The pharmaceutical rep’s guide to selling in a minute—more or less

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Pharmaceutical sales representatives have to be calculated when it comes to planning their meetings with doctors. Flexibility, knowledge, ability to achieve your mission and relationship building occur in what can be as short as 30 to 60 seconds. In this Medzilla article, experts talk about how to best plan for the encounter so that your first impression is a good and lasting one.

In pharmaceutical sales, it’s one thing to manage your time in a day of activities; it’s another to manage time effectively when you might have only 60 seconds to talk with your client: the prescribing doctor.

“It goes back to the old saying,” says Frank Heasley, PhD, president and CEO of, a leading Internet recruitment and professional community that serves biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, healthcare and science. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression. In pharma sales, you might get as much as five minutes to educate the physician, gain his or her trust, build a relationship and accomplish your goals, including asking for the sale. That takes planning, precision and allows for no mistakes.”

What’s your mission?

Ron D’Andrea, executive vice president of the performance improvement company BayGroup International, says pharma reps are facing increasing competition and resistance from busy doctors and staff.

“They really need to expect the unexpected,” D’Andrea says. “They don’t want to be perceived as a sample dropper or a lunch caterer. They do have to differentiate themselves in a very crowded marketplace—sometimes crowded within their own companies.”

According to D’Andrea, you have to grab the interest of the physician immediately and understand what your goal is for the meeting. You have to know what to do if you have 30 seconds with that client, or five to 10 minutes.

“Entering into the meeting with a specific objective in mind is critical,” he says.

Mark Ellwood of Pace Productivity training and consulting, Toronto, Canada, conducted a time study last fall for a major pharmaceutical company and says that one of the most important recommendations to come out of the report was that sales reps need to better clarify their missions. Time management, he says, begins with knowing what you want to accomplish—whether it is to secure an order, secure the next meeting, or have the practice join a clinical study.

“The whole idea of just meeting people doesn’t go far enough,” he says. “You really have to consider: What is my mission?”

Know whom you’re talking to and what you’re talking about

The successful pharmaceutical representative, D’Andrea says, understands the physician and the drives that might allow him to move to action.

Your power is the ability, he says, to adjust yourself to the time allotted for the meeting so that you are still able to grab the doctor’s interest, create a dialogue and show the physician that you know him and his practice.

Once you know the physician, you can better formulate your opening position statement. Then, you use your knowledge of what drives that physician to make decisions to end the meeting and get a commitment for whatever the next step might be.

“It is a planning process,” D’Andrea says. “Not only [involving] how I’m going to begin the conversation but also what are the two or three questions that I’m going to ask and how do I build my knowledge of this physician and the physician’s practice into these questions so that I have a better chance of creating a dialog.”

Once you’re into that dialogue, you had better be prepared to answer the tough questions. Successful reps not only know the products they represent, but also what the company literature says and what the competition is saying, according to Sam Heide, a sales representative with Janssen Pharmaceutical.

Build relationships

Review the notes from your last interaction with a doctor, nurse or office manager before you go into your next appointment with that person. Ask yourself: “Where did I leave off and what was of interest to that person?”

Armed with that information, you’ll be in a position to build on the last meeting.

According to Ellwood, the second key recommendation to come out of the report was the importance of promoting good relationships, or relationship building.

“There is an indication that the more successful reps spend longer with their customers and they spend less time waiting,” Ellwood says. “So, you can’t just go in there pushing your products, you have to work on building those relationships with the gatekeepers.”

Heide says building that relationship and getting to know the physician often means getting the physician away from the office, patients and other sales reps. He is persistent in asking physicians to lunch or dinner. He’ll even bring dinner to the office, after hours, so that they can talk in peace.

He says physicians are more likely to divulge the truth about their needs and prescribing patterns if reps can get them at a more “comfortable” time.

“I’ve had times when a doctor has told me for six months that they’re writing my product and I know they’re not…,” he says. “Then, I get that doctor in a lunch or dinner setting and they’ll finally come clean and say this is why I’m not writing your product…. Once you know that, you can get to the real root of the problem.”

“There is a lot that goes into the often very short meeting with the doctor,” says Medzilla’s Marketing Director Michele Groutage. “We often post information on our forum from pharmaceutical reps about how important it is to plan and be flexible for that encounter. It’s hard to make the transition from a social discussion to the meat of the product discussion in 60 seconds unless you plan ahead.”


Established in mid 1994, MedZilla is the original web site to serve career and hiring needs for professionals and employers in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medicine, science and healthcare. MedZilla databases contain about 10,000 open positions, 13,000 resumes from candidates actively seeking new positions and 71,000 archived resumes.

Medzilla® is a Registered Trademark owned by Medzilla Inc. Copyright ©2004, MedZilla, Inc. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute this text in its entirety, and if electronically, with a link to the URL For permission to quote from or reproduce any portion of this message, please contact Michele Groutage, Director of Marketing and Development, MedZilla, Inc. Email:

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Michele Groutage