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What A Doctor Expects...
by Dr Cedric Nazareth

Pharma marketeers are always trying to figure out the answer to the question - what does a doctor expect from a medical representative? Given an opportunity, they will pose this question to “friendly” doctors, to gain insights into customers’ expectations. Of course, it’s not that pharma marketeers are unaware of what doctors expect - in fact, they do know - but yet they keep searching for a revelation. It’s as if a virus is doing the rounds. As a pharma marketeer, I too have caught the contagion, and as a pharma marketeer and doctor rolled into one, I am tempted to do both - ask the question and also provide an answer.

Frankly, I’d say that the answer is simple enough. The doctor expects very little from a medical representative (MR). He would expect “detailing”, of course, and a humdrum one at that, because that’s what he usually gets, doesn’t he? He’d also expect to see some promotional literature, receive some samples and perhaps a small gift. Since the doctor meets several MRs every day, he knows what to expect. In any case, most of the calls would fit into the dull-to-boring category - so what’s the big deal?

Maybe that’s why pharma marketeers keep searching for answers! The average call on a doctor may not be anything to rave about, but doctors continue to see several medical representatives every day, suggesting that the two species do have an affinity for each other. Both the parties involved in the doctor-MR association stand to gain - the medical representative gets product sales and the doctor gets new information and access to the services that a pharmaceutical company can provide. Perhaps the MR’s visit also provides the doctor with a welcome break in an otherwise exacting routine. Pharma marketeers look for ways to convert this break into a breakthrough, but with several companies wooing the doctor at any time, staying ahead of the competition involves knowing what the customer expects and then finding ways to meet or surpass those expectations.

The average salesperson may not make the mark, but the chances are that a successful one will be right on track. So maybe we should look at the ideal situation - what would a doctor expect from the ideal medical representative? Much has been said about the characteristics of an ideal MR. We could make a list of favoured characteristics for MRs involving every letter of the alphabet - alert, bold, competent, dependable, energetic, friendly, genial, honest, intelligent, job-oriented, etc., or we could even look for adjectives with a single letter, e.g., courteous, careful, career-minded, capable, clever, committed, communicative, competent, confident, consistent, etc. Such lists are likely to be flashed around during MR orientation or training programmes and usually reflect the characteristics that managers expect their representatives to possess. However, doctors’ expectations need not coincide with those of the manager. A doctor is generally only concerned with the role of the MR in his clinic, whereas a manager would look for more.

An MR spends just a few minutes perhaps once or twice every month in each doctor’s clinic. Each call is probably sandwiched between many others clamouring for attention, and is in any case only a side issue for a doctor whose primary concern is managing his patients. What could a doctor expect from a medical representative in such a situation? What would anyone expect? A jovial MR? A talkative fellow? A combination of several characteristics? We would definitely need many adjectives to make a complete list of the characteristics that doctors would like MRs to have. But remember, the more exhaustive the list, the more bewildering it will be to the MR who is expected to possess all those traits. So for simplicity, can we sum up the doctor’s expectations in just a single word?

Just one word? Phew! The burden of narrowing down doctors’ expectations to just a single word seems like a tremendous responsibility - sifting through all those adjectives in the dictionary for the right one! But if I must select, I’d go for the word “impressive”. A doctor would expect the ideal medical representative to be impressive. Make an impression, an impact, make a mark - and to make it again and again with every visit. From the MR’s point of view, it would obviously mean that the customer is impressed - and what more can one ask for? Being impressive also means standing out in a crowd and getting that promotional message home. With the customer being impressed, the salesperson is well on his way to sales success. But to get there, every visit to a doctor must be considered to be a performance, the equivalent of a television advertisement for a consumer product. There would be no such thing as a “routine” visit to a doctor. Like any great performance, it requires practice and should be fine tuned till it is just right. And of course, the product usage that follows a great presentation is the best form of applause that a salesperson can receive.

But what are the ingredients for creating an impression, for being impressive? Oh, we’d have to create another list of adjectives for that!

Pharma Marketing Page.
This article was published in
Pharma Business 23rd June 2000.
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