Prescription for Success: The Role of the Pharmacy Call in Driving Sales

Pharmaceutical Representative - October 2005

Pharmaceutical Representative - October 2005

Who is on your sales team? Your territory partners, your sales trainer, hopefully your manager and other company personnel. Certainly your physicians. Their patients. Maybe even local managed care organizations.

What about pharmacists?

After the countless hours of product training and skill development and relationship building, your efforts culminate when a prescription is filled at the pharmacy.

How many pharmacy calls do you make each week? Do you make pharmacy calls at all? When you consider that pharmacists talk to the same physicians that you talk to, about treating the same patients that you talk about treating, it's obvious that pharmacists play a vital role in your success.

Why wait any longer to establish or improve your relationships with pharmacists in your territory? In order to be maximize your success, let's clarify the role of a pharmacist as it relates to you and your sales team.

A licensed pharmacist is a pharmaceutical specialist. He or she has a comprehensive science background, including extensive training in pharmacology. Although physicians are experts in disease diagnosis and treatment, pharmacists are experts in pharmaceutical disease management. Physicians often rely on pharmacists to educate their patients about dosing, drug interactions and side effects.

Many physicians expect pharmacists to train their patients in proper techniques for using metered-dose inhalers, blood pressure monitors and injectable medications. Physicians also assume that pharmacists will monitor potential drug-drug interactions and recommend appropriate drug substitutions.

A pharmacist is a patient care provider. He or she is a link between patients and medical professionals, and can triage routine illnesses like a cough, cold or the flu. Patients count on their pharmacist to tell them how to take their medications, what outcome to expect, and how to react if something goes wrong. Patients trust pharmacists to know the differences between various over-the-counter medications, and to make recommendations about which would be best for them.

A pharmacist is a pharmaceutical sales partner. The most successful pharmaceutical reps recognize that pharmacists can have tremendous impact on their territories. Pharmacy support is crucial for successful pull-through programs, patient education, and supplemental physician contact. A pharmacist may be able to provide information about managed care formularies and drug pricing, as well as alert you to patient questions or concerns.

Although it isn't appropriate for a pharmacist to recommend that a physicians prescribe your drug instead of your competitors, the more educated a pharmacist is about your product, the more effectively they can present relevant information (including benefits) to prescribing physicians.

What can you do to establish or expand your impact on the pharmacists in your territory? I will share with you some suggestions from a variety of retail chain, independent and hospital pharmacists interested in partnering with pharmaceutical representatives for more productive relationships. But first, the bottom line.

Pharmacy Calls Are Sales Presentations

Every pharmacist I interviewed agreed that the most important thing for pharmaceutical reps to understand is that pharmacy calls are sales presentations. Prepare and execute pharmacy calls with the same care that you approach physician calls.

Conduct basic pre-call planning to identify your goal for the call. Do you need authorization to display prescription vouchers or coupons? Do you want to inform the pharmacy staff about a new drug launch? Do you have a question about generic substitutions? It should only take a few minutes to mentally outline what you hope to accomplish, but those few minutes make a difference.

Begin each call with an introduction and a statement of purpose. Most people recognize you before they remember your name, so until you have developed a relationship, put the pharmacist at ease by re-introducing yourself on each call.

Get right to the point of your visit. A clear statement of purpose will help the pharmacist assess how much time they need to spend with you, and whether or not they can afford that time right now. "May I have two minutes of your time to tell you about a new indication for Hoozlefritz extended release tabs?" is more helpful to a pharmacist than, "Hi! I'm the new Hoozlefritz rep."

Deliver your information succinctly and factually. Pharmacists are generally more interested in clinical information than in quality of life claims. Pharmacists do not prescribe medications and do not want to be "sold" on the merits of your product. They do, however, want to know the indication, dosing, mechanism of action (MOA), pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic (PK/PD) profile, and occurrence of side effects. This is vital information for their consultations with physicians and patients.

Close your call by asking the pharmacist what you can do to be a resource for them and their customers. Make a statement of your commitment, and be sure to follow through.

Let's move on to specific suggestions from pharmacists in three different settings that you are likely to encounter in your territory: retail chain, independent and hospital pharmacies.

Retail chain pharmacists' recommendations:

Make the effort to develop partnerships with pharmacists. Paul, a New York state-licensed pharmacist, points out that he and physicians and pharmaceutical reps all have the same goal: to provide excellent patient care. "We are all interdependent. The cycle starts with the drug companies and links to the physicians and the pharmacists, who link directly with the patients. We're all in the patient care business."

Suzanne, a licensed pharmacist in Tennessee, agrees. "My customers are the drug rep's end customers. For both of us, "success" means making our customers healthier."

Chain pharmacists across the country agree that pharmaceutical reps can be more effective if they...

DO:

  • Provide the pharmacist with objective clinical information.
  • Invite pharmacists to educational programs with physicians, or sponsor separate programs for their local pharmacy organization.
  • Follow through on what they say they are going to do.
  • Respect the pharmacist's time.
  • Offer your business card every time. Make it easy for pharmacy staff to contact you
  • Inform pharmacists of any prescription voucher, rebate or coupon programs ahead of time. This gives pharmacy staff time to learn the quirks of the program so that they can facilitate patient uptake.

Paul makes a compelling case for this point. "One of the drug reps in the area launched a prior auth product in a crowded therapeutic class. She brought her supply of prescription vouchers to me and asked for my help in launching the product. I agreed to stock her vouchers at each of my stores, and she informed her target physicians of this. It was a four-plus win. Physicians appreciated the simplicity, patients were happy about getting a free trial, I benefited from the increase in customer traffic, and this rep led the country in sales."

DON'T:

  • Make pharmacy sales calls on Mondays or early in the morning.
  • Ask a pharmacist to stock your product "to be ready for the first prescription". Many chain pharmacists are responsible for the physical and financial health of the pharmacy. They don't have room either on their shelves or in their budgets to stock "just in case" product. They likely receive product deliveries at least every 48 hours, so patients don't have to wait long for your drug.
  • Ask a pharmacist for confidential information, such as, "Which doctors are writing my product?"

Independent Pharmacists' Recommendations

Masood runs a small chain of independent pharmacies in southern California. He says that respect is the most important element of a rep's interaction with a pharmacist. "Some reps think that because I am not a big name chain that I am not as important, or maybe they do not need to be polite with me. But that is not the way to think of it. I am very busy here, with many customers every day. The smart reps know that I am a big business for them in this city."

Consensus of independent pharmacists is that reps will be more successful if they...

DO:

  • Provide NDC #'s.
  • Understand that pharmacy customers are the first priority. Be patient.
  • Educate the pharmacist about potential side effects.
  • Ask for the opportunity to schedule an educational lunch presentation.
  • Treat independent pharmacists as well as they treat chain pharmacists.

"I've worked in both settings, and I've seen a lot of drug reps overlook independent pharmacies", says Alan, a pharmacist in Wisconsin. "Maybe they think that because we're small we're not "real" pharmacists. But we have the same educational background, and we have the same interactions with doctors and patients as any other licensed pharmacist."

DON"T:

  • Ask for confidential information.
  • Ask a pharmacist to stock your product without a prescription.
  • "Sell" the pharmacist.

Hospital Pharmacists' Recommendations

Many sales reps are more familiar with retail pharmacies than those in the hospital setting. Here are a few things to keep in mind before we get into the Do's and Don't's.

A hospital pharmacy may serve only inpatients, only outpatients, or a blend of the two. Inpatient pharmacies are usually restricted to stocking products that are on the hospital formulary. They often do not see drug reps, since product decisions are made by the P&T committee, not by the pharmacist.

Hospital-based outpatient pharmacies operate like any other retail pharmacies. They are not usually restricted to the hospital formulary, and will see drug reps that consistently provide relevant product information.

Tim is a hospital pharmacist in Maine who welcomes drug reps. "Reps are a great source of information for me. I know that if I tell a rep that a patient had an unusual reaction to their drug, the rep is going to pass that on to their company to investigate. Drug companies are highly motivated to check it out and follow up, which helps me serve my customers better."

Recommendations for pharmaceutical reps when calling on hospital pharmacies...

DO:

  • Ask about scheduling an educational lunch presentation.
  • Ask for information about the formulary process; offer yourself as a resource for information.
  • Ask about the schedule for the hospital P&T committee.
  • Know your drug. Be prepared to clarify and support any information that is included in your product PI.

DON'T:

  • Ask for a list of physicians who are on the P&T committee.
  • Pressure the pharmacist to stock product without a prescription.
  • Make a sales call without a clear reason for the call.

Which brings us back to the bottom line: Pharmacy calls are sales presentations. And just like prescriber calls, pharmacy calls are powerful tools to improve patient care and drive your business.

If you make the effort to develop productive relationships, you will find that every pharmacist in your territory is an extra person on your sales team!

Originally published in the October 2005 issue of Pharmaceutical Representative magazine. Copyright 2005 Pharmaceutical Representative magazine.

Sally Bacchetta is an award-winning freelance writer and sales trainer. She has published articles on a variety of topics, including sales training and motivation, pharmaceutical sales and emerging technologies. Read her latest articles on her freelance writer website.