Alex Anderson’s ‘Drug Rep Success’
Every morning here at Pharmiweb Towers, as the dawn breaks over the rolling fields of glamorous Bracknell, it is with dismay that the editorial inbox is opened to reveal several hundred unsolicited e-mails. A scene that perhaps all office bound workers who have never been to Bracknell can associate with but on opening with a sigh the first of these mails the experience of the average Pharmiweb editor suddenly veers from the norm and enters a parallel universe where deleting opportunities to exploit the financial prescience of widowed Nigerians or enhance our appendages to circus freak show proportions is not the bulk of the job. No for the Pharmiweb editor the day begins with answering the heartfelt pleas of people from all walks of life who have set their hearts on becoming Medical Sales Reps. Some have just graduated or are about to graduate, some have worked in a medical discipline, some have only recently discovered that arbitrary English words strung together can occasionally lead to positive results, but all have seen the promised land, and envisioned themselves cruising through it from surgery to hospital to surgery in a high powered German car. In short they want our help. But the path to landing one of these coveted roles is an arduous one, and despite the understandable attributing of superpowers to the Pharmiweb staff, providing everyone who wants to work in Medical Sales with a job is beyond us, because getting a job in Medical Sales is hard, it requires perseverance, dedication, ability and perseverance. I realise, of course, that perseverance is mentioned twice in that list but that is just shows how damned necessary it is.
But help is at hand, particularly if you have a copy of Alex Anderson’s ‘Drug Rep Success’ millimetres away from your digits. ‘Drug Rep Success’ is the most complete of the numerous books published in the last 18 months or so that purport to offer guidance to the wannabe Medical Sales Rep and enhance the productivity of the established rep. Potential UK and European readers should not be put off by the fact that Mr Anderson is a successful rep in the US, many of the principles that he outlines are equally applicable on this side of the Atlantic and adopting a US mindset could even count as an advantage with a number of the leading pharmaceutical companies, certainly in landing a position, if not in actually detailing to physicians. Anderson’s extensive sales success track record, coupled with experience of training and interviewing for new reps make him ideally qualified to give advice in this area, but what sets the book aside from it’s peers is the fact that it goes on beyond the landing of a position. It would be easy to assume that success in Medical Sales is a given once you have landed a role, but, as for a perennially underachieving football team who have recently been promoted to the Premiership, it is really only the start (ed. Wolves are rubbish Mark, just accept it). So the book goes on to talk about those first few days, the first successes, the importance of ongoing training and relationship building, and the realities of the battlefield that is the marketplace for pharmaceutical products. Getting a job as a drug rep doesn’t mean you have achieved success, in fact in getting a job you have built a platform, nothing more.
The advice in the book is broken down into four areas, the initial interview, the second interview, the initial training and a section that describes the competition inherit in the pharmaceutical marketplace. Anderson uses the analogy of a castle to describe the pharmaco and it is in apt comparison, the forbidding fortress seemingly designed to be impenetrable to an army of assailants, let alone a solitary one. But access to the castle can be got if you’re prepared to put in the effort and apply yourself. Anderson gets straight to the point, ‘If you plan o being in sales, SELL something’, it seems obvious but you’d be amazed by the number of e-mails and calls we get here from people who’ve never sold anything in their lives. Gone are the days when graduate scientists could get a position in medical sales on the strength of a good degree and poor social skills. A drug is a product like any other, and though it may be a lot more complicated and the client may be a good deal more intelligent than Joe Public making them want to use it is the name of the game. And it’s not enough just to get a job in sales, you also have to make a success of it, and document that success. This is Anderson’s front door, open only to outstanding sales people.
The back door is where the writer himself began, and is a test of your ability to network, a skill as important as selling in the reps arsenal. Networking gets Doctors, Nurses and Receptionists on your side and makes you much more likely to get in to an office to do a detail in the first place. Getting a job, any job, in a pharmaceutical company will help you. Once inside you’ll live and breathe to the rhythm of the company, build relationships with those you meet and start to learn. Eventually your eagerness and persistence will pay off as Alex Anderson says, ‘This road may seem difficult; however, working inside the company for the first year gave me a huge advantage over outside candidates (even candidates with 20 years of pharmaceutical experience). I knew the company, it’s products, and most importantly I built relationships with the people who interviewed me.’
The sections on interviews are particularly useful, reiterating much of the standard interview advice that all job seekers no and love Anderson hammers home the message that there isn’t room for manoeuvre in the Medical Sales Representative interview, you must be presentable, capable of handling all the questions thrown at you, behave professionally, be inquisitive, produce evidence to back up your alleged achievements and give the impression that you are the nearest thing on this planet to the Terminator, remorselessly pursuing your goal and never, ever, ever giving up. Extensive examples of interview dialogue to illustrate how to get these points over are given, and though it may seem repetitive it reflects the authors belief in the principles he’s trying to impart. The interviewing section finishes with some useful extra tips to gain you those vital gold stars that will fix your interview in the mind of the panel.
The later chapters are useful as a guide to how the job unfolds and how to keep improving once you’re in there. Anderson pulls no punches in terms of the effort that is expected of you if you are to become a success and Chapter 7 would serve as a useful guide for the less committed applicant to establish whether they really are cut out for the demands of the job.
Chapter 9 and after is of more practicable use to the rep who has a couple of years under their belt. Stretching the medieval analogy Anderson talks about becoming a ‘knight’, i.e. establishing yourself as a top rep and progressing, if you want to through the hierarchy of the sales and marketing arm of the pharma co. A start in Medical Sales is an excellent way to progress your career within pharmaceuticals, nearly all marketers come from a repping background and experience of the sharp end of the industry will stand you in good stead in all areas of the company, from HR to Clinical Research.
A brief look at the perks of the job shows that our American cousins get a similar sort of package to British reps before we launch into WAR. The concept of war amongst reps is a vaguely comical one, an image of two reps jousting with detail aids in revved up BMWs springs to my distracted mind but war is an apt description for the state of affairs that occurs when a rival company launches a competitor product. There are a multitude of wars going on at any one time in the pharma industry, we are on the cusp of a massive one in the US at the moment with AstraZeneca’s newly approved Crestor going up against Lipitor, Pfizer's world bestseller. Anderson further reminds us that selling is an art, your product may not be clinically the most efficacious in the market but you can’t go packing in a job when a better drug comes along. Physicians have to be reminded why they prescribed your drug in the first place, what advantages it has over newcomers in terms of patient trust and long standing safety. The phrase ‘miracle-drug’ is never far away from the media’s collective mouth and when you’re promoting a product that lost this tag several years back, you’re at war.
The final chapters include a list of recommended recruiters both in the UK and US along with a useful glossary of terms, ideal for those just starting out in a world awash with both marketing and medical jargon. Drug Rep Success is a book eminently worth having, for the aspiring rep it gives pragmatic advice and balances nicely the challenges and benefits of the job whilst for the established rep it serves both as a reminder of how hard it was to get the job in the first place and as a pep talk for the battles ahead. Pharmiweb Recommended.
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