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Making It Happen: The Basic Elements of Pharmaceutical Selling

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Ask an experienced pharmaceutical sales representative, or a representative from any industry for that matter, to name the core components of success and you are likely to get as many varied answers as the number of people who are questioned. Furthermore, the bookstores are also full of material addressing this topic. Careful analysis, however, shows that there are really three major parts that comprise a successful pharmaceutical sales career:

  • Selling skills

  • Technical knowledge

  • Relationships
The key here is that, like the structure of the great pyramids, each element must balance the others and consequently form a more perfect and solid whole. Too much emphasis on any one of the three parts distorts the overall shape; it will not function optimally. A harmonious blending, on the other hand, replicates a design that has survived in the pyramids for millennia and serves as a constant reminder of the critical importance of equilibrium.

Certainly there have been very successful salespeople who have relied on only one or perhaps two of these components, but there are always exceptions to the rule. In order to hit the ground running and stay in the race for the entire distance, all three parts must be carefully implemented. Besides, scrutiny of a successful career will most likely reveal these three elements in any case.

All three components selling skills, technical knowledge, and relationships will be covered in further detail later, but each will be addressed briefly here in order to provide a framework for the detail to follow.

Selling Skills

Selling skills are like the engine that drives the vehicle, the nuts and bolts that ultimately give the ma chine power. These are the benefits, objections, and closes that provide the framework to gain and grow business. Selling skills are the rules of the game.

There is no such thing as selling by intuition, by the seat of the pants, or from the hip at least not for anyone who truly wants to attain success. Like any profession, set techniques and procedures must be applied and followed, and they may not be all that easy to learn and understand. Mastery of these skills cannot be avoided, however, so study them, drill them, and practice, practice, practice. The rewards are that it will get easier, and your bonuses will grow larger. Furthermore, more than one representative has commented on how these skills bring benefits in day to day life. Once learned, these skills are never forgotten, merely bettered!

Technical Knowledge

Most pharmaceutical representatives must attempt to barely grasp in four plus months what it takes most physicians four plus years, never mind the residencies, fellowships, and boards, to master. The average doctor begins practice at close to 30 years of age and well over $100,000 in debt from education loans. In other words, it takes a lot of learning to practice medicine, and please note the use of the term practice it hasn't even been perfected!

It is into this environment that a pharmaceutical representative must not only tread, but also feel comfortable, able to compete, and ultimately win. And, just as selling skills are like an engine, technical knowledge is like the fuel and oil that it must have to run smoothly. Therefore, great emphasis must be placed on mastering the intricacies of each product; there can be no excuse for not knowing a product inside and out. Also, a solid understanding of the disease state must also be achieved. While it is impossible to acquire the same expertise as a physician, the representative must be well indoctrinated.

Technical knowledge is like running: it must be regularly exercised if you want to remain at peak form. Product and disease state knowledge must be learned and then regularly enhanced with journal reviews, training modules, and continuing education program attendance.


There is no doubt that if selling skills are like an engine and technical knowledge is like the fuel and oil, then relationships are like the chrome, trim, and interior of the vehicle, all of which make the car attractive and customers willing to buy it. And, though at first glance it may seem superfluous, relationship building is as just as important as the other two sides of the pyramid.

Even the best salesperson can't sell from inside the waiting room, so getting access to the inner sanctum is essential, and it is based on knowing and working with the office staff. If two products are ultimately equal, what is the final buying decision based upon? And if just a little more business is needed to win the vice president's sales award, how is it gained?

Furthermore, pharmaceutical selling is based on long term, repeat business. There is much more involved than merely taking an order and riding into the sunset. Not only must the products bring benefit to the physician's office, but so must the representative, personally.

And lastly, a relationship requires finesse a human touch that distinguishes the representative as a person interested not only in his own success, but also in that of his customer. This is a quality that must be evident from the beginning and throughout a successful career in pharmaceuticals.


I here are many aspects of a successful sales call, from your icebreaker all the way to following up with literature and samples:
  • Icebreaker Your greeting must make your client comfortable and open to conversation.

  • Initial benefit statement (IBS) An IBS sets the stage for the presentation, and it must foster interest. It must state what your services will do for the customer.

  • Features and benefits You must describe a product's qualities and describe how they can help the customer.

  • Bridging Your presentation must move smoothly and coherently from one product to another.

  • Trial close You must test the water and judge the customer's response before asking for final commitment.

  • Literature You must leave behind clinical reports, papers, monographs, and material to support a particular point or discussion.

  • Samples You must allow a patient to try a product before actually filling the prescription.

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