Selling to Docs Shouldn't be a Problem

Edition: September 2001 - Vol 9 Number 09
Article#: 1054
Author: Michael Kessler, M.D.

I am out there every day, driving from place to place, presenting my selling messages and working hard. I don't understand what's going on. What's wrong with these doctors? What's their problem? Why won't they use my products?''

How can this be? Training does a wonderful job of giving reps the fundamentals of selling, disease management and product knowledge. Reps are taught how to give consistent selling messages and how to use their sales and visual aids to help them succeed. Then they are sent back out to their territories to do their best to accomplish their mission – sell products.

Most work hard and put in a full day's work. They also feel they possess adequate knowledge in order to discuss the disease states and the products they are supposed to know. They believe they carry the best products and that the doctor who fails to buy them is bordering on malpractice. They also believe they do a good job of telling their doctors what needs to be told.

Reps like to talk about the features and benefits of their products. They are enthusiastic, have learned their information well and can't wait to give it to the doctor. They use sales and visual aids, which contain lots of useful information, to give doctors an overview of the important facts about their product.

''So what's the problem?''

In our recent survey of 168 reps from three large and three midsize companies, reps said they used sales aids approximately 60 percent of the time. They also report that over 50 percent of doctors show a negative reaction when sales aids are used, and that over 45 percent of doctors are skeptical of the information presented. Why?

Because many reps tend to do a data dump. They spew out all this stuff from their 8-16-page-long aids and hope that something sticks. Then they close with ''Will you use it?'' So, as reps have documented, over half the doctors get a glazed-over look and, in the end, fail to try the product.

Different Mindsets

Could it be that reps are missing something? Yes they are. They need a better understanding of the mindset of their customer – the doctor.

Doctors are trained to solve problems. As a result, they are problem-oriented, not product-oriented. They are in the problem-solving business. They are at their best when patients present them with specific problems.

Doctors have been trained to and must go through what we call the Physician Problem Solving Process. They use it to:

•Diagnose, treat and manage patients.

•Evaluate the clinical literature.

•Evaluate new and existing treatment options.

The decision to use, convert to, or adopt a new product doesn't come until the end of this extensive, fact-laden, and formal process. How fast the doctor makes decisions will depend on his or her experience, disease state, and the product itself. But reps can facilitate the process if they know what the doctor is looking for and if they give him or her the right information at the right time.

With this in mind, the issue for doctors is this: Many reps are product-oriented rather than problem-oriented. What marketing and sales departments consider useful and important is not always what the doctor needs or wants.

So, when reps do a data dump with their sales and visual aids, many doctors are thinking, ''Why do I need another product? What problem is it going solve? I'm happy with what I'm using now. Who cares!''

Identifying the problem is the first step that doctors have been trained to take in the problem solving process. This is what they key in on. Once reps identify a problem, doctors will naturally want to know from reps: ''Do you have a solution to this problem?''

Specific problems demand specific information. How quickly doctors move to try or use your product often depends on how quickly they get the information they need, and how accurate it is. Once reps understand how doctors solve problems and how they make decisions, they will start to understand where the doctor is in the problem-solving process and what information they need to provide to accelerate the process. So, if reps know what doctors are looking for and can give them what they want and need, they can accelerate the problem-solving process.


Reps can speed up the process by communicating the clinical information from their sales and visual aids in an organized manner. They will be more effective if they ''walk the walk and talk the talk''' of their customers. All doctors communicate and educate one another using a standardized template called S.O.A.P. (see article in the February 2001 Repertoire, ''How Well Do You Understand Your Doctors?'') S.O.A.P. stands for Subjective information, Objective information, Assessment and Plan.

S.O.A.P-ing information makes it much easier and quicker for doctors to take in the information and arrive at a decision. Reps can S.O.A.P. their sales and visual aids using what we call the S.O.A.P. Product Presentation to sell their solutions to the problems identified.

Therefore, if reps understand the problem solving process, know where the doctor is in the process, and can give him or her specific information using the S.O.A.P. template, they can shorten the time it takes a doctor to convert to or adopt their product.

Another common quote we hear from doctors in our surveys is: '' I don't mind them (reps) informing me of their product's strong points, but I do get offended if they 'duck' issues of the negative side effects of their products, or badmouth competitors.''

Many reps only want to discuss the positive features and benefits of their products. All sales and visual aids contain the side effects, adverse events and other issues that all products carry. But these points are relegated to small print and an obscure position in the aids. Reps usually follow the same pattern when discussing their products.

All doctors know that all products on the market are efficacious and work in many patients most of the time. How? It's FDA approved. But they also know that all products can produce unwanted side effects that are not only a nuisance, but could be serious or even lethal.

What they don't know but need to know before they can make the decision to use your product is: ''Who shouldn't be on this product?'' What side effects and adverse events should they look out for and in what percentages do they happen? If adverse reactions do happen, what should they do about it? How should they follow these patients to help prevent these adverse events?

Think about this. Many doctors already know about your product's side effects and adverse reactions. How? Your competitors have already told them. How do your competitors portray your product's side effects /adverse events? In the most negative way possible, right?

So reps make a mistake when they let their competitors define their product's side effects and adverse events. They should be doing that in an objective way. If reps do that, their customers will see them as a fair-balanced and valuable resource.

If your doctors know everything they needed to know about a product, what to expect, and what to do, they can avoid surprises and potential problems. As one doctor puts it, ''The more doctors know about a given product, the more they will use the product efficiently.''

But they don't always get that information in a timely manner. Often, it is too late. Then reps wonder why the doctor won't use their product.

Michael Kessler, M.D., is President and CEO of the Medical Communications Center. He conducts sales training workshops in the pharmaceutical, medical product, device and service industries. Feel free to send your comments to Dr. Kessler at or call him at 404-257-1251.