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Better Communication for MRs

by Dr Cedric Nazareth


In his capacity as the company’s “ambassador” to the territory, a Medical Representative (MR) surely plays many roles, but perhaps the most important of these is the role of a communicator.

The challenge

The MR’s main customer is a doctor, and an important doctor could meet 5 to15 MRs, each detailing 5 to 8 products, every day. This means that a single doctor could receive thousands of pharma product messages every month. Since many doctors are met just once a month, it is obvious that the message for a particular brand will be just one among many clamouring for the doctor’s attention.

Of course, getting the doctor’s attention is the first step towards generating brand awareness. But to get prescriptions, you will need top-of-the-mind recall for your brand. From existing prescribers, you must get brand loyalty.

Encoding and decoding

Communication essentially involves two main processes - encoding and decoding. A message must be encoded, that is, put into appropriate words by the sender. The message is then decoded, or comprehended, by the receiver. Likewise, a response to the message, if any, is suitably encoded and subsequently decoded. Errors in encoding and/or decoding can both contribute to improper communication. Thus, the choice of words and visuals, emphasis and pronunciation will all play a role.

The doctor’s decoding of the message can be hampered by “background noise” such as any activity in the clinic or a telephone call. Be alert to such distractions and work at holding the doctor’s attention despite such noise.

Dialogue not monologue

A doctor may be hearing , but not listening to, what the MR says. To know whether the message is being correctly decoded, you must get some feedback. Two-way communication (dialogue), rather than a one-sided monologue, will keep the customer involved and open a window to his thoughts. The presentation can then be fine-tuned to suit the customer’s specific needs. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and show empathy.

Be polite, not servile!

An important doctor may be a towering personality, but the MR cannot afford to feel dwarfed. The doctor-MR relationship should be that of one professional with another. In transactional analysis terms, interactions should essentially be adult to adult, rather than child to parent. This requires confidence, which comes with a sound product knowledge and good selling skills.

Scientifically speaking...

Talk the doctor’s language! Be familiar with relevant scientific terminology. Substantiate your claims with proof from medical literature.

Body Language

Communication may be verbal and non verbal. It’s not only what you say, but also how you say it that matters. You should therefore mind your posture, facial expressions and gestures. Also check out your customer’s body language to gauge how you are going.

But the doctor has no time!

MRs may complain that doctors do not give them enough time to complete their presentations. The proliferation of pharmaceutical companies and brands has not helped either. But let’s look at it this way. The doctor is in fact interested in meeting you - he keeps granting you interviews, doesn’t he? Incidentally, the useful role of an MR is acknowledged by the medical profession, because MRs can keep doctors aware of new developments and provide them with much-needed information about their products. So what the MR should do is to work at making the presentation more interesting and relevant to the doctor.

Most importantly, remember that pharmaceutical companies maintain large field forces of MRs to adopt the ultimate marketing approach - one-to-one personalised communication with the customer. This investment in expensive human resources will only be justified if the MR constantly innovates and finds new ways to succeed.


29th December 2000.
Pharma Marketing Page.
This article appeared in Pharma Business, January 12, 2001.
All rights reserved

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