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Contending with Competition

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Sometime during your career someone is going to say, "There's enough business for everyone." Well, if that is what the competition wants to believe, great-that business is then yours. Again, there perhaps may have been a time in the past when that was true, but with today's plethora of products and international pressures, such a viewpoint is no longer valid. Business will only go to those who earn it; it will not fall like manna from Heaven.

Complicating this picture are a few individuals in government agencies who suggest that this competitive environment is forcing representatives to sell outside the prescribing information. As discussed in the ethics section earlier, the vast majority of pharmaceutical representatives are conscientious, dedicated members of the healthcare profession. Those that are successful, however, realize that a given market is of limited size and utilize all assets to maximize their product's position within it.

I am not suggesting selling directly against other agents or engaging in a mudslinging contest, but if there are studies proving your product's advantages, use them! If there are patient and cost benefits associated with your product, point them out! Ask the physician what his needs are and then demonstrate how your product fills them. And, of course after all that, close!

There are certainly going to be times when we feel more like delivery people and caterers, but that is inevitable. The key here is to utilize those techniques as a vehicle to gain selling time. Do not forget that or let the customer forget either-let the competition do that. However, when the opportunity does present itself, follow up aggressively. As mentioned earlier, time is far too precious a resource to squander.

Salespeople by nature are very sociable, often congregating and meeting with each other to share war stories, commiserate, or just hang out. These are excellent opportunities to learn what is going on from another perspective. Again, I am not suggesting fleecing a friend for information, but this is still business and as anywhere, total personal interaction is not recommended. Do not allow personal biases to interfere with your selling efforts. The fact that a family member is on a competing medication or that an old friend now works in a similar territory should not interfere with your objectives. Furthermore, do not allow any of your customers to become too close. They will always be customers and should be treated as such; otherwise, there will be less selling during presentations and it will get harder to ask for more business. And do not forget that your performance is measured by what you sell. Sales are the ultimate measure of success. No matter how well one may build relationships, relay product knowledge, or make presentations, it is the bottom line that says it all. This is the nature of the profession.

Competition is defined as a rivalry or opposition and is sometimes described as friendly, which is oxymoronic. Success in this arena is defined as growing market share-market share that another representative is also attempting to gain. One will lose it, the other have it; the former individual may as well be you! Also remember, quotas rarely decrease, and if they do, another product will make up for it. What was good enough yesterday will fall short today.

There are those in this industry who have done quite well by just chugging along, sometimes by fate, sometimes by good luck. But this does not happen all that often; to truly succeed, a representative must work hard and smart and must compete. Always play hard and play fair, but without a doubt, play to win.

Quiet Please

Enter any elevator or common area at a hospital and it is sure to display a sign requesting quiet. It is, of course, requesting consideration for the patients being treated, but more importantly it is a small reminder to employees and staff to also respect the confidentiality of these patients. It is far too easy to discuss a particular case with a colleague, forgetting that the subject is indeed a person deserving privacy.

Similarly, our accounts and customers are people too. While at times they are often viewed as opportunities and challenges, they, like the patients discussed above, are also entitled to respect and privacy. As a result, be mindful of the manner and tone in which customers are addressed. Not only is careless discussion unprofessional, but it also may be an indicator of the way you treat this customer when actually in your presence. Professional and respectful bearing is required; it goes a long way in developing and growing solid sales relationships.

During those times when you feel you must absolutely vent your feelings, wait to do so until you are outside the building or back in your vehicle. Being overheard at these weak moments can do irreparable damage to a customer relationship. As we are all human, these flare-ups are inevitable-just pick the right time and place for them. Sometimes taking a short break can help relieve the stress.

This advice also applies quite well during company and even local sales meetings, new product launches, or conferences. Avoid making disparaging remarks about company personnel or policies; public gatherings are the absolute worst place to air gripes. While it is almost impossible to wear a smile indefinitely, these are certainly not the places to wear a frown.

Ultimately, discretion is the best guidance. Be mindful of what you say and where you say it: loose lips sank ships in World War II, and they have also torpedoed many a career. More importantly, what you say reflects on you. Ensure that this reflection is positive, professional, and finally, successful!


As stated, even the world's best representative cannot sell a thing from the waiting room. To be effective, let alone successful, one must have access to the decision maker. It is always interesting to note how a representative from a smaller company with supposedly less critical products regularly gets into an important, busy office. Obviously, this individual is bringing along a little something extra. Physicians are bombarded daily with literally hundreds of commercials, messages, and presentations. Why should a physician think that yours is something special? More importantly, what differentiates you from the dozens of representatives that regularly call on that account? Furthermore, as this profession involves repeat calls and selling, how will you ensure that this access will be granted on a regular basis?

To ensure ongoing access, take care not to mistreat the office staff. Be mindful of the fact that they have jobs to do also. Respect their time as you want them to respect yours, and the payback can be great. Be courteous, friendly, and always have a ready supply of pens and notepads. And as we all know, an occasional luncheon or box of doughnuts can go a long way. Again, this may sound basic, but it is amazing how easily such considerations can be for-gotten during a typically hectic day. Always bring along something extra-provide value-added services and you will convey the image that you are actually helping the office. Do this by promoting extra clinical, success stories from other customers, and invitations to after-hours or CME programs. Always have the required samples and ensure that your presentation is focused and tailored to the physician's prescribing profile. Not only will this enhance your selling efforts but it will also consequently provide timely, interesting, and relevant information.
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