Today’s healthcare industry is coping with the effects of change. While global pharmaceutical companies have been dealing with governmental controls for years, U.S. – based companies are seeing the process accelerate from a gradual shift to an abrupt, overnight reversal.

Today’s marketplace requires a more flexible way of promoting pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceutical marketing and sales professionals are changing to meet these challenges. Better-planned and thought out strategies will determine who will succeed and who will fail.

As a professional salesperson you have the opportunity to be successful. Sales representatives are becoming more valuable and have more responsibility in today’s new marketplace. The biggest change is in the area of dealing with “key players.”

As pharmaceutical marketers, we are becoming more aware of who the key players are every day. While the old key players will still be there, we need to reach a new audience and sell to their needs. We are now dealing with more decision makers than ever before. Of course many of these new decision makers are found in our institutional business, meaning hospitals, clinics, managed healthcare centers, governmental agencies, etc. The key players will not change as greatly in the private practice offices, but there, too, changes will occur. We will discuss this later on.

The economics of the matter

We have lived with formulary committees, purchasing committees, and pharmacy and therapeutics committees for some time. Pharmaco-economics will make them even more influential now. Purchasing agents, accountants, and administrators have all been added to the list of key players who look at the organizations bottom line and determine if your products will be purchased.

Cost plays a very important part in which drugs are purchased, but it’s not the sole determining factor. Fortunately, service and quality will continue to play an important role. And although some of the key players are inarguably financial minded, key scientific and medical professionals have a say in the purchases. The decision making group as a whole is here to stay.

We can succeed in the group environment if we make it our business to know the key players. It is important to know who they are, and what their exact roles and responsibilities are. This requires some investigative detective work at times!

But it’s not just enough to know who they are; the planning process needs to continue. Now we have to single them out one by one to determine their buying motives, needs and wants. You have been doing this all along; what has happened is simply that your customer/client base has broadened. Manage each account as a separate entity, business or territory. Find out all that you can about the key players needs, and sell to those needs.

Today’s professional pharmaceutical sales reps have a wide range of selling tools and strategies available to them. You may have to employ some strategies that are completely new to you. No matter what strategies you decide to use, you will always be successful if you provide service and quality. Since we all have been selling quality products for years, I’m not going to spend time on that. However, keep in mind that when you can show quality, price does not become an issue. The best way to demonstrate the quality of your company’s products is by having good product knowledge and knowing how to sell the features and benefits of your products. And while the features and benefits are great, don’t forget to emphasize the advantages of your products over the competition.

Keep in mind that dealing with new and more key players will also mean more paperwork, more accurate record keeping and more planning on your part.

Relationship building

Service is the difference between professional sales people and order takers.

When you provide good service to your key customers, you are doing two crucial things: you show them that you are sincerely interested in them and that you want to play a role in helping them solve their problems. What emerges is that you earn the respect, trust and confidence of the customer/client. You are thus building up a professional relationship with the customer/client.

Relationship selling is one of the most important facets of your job. The relationships that you develop with the multiple key players of the group as well as those that you develop with individual physicians are of great importance. Each doctor’s practice is changing too. Physicians work harder than ever and have less and less time, so we must skillfully provide service and build relationships. Remember: your physician customers don’t know your company; they only know you. Your image, your presence and skill at relationship building are what make the company successful. Build those relationships; constantly cement and reinforce them.

Team selling approach

We have talked about the importance of selling to key players and relationship selling. But some times we need help if we are to advance in our sales efforts. We may not be able to sell to all of the key players by ourselves. It pays to try the team selling approach.

In team selling, we form a group with other professionals to go in and sell our products to one person or a group. We like the team approach because we are able to join forces with people who bring other strengths to the party.

In our business, the team could be other sales reps, district managers, product managers or even medical directors from the company. The team approach works very well when the customer requires a lot of information. You may even have to include outside people, such as opinion leader physicians or other healthcare professionals, as members of your team. The team approach enables you to answer a wide variety of customer questions and concerns.

Scientific selling approach

As the pressures increase on the pharmaceutical industry in general, we are going to see more of a switch to a “scientific selling” approach.

While purchasing agents, accountants, administrators and finance managers all are playing a greater role in our selling, this industry can never get away from selling science. The people who ultimately prescribe our products are scientific professionals who are interested in the technology of our products. We need to place more emphasis on the science of our products and how it makes our product the product of choice. We must show the relationship between science and how it will make the healthcare professional’s job easier. Remember, the pharmaceutical industry is a high tech industry: take advantage of it, and use it the best way you can.

The scientific selling information and tools available to you can be used to provide additional service to key players. Good scientific information, clinical reprints, DVD’s, CD’s, computer software, medical books, and training programs, are all valuable medical education items for physicians, especially in teaching hospitals.
Many of the same materials can be equally effective with paramedical professionals such as nurses, nurse educators, physician assistants, and pharmacists. These healthcare professionals are valuable allies in our everyday work, and we should take the time to build up good relationships with them. While we are on this topic we should not limit educational items to the medical profession only, but also to patients, as patient education materials. Patient education materials play a dual role. They obviously help the patient, but help us build rapport with the medical community as well.

We need to find the key players, determine their needs and satisfy them with quality products and service. Just one last point to remember: you are the most important key player of all.

Author's Bio: 

A U. S. Air Force veteran and MBA, the author has spent over thirty-five years in the business world in sales and sales management positions for the pharmaceutical, consumer products and publishing industries. The bulk of Vince’s experience is in the pharmaceutical industry, where he has held the positions of National Sales Manager and Sales Training Director for some of the largest corporations in the world.
He has trained thousands of sales managers and sales people in both English and Spanish, and has conducted fieldwork and training seminars and workshops in the North America, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Central and South America, Asia and Australia.