Since the movie Love and Other Drugs (2010) came out, I can’t tell you how often I’ve been asked if that’s really what the pharmaceutical sales industry is like. My typical response to this question is, “Of course—a super aggressive Jake Gyllenhaal look-alike shamelessly flirts his way past a surly gatekeeper, only to stalk and then bribe an at first skeptical doctor to exclusively write his medication with lavish dinners, tickets to ball games, and expensive gifts—”happens all the time.”
My real answer is an emphatic, “NO!” At least not in the 5+ years that I worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative. In today’s ever-evolving medical marketplace, where every meal, every leave-behind, and every word spoken by a pharmaceutical sales representative to a physician is reported, scrutinized, and regulated, pharmaceutical sales representatives need to be experts when it comes to the medications that they sell and the disease state in which they’re selling. Take those factors and add in the pressure from patients, physician organizations, and insurance companies that have doctors write low-cost generics as opposed to higher-cost branded agents, and pharmaceutical sales representatives really have their work cut out for them.
In my experience, it comes down to this—a doctor will write a medication because he sees VALUE in the medication, enough value to deal with higher cost, potential step-edits, prior authorizations, and maybe even a slap on the wrist from his physician organization for writing a non-preferred medication. In order to be able to share the value of a medication, the representative has to leverage his product, disease state, and formulary knowledge and become a resource to the physician and to the office. To top it all off, the pharmaceutical sales representative needs to accomplish this in the span of 30 to 60 seconds per encounter (give or take, depending on the part of the country).
Successful selling, at the most fundamental level, comes down to successful sales training. While working as a pharmaceutical sales representative, the most successful training, POA, and launch meetings that I attended were those that kept the energy levels high—both in general sessions and in the individual breakout sessions—with engaging activities and presentations. These presentations were set up to educate representatives, build their confidence, foster collaboration and best practice sharing, provide plenty of opportunity for practice (yes, including role-playing), and motivate with activities that appeal to their naturally competitive nature. I consider all of these factors as a medical writer when creating workshop activities and other materials for our clients. I repeatedly ask myself the following questions: Would this be something I would have found useful or necessary?Is this something I would have enjoyed participating in and How does this set the representative up for success in the field?
Of course, Sales is an art, and representatives need to have the ability to be flexible in their messaging while remaining compliant. They need to tailor their approach to each customer in every call to ensure that they address and capitalize on the unmet needs of the doctors they call on. Effective sales training is the foundation on which successful selling is built. When done correctly, the knowledge learned provides representatives with the ability to quickly uncover unmet needs, the confidence to sell with credibility and impact, and most importantly, the power to close.
Image Credit: Scene from Love and Other Drugs (2010)