Negotiating the “Indirect” Sale Part III

Let’s explore the art and science of preparing for the pharmaceutical sale at the Individual level. We believe that the clearest path from the waiting room to changing the prescribing habits of a physician (or physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner) is to:

1. Build credibility – in short, you have to know your stuff. Most physicians see upwards of 12 pharmaceutical reps a day, and those who do not know their product, the correct indications, the side effects, how the product interacts with others and the clinical data that supports all of these components…do not maintain access with a busy physician.

That being obvious, there are other aspects of credibility that relate to the character of the rep. These include:

  • delivering the message clearly and concisely;
  • admitting when you do not know an answer and following up with the right information;
  • adhering to the pharma guidelines;
  • being on the same page as your sales counterparts (in a team selling situation).

You can prepare for each of these – and thus, increase your credibility.

2. Build relationships – the long and short of selling is that people are much more likely to listen to, be influenced by and ultimately buy (or prescribe) from people they like. We do not suggest that physicians will not write a product that has clear clinical advantages simply because they dislike a rep, but that rep has a much bigger hurdle to clear in order to have their message heard in the first place.

From our research, physicians report that reps successfully build relationships by:

  • Respecting the front office personnel and patients
  • “Reading” the environment and adjusting their visit goal accordingly
  • Adhering to the practice protocol on rep visits
  • Acting professionally and mirroring the style of the physician

Some physicians like “educating” the reps while others expect to be educated. Seasoned reps figure this out pretty quickly and respond in kind – by asking questions of the “educators” and delivering precise messages to those who need information. All physicians report being more influenced by the reps who follow the rules, and who understand that when the waiting room is packed – there is no time to detail. Also, more and more offices are limiting the number of reps they will see by “closing the office” to reps on certain days or times. Doctors notice when pharmaceutical reps bend or break their rules.

When “preparing” to build a relationship with a physician, try to plan for multiple scenarios – who needs what and when is the best time to attempt to deliver it?

3. Build Value – Last but certainly not least – you have to bring something to the practice that differentiates your product and personal value. Pharmaceutical reps have always brought value to the physicians and practices on their target lists – luncheons, samples, honoraria for speaking, educational programs, branded office supplies, medical supplies and reference materials, etc… The challenge is that as of January 1, 2009, the pharma guidelines that regulate the marketing activities of pharmaceutical reps will tighten again, and many of these traditional “value” adds will be unavailable (for more information and reactions – see

So what will be left is terms of value that can be delivered? Many physiciams believe that this will separate the very best pharmaceutical reps from the masses….and preparing for this change will be the key! Some reps are already lining up their 2009 speaking programs, preparing memos to educate their physicians about the changes, and figuring out what non-branded (but memorable) marketing they will be allowed to use within the new guidelines.


If you can establish a high level of credibility, a strong respectful relationship across the practice and deliver enough value to outweigh the risk of switching to your product, then you are on the road to successfully influencing your physicians. The risk of switching can be daunting to a physician – no one wants the phone to start ringing after a prescription is filled…many doctors are feeling the “pain” of products prescribed and pulled, or of the ever increasing propensity of the evening news to highlight yet another side effect of a popular drug. Doctors don’t like phone calls, especially from unhappy patients (or their attorneys!) You can overcome this risk by being upfront about the benefits and risks of your product and consistently offering the suggestions and recommendations of your brand marketing team.

This concludes our short series on preparing to negotiate the “indirect sale” as it applies to the pharmaceutical industry. For more information and resources on negotiations, please visit

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