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  • Writer's pictureRuss Hornfisher


In the first six months of work at the first job out of college as a pharmaceutical sales person, I was responsible to meeting with physicians to present my products. The primary activity of this job was driving to physician offices in my sales territory meeting with the physicians and explaining the benefits of my company’s products, the side effects, and the best situations to use my company’s products. The physicians I was calling on had far greater education, more experience regarding the disease states my products treated as well as use of pharmaceuticals, so, it was a bit intimidating to make such sales calls. But that was my job.

On my first visit to meet with Dr. Foster, I enter the office, introduced myself to the receptionist, explained the purpose of my visit, she then told me to sit and wait. When there was a break in Dr. Foster’s schedule seeing patients the receptionist called my name, escorted me to the Dr. Foster’s office and told he would be in a short time. After taking a seat on the visitors side of Dr. Foster Desk I opened my detail bag pulled out my sales literature, arranged them next to me so I would be prepared when Dr. Foster arrived. After sitting quietly for several minutes Dr. Foster entered his office sat behind his desk in a swivel chair looking away from me, tilting his head back, he looked distant and a bit irritated. He seemed to mumble to himself while shaking his head. I was very uncomfortable, not know whether to speak. He did not look like someone who wanted to speak with a pharmaceutical sales person. What seemed like hours was probably just minutes.

I finally summons up the courage to speak. “Dr. Foster, you appear to have more important things on your mind than talking with me.” Why don’t I leave you alone to think by yourself?” As I packed up my literature, he slowly turned in his chair and began to talk. He told me about a house he is building, the problems he is having with the contractors and the additional expenses due to the delays. He went on to explain argument with his wife earlier that morning. He just rambled on for about 20 minutes telling me about a variety of issues in his life. I never said a word. I was too scared to. I was hearing more information than I wanted to hear. He expressed many personal opinions and feelings. As he began to wind down from his monologue, he then sat quietly, looking away from me for a few seconds, got up from his chair and left his office never acknowledging I was even there.

After he departed I felt emotionally drained, took a deep breathe, exhaled. In my mind I thought that was weird. Regaining my purpose for sitting in Dr. Foster’s office I packed up my samples and as I got out of my chair to leave, Dr. Foster popped his head in the office and asked “what did you want to talk about?” I responded with a one word answer, the name of the antihypertensive I was there to detail. He turned and disappeared down the hall. I left his office, thanked the receptionist as I passed through the waiting room. Went out to my car in the parking lot, placed my detail bag in the trunk, climbed in the driver’s seat, drove about a block away stopped and finally able to relax, I chuckled about what I had just experienced.

I worked on a six week call cycle. So six weeks after my initial meeting with Dr. Foster, when I returned to the Community where he practiced, it was procedure, before making physician calls, to visit local pharmacy’s to inquire about product sales. After introducing myself to the pharmacist he responded, Dr. Foster is writing your antihypertensive with both hands. The pharmacist went on to say that over the past several weeks Dr. Foster really has increased his use of your company’s antihypertensive product. We then talked about other products, other physicians, and the pharmacy materials for this call cycle.

The next stop was to visit Dr. Foster office. I followed my usually pattern, introduce myself to the receptionist, sit in the waiting room, have the receptionist escort me to Dr. Foster’s office, open my detail bag and prepare for his entry. Dr. Foster walked into his office made eye contact with me, I introduced myself, his face lit up. He sat behind his desk in that same swivel chair and before I could say anything else he started on his monologue of personal life events. Similar to what I had experienced in the previous visit to this office. He just rambled on about a variety of topics in his life. Similar to what had happened on the first visit, after about 20 minutes he stopped talking, took a deep breath, exhaled, got up and walked out of the office. This time, just before leaving the office he looked down at me seated by the exit and said “what product did you want to talk about?” I said the name of a vasodilator, he smiled and was gone.

Six weeks later on my next visit to Dr. Foster’s community and the pharmacy visit proved similar to the previous. Now the pharmacist said Dr. Foster was writing a lot of scripts for both my antihypertensive and my vasodilator. That pattern continued the entire time I called on Dr. Foster.

Not until the customer is ready to listen that any selling can take place. It is not how much is said, it is what is heard, even if it is just one word.

Too many people want to believe listening is a passive activity, it is not, it is a very powerful skill.

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