the practice, and they work to build credibility, value and relationships beyond the prescribing physician. We call this the Total Office Call approach, and it requires a more systematic and thorough approach to preparation.

Practice-Level Preparation

A standard S.W.O.T. analysis will help you develop a strategy for selling more effectively at the practice level. Understanding your strengths, such as your access, relationships and product’s clinical advantages, will give you more confidence in your message. Identifying your weaknesses (perhaps your product is not on formulary, or your competition is offering a generic) will prepare you for the most common objections. This is pretty fundamental stuff. The key to effective preparation at the practice level is to find your opportunities to grow your business and to identify the threats to your market share early enough to minimize the impact.


Based on our interviews with dozens of physicians over the years, we have learned that opportunities often emerge from objections. Physicians often see upwards of 15 pharma reps a day, and they have been conditioned over the years to politely listen to the clinical message and to move on with their day. When a physician is listening well enough to come up with an objection, the professional sales rep will recognize this as an opportunity to build credibility and start down the road to influencing the doctor. One example from a recent ride-along – The physician expressed a concern about the aftertaste side effect of a new drug. Instead of pitching possible solutions – such as using mouthwash, putting the pill in a dab of peanut butter, etc..- the rep had prepared for this objection and answered the physician’s objection with a question. The rep asked “That’s interesting. What else have your patients told you about my product?” The physician looked up from whatever he was reading, and said “Well, that it works.” Instead of “overcoming an objection” this rep was prepared with a question that put the focus back on the clinical advantages of their product. Of course, you cannot simply “duck” the concern, and the rep followed up by maximizing the opportunity. “I need to understand this patient’s situation better before I can recommend a solution – can you tell me more about this patient’s feedback?” A relatively long (for a pharma rep!) conversation ensued and the rep gained a lot of information that created the “bridge” to the next meeting with this doctor.


In an ever changing competitive and regulatory landscape, today’s pharmaceutical sales representative faces a broad array of threats to their market share. Ranging from FDA reviews, unfavorable study results, stricter ethical guidelines for marketing pharmaceuticals and increasing competition from generics – it can seem as though the pharmaceutical rep is fighting an uphill battle every day. Preparing for these threats at the practice level – such as knowing how you will position your product in the face of competitive threats or an unfavorable study that your competition is waving around – is an important influencing skill. Physicians report that how a rep responds in the face of a threat either increases or decreases the rep’s credibility for the long-term.

One rep that I know well had a popular product pulled from the shelves by her company several years ago when adverse side effects were discovered in a study. Her approach was to turn the threat into an opportunity – “I am proud of my company for pulling the product. We are in the business of helping people get well, so I hope that you see our commitment to that goal and will continue to support our other products.” Using that positive message (as opposed to a warning that other drugs in that class would have the same side effects or an apology for promoting a drug that was pulled) – this rep did not lose access or credibility with a single physician.

In the next post, we will explore a systematic way to prepare when influencing individuals within the practice – by examining barriers, credibility, relationship and most importantly – the value you deliver.

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