Five Things You Need to Know About Your Physician Customer

Many times in the selling process we are so focused on what we need to accomplish that we forget about the wants and needs of our customer, the doctor. As our time with the doctor has diminished in the past few years to about 80 seconds per call we tend to focus even more acutely on our agenda rather than what our customer needs from us. During this article, I would like to concentrate on five things you need to know about your physician customer.

Doctors are Problem Solvers

Think about what doctors do every day. They walk into an exam room and ask the patient, “What’s the trouble?” or “What brings you here today?” They are looking for the problem that brought the patient into their office. They begin to ask questions to understand the problem, gather data through exams and diagnostics tests, and ultimately put a treatment plan in place to solve the problem. This is the world the doctor lives in every day of their lives. Dr. Michael Kessler has taught this concept for years in his training classes. I was facilitating a large doctor/rep role-play with one of the Big Pharma companies a couple of years ago. During the break I walked over to one of the doctors and asked what she liked about what the representatives were doing. She replied, “I hate it when they walk in and start asking questions!” I thought, Oh no, probing is a part of every pharma sales model in the world! When the next representative came in to call on this doctor, the representative started with this question. “Doctor, when treating disease X, what side effect is most important for you to avoid?” The doctor stated that GI upset was most important to her. The rep presented how her product’s features and benefits could solve this problem and closed. The doctor agreed to write her product for those patients who were experiencing GI upset. I waited anxiously to hear the doctor’s feedback to a rep who had done exactly what she just told me she hated. I thought, boy is she gonna get it! But she didn’t! In fact the doctor said it was one of the best presentations she had heard that day. After the rep left I asked the doctor to explain to me why she praised a representative who began her call with a question when she had just told me she hated questions. The doctor said, “That’s easy, within the first fifteen seconds she discovered a problem that I was experiencing that her drug could solve.” Since doctors are problem solvers we need to present our products as solutions to problems the doctor may be experiencing!

Doctors Make Decisions Based on Scientific Evidence

Doctors are scientist and make decisions using unbiased scientific evidence not marketing information. When a doctor is trying to discover what pathology a patient is presenting with during an office visit they gather as much scientific information as they can. They do this by taking a history and physical and conducting a battery of tests such as blood chemistry, EKG, x-rays and the like. The point is that all of this information is unbiased scientific information. They have been taught to do this from med school. The same is true when doctors are making decisions to switch to a different drug. Doctors need and want unbiased scientific information. Some examples of unbiased scientific information would be clinical studies, peer review clinical journals and package inserts. A survey conducted by Accenture in 2003 stated that 80% of Doctors said that Peer Review/Clinical Journals had the most influence on their prescribing habits. Med Ad News in February of 2005 reported that “The key to providing long-term meaningful relationships is focusing on providing meaningful resources, especially clinical data, to doctors and their staff members.” Every year when Health Strategies Group presents their Access Report “The ability to present clinical data in a manner that is clear and easy to understand” ranks in the top ten things doctors want in a sales representative. Doctors are scientists and need unbiased scientific information to make a decision to use your product. When presenting to a doctor use clinical studies, peer review journal articles and other unbiased scientific information. Give them what they have told us for years they need not what you think they need to hear!

Doctors Listen When Sales Representatives Present Benefits

Doctors reported in a focus group that they listen when a sales representative says,”What this means to you…” or “The benefit to your patient is…” I have seen this over and over in person observing doctor/rep role-plays. The reason is simple. Benefits solve problems and doctors are problem solvers! The old adage that features tell and benefits sell is applicable here. Here is an example of how benefits solve problems. Let’s assume that the problem a doctor is struggling with is allergy patients complaining of getting breakthrough symptoms between doses of a BID medication. The feature of longer duration of action does not solve this problem but the benefit of longer allergy symptom relief does solve the problem of breakthrough allergy symptoms. The way you would want to word the features and benefits during your presentation is, “Doctor, Zamfir has a longer duration of action than your current medication.” “What this means to your patient is they will get longer allergy symptom relief alleviating the problem of breakthrough symptoms.” Unfortunately research says that a typical sales representative will present 7-8 features before they mention 1 benefit. Try presenting benefits with features on your next call and watch the doctor look up when you say, “Doctor, what this means to your patient is…..”

Doctors are Taught to Communicate in a Certain Way

Every medical professional has been taught a standard way of communicating medical information. It is called SOAP. Doctors use this process to document clinical information, present patient cases and clinical papers and communicate patient information. Let me give you an example. If you have ever watched any of the medical shows on television such as Grey’s Anatomy you have probably seen an EMT Team handing a patient off to an ER Team and heard a conversation such as this. “I have an adult whit male approximately 46 years of age, BP is 130 over 90, pulse is 82, we suspect possible MI, recommend 10 mg of Epi.” The S stands for Subjective. The subjective information is an adult white male approximately 46 years of age. The O stands for Objective. The Objective information comes from the data they gathered during their work up; BP 130 over 90, pulse 82. The A stands for Assessment and is the medical team’s diagnosis; possible myocardial infarction. Finally the P stands for Plan. In this case the recommended treatment Plan is an injection of 10 mg of epinephrine. Every clinical study is set up this way. The subjective sets up the problem the study is addressing. The objective gives the vital information about the study such as author, journal, date and number of patients in the study. The Assessment reports the results of the study. And the plan gives the author’s recommendations. Two very practical ways to use this healthcare communication tool is to present your product and clinical study information in this format. When presenting your product information set up a problem your product can solve, solve that problem using your products features and benefits, probe to enter into a dialogue with the doctor and close for the doctor to use your product for those patients experiencing that particular problem. When using this format to present a clinical study set up the problem, provide the study information (author, journal, date and study data) report the results and the author’s recommendations. By using this universal language when speaking to all healthcare professionals you will gain credibility and be able to present information in a clear, concise manner. I have trained many people to present a clinical study in 30 seconds using this format. If you were a bilingual sales representative you would never present to a Spanish speaking doctor in English. Now that you understand the doctor’s language, stop speaking your native tongue of sales and begin to speak their language and watch their prescribing behavior change!

Doctors Expect You to Close, So Do It Right

The new hires are afraid to close and the tenured reps don’t want to harm their good relationship by closing hard. In reality, Best Practices Studies reveal that representatives who close consistently are more successful than those who don’t. The fact is doctors expect sales reps to close and actually anticipate it. Over the years through surveys and focus groups doctors have told us what they like and dislike about how we close. Below you will find information we have compiled from physician focus groups on what your physicians want and don’t want from a sales rep during the close.

Don’t Ask for the Next 10 Scripts

We have all been trained and evaluated on asking the doctor for the next ten scripts. So why do doctors hate this close so much? Because it is not practical for them to guarantee you that the next ten patients who walk through their door will be good candidates for your drug. Remember a close is simply asking the doctor to do something. It can be asking them to read a clinical study or a journal article. Be creative! A more practical close would be to ask the doctor to write for your drug for patients experiencing a problem your drug can solve.

Don’t ask for 100% of scripts

Doctors see this close as unrealistic and greedy because no drug will work for 100% of patients. Every drug has certain contraindications, warnings and side effects that prevent it from being used on 100% of patients. A more realistic close would be to let the doctor know which patients would not be good candidates for your drug. For example, “Doctor, I just want to let you know that Zamfir should not be used on patients currently taking beta blockers or MOAs.” The doctor will appreciate your candor and fair balance.

Don’t Be Pushy

I know you are saying that it is the pushy reps that get the business. We asked doctors in a focus group what they meant by pushy. Here is the example they gave us of a pushy representative’s close. Reps were selling a diabetes drug during a doctor/rep role-play. They presented a study on how drug B was more efficacious than drug A and closed for the doctor to switch patients from drug A to drug B. When we were debriefing this scenario after the role-play all the doctors began to laugh out loud. They said we would never switch patients who have been controlled for ten years based on one clinical study. They said a less pushy close would be to ask them to “consider” drug B for patients on drug A experiencing a problem.

Summarize What We Have Discussed Before Closing

In a focus group conducted in Canada by Novartis Ophthalmics after doctor/rep role-plays doctors were asked what they noticed about the really good representatives. One thing they reported was that the really good representatives would summarize what they had discussed prior to closing. The doctors said this helped remind them of why they should use your drug. A good way to summarize is by saying, “Doctor based on the fact that Zamfir’s longer duration of action provides 24 hour allergy symptom relief alleviating the problem of breakthrough symptoms would you write for Zamfir for those patients experiencing breakthrough symptoms?”

Always Give Dosing Information

A GP or FP has hundreds of drugs to remember, yet every day we ask doctors to write prescriptions for our drugs with out ever telling them how to write the prescription. A recent study published in Pharmaceutical Representative Magazine reported that patients complain that doctors don’t give them enough information on how to take their medication. Could this be because we don’t give them the information they need to pass along to their patients? At they end of every call we should remind the doctor of the dosing information for our product. “Doctor, I just want to remind you that the dosing for Zamfir is one tablet BID.”


Let’s begin to look at our sales call from the point of view of our customer. After all, the call is about them not us. With only 80 seconds to make an impact we need to focus on what our customer needs and wants rather than what we think they want. By presenting our products as solutions to problems, using scientific information presented in the SOAP format, presenting benefits with features and closing appropriately we will be CUSTOMER focused rather than SALES focused!

Jim has spent almost twenty years in the medical device and pharmaceutical industry working for companies such as Novartis, Allergan and Johnson and Johnson. He is currently President of TAP Consulting Company where he provides training and performance consulting for the industry. Jim has two copyrights to his credit and countless hours conducting physician focus groups and doctor/rep role-plays. He can be reached at 770-596-1498 or For information on courses that teach the principles mentioned in this article log on to .

Source by Jim N. Price

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