Why do Pharmaceutical Sales Representatives hate Scripted Sales Presentations?

For some pharmaceutical companies scripted sales presentations have become a necessity to assure compliance with Corporate Integrity Agreements.  For others it is a way to ensure consistent delivery of the marketing message.  And for a few, it is really intended to ensure that a professional presentation is delivered rather than leaving it to sales representatives to figure it out or just “wing it.”

I’m guessing most representatives see scripted presentations as demeaning, belittling of their competence, and unprofessional.

Let’s think about this.  Do stage performers such as for Broadway shows or comedians, feel this way?  Do musicians (think of your favorite singer or band) feel this way?  Do great orators and professional speakers feel this way?  Do even the best of news anchors feel this way?  When the president or another politician delivers a speech, do they feel this way?

Hardly.   So why do pharmaceutical sales representatives feel this way?

I believe there are several reasons why pharmaceutical sales representatives hate scripted sales presentations.  Here are just a few:

  • The scripts are poorly written and not honed to perfection through an iterative process using real sales representatives with real customer feedback
  • The scripts don’t accommodate different practice settings, physician personalities, patient types, or treatment alternatives
  • The scripts are not conversational, sound scripted, and often intentionally avoid opportunities for customer engagement (lack interaction)
  • The scripts are more focused on delivering message than they are about how they affect (“land on”) the customer (think emotionally and intellectually)
  • The scripts (including answers to questions) are not practiced (rehearsed) to perfection with incorporation of natural voice modulations and corresponding supportive intonations
  • The scripts don’t anticipate the questions that are likely to be asked (or reps don’t practice the answers) so it looks like the rep only knows the product message script.

Yes, there are legitimate reasons why pharmaceutical sales representatives don’t like and even despise scripted sales presentations.  In the context of the above issues, scripted sales presentations can seem demeaning, belittling of a person’s competence, and come across as unprofessional.  That doesn’t mean they have to be.

I believe it is actually unprofessional to think you are so good at sales that you feel you can “wing it” without a scripted, well rehearsed presentation on sales calls.

Like many sales professionals in other industries, professional pharmaceutical representatives should embrace and arm themselves with carefully crafted, engaging, information packed, rehearsed to perfection presentations.  And, answers to customer questions they have encouraged should just become a natural part of their well prepared presentations.

It is hard work to get the scripts right in the first place and then it takes more hard work and practice (to perfection, not just random impromptu “role plays” with your District Manger) to deliver impactful scripted sales presentations professionally.  mike@pharmareform.com

13 thoughts on “Why do Pharmaceutical Sales Representatives hate Scripted Sales Presentations?”

  1. We are more LIVE television talk show than taped soap operas. The art of salesmanship is having assimilated all the facts and figures and being able to use them to respond to questions from doctors, etc during the presentation/conversation. Doctors HATE memorized presentations given by Memorex reps. My docs still expect me to know more about the products I promote than they do. That is why they let me in and listen to me.

  2. Reps don’t “sell” anything because the doctor is not the ultimate buyer. At the highest level meetings we scientists are held to strict time limits on our presentations, even Nobel Prize winners, usually no more than 10-15 minutes. Under these conditions we are taught that it is appropriate to pretty much read your presentation, although it should be practiced enough so that it doesn’t seem like its being read. Try the “conversational approach” and you’re dead meat. Ask for more time and you will be denied, ipso facto. Why should a drug rep be accorded anything more? When drug reps were RPh’s, going off script might work well. When you have a BA in Sports Information Management, you go off script and you’re dead meat again, since the doctor will spot a poseur immediately. Don’t let the door hit you from behind, but don’t forget to leave the donuts.

  3. pharmavet,
    You give another great example. If you don’t script your scientific presentation there is a good chance you will not make all the points you wanted to make and you won’t have the impact you might have hoped for. If you script it but don’t practice it, you will most likely deliver it in a monotonous reading (we’ve all heard these) and are likely to run out of time or not take advantage of the time you have. Thanks for the comments. mike@pharmareform.com

  4. Roscoe,
    I appreciate your feedback and agree with the Memorex rep comment. On the other hand, there are certainly talk show interviews that have taken place without preparation (many end up on blooper and outtake video shows). Most talk show guests (whether they are celebrities or politicians) however, are media trained and prepped with well crafted scripts, laboriously practiced, and well rehearsed personal stories, talking points, messages, and “sound bites.” The more relaxed, confident, informative, and conversational the interview sounds, the more likely there was some pretty intense preparation. It has less to do with how much you know and more to do with preparation for delivery of your message and answering questions, efficiently and effectively. Even though they know more than anybody about their movie, I can’t imagine a movie star going on a major network talk show to plug their newly released movie and “winging it.” mike@pharmareform.com

  5. That’s one of the reasons I got out of that dead end job and into medical devices. Good thing I had only been in pharma for just a few years, or I would have neve been let into the device world.

  6. the REAL reason we don’t like scripted pieces is because the customer has seen/heard the same message OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER. IT’s like a TV commercial. After a while, the customer just tunes it out. WE reps know our customers, we have developed relationships. they do NOT want to hear the same crap over and over.

    authoer cites an example of actors in broadway show: Well, guess what: the actors play to a different audience every night that is hearing the script for the FIRST time. They paid to go see the show and hear the script: it was a leisure activity. The actor plays the message to a different crowd each day…not the SAME exact people night in night out the way reps have to repeat the same thing. THEN, add in, what if a broadway reviewer came to the show EVERY 3 weeks, to review the same actor, saying the same lines, to the SAME audiience. The first time its new, yes. fresh ..maybe even interesting. the 3rd 4th time, the actor is , by now, KNOWING that his audience of “Same people” is BORED with the script, the same show, night after night…and a PROFESSIONAL actor is also bored with the material…they KNOW what isn’t working with the customer, yet the “reviewer” (a district manager) is prepping a full writee-up on how the the actor said the SAME lines, to the SAME bored custimer who is TUNING IT OUT.

    There are lots of metaphors and analogies that can be used, but the above is the main reason/rationale why reps HATE scripts. Scripts are plastic and fake. We know it. the customer knows it. OUR CUSTOMERS WANT TO KNOW, “how cn you help me to help my patients TODAY”. Very simple.

    Drs have tuned out the scripts of sales reps, but we ALL play the game when the district manager is in the field with us. Its so fake and accomplsihes zero.

  7. billybob,
    Thank you for weighing in on this. You make a good point about the same message to the same audience.

    I believe there are two issues here. First is that you seem to imply that you only need to make a single presentation and after that the doctor will be bored. I don’t believe this is necessarily true. There have been studies demonstrating verbal and visual recall that suggest people need to hear and see things several times before they understand and recall product messaging. But more importantly, it is hard for me to imagine that without a prepared presentation you can effectively communicate that much product information delivered in a single presentation given the little time most reps have with doctors today. The second issues is that there is no reason it has to be the exact same script every time you see the same doctor. I should have included that as one of the bullet points.

    I believe that because reps have such limited time with physicians it is all the more reason to make presentations as informative for the physician as possible. That means every word you say is going to make a difference in how that physician understands your product and its appropriate use. That includes how you answer questions and objections.

    Again, thank you for taking time to comment. mike@pharmareform.com

  8. Pharmavet, I noticed the chip on your shoulder and just had to respond. You do your job and we will do ours. Try using words like poseur and ipso facto while dealing with a doc and you would get laughed at. Maybe not to your face though. A script should just be looked at as a framework to work off of. But it needs to be conversational and sincere. Using the same phrases over and over again belittles the doctor. Sales pros should understand that there are certain tried and true benefits of a drug that trigger adoption of the drug and be disciplined about communicating those aspects of the therapy instead of babbling about things that don’t matter to the doctor. Engaging docs in a scientific discussion about patient management is an art that unfortunately has gone unadressed as a result of bigger compliance issues. It seems that corporate manages its salespeople to the lowest common denominator (the worst rep) in order to limit liability.

  9. Pharmavet-
    I am a 20 year veteran who is thinking about getting out of the industry in part because I had a manager with no previous sales experience in the biopharma space, who was also someone who published papers, was on editorial boards and also had a practice before being hired into this role. In college, I was thinking of research and interned with a PHd and helped to write the paper and prepare presentation, etc. One difference in presenting that paper to an audience was I had control in what to say in order to address the needs of teh audience in the given amount of time. In pharma sales, the scripted messages can be effective general messages, but they are not geared to what we know will be effective with individual customers. Unfortunately, the better the relationship, the more tailored your “On Label, In Compliance” message needs to be to meet the needs of the customer (MD, NP/PA, ancillarry staff). If you meet needs of the customer, you gain entrance the next time you see them, follow up on their previous questions, get introduced to other decision makers, etc., and voila…The sales process has begun and the prescriber/decision makers are assisted in making appropriate decisions on your products. If you are good/experienced in this business of biopharma sales, I feel Clinically trained people won’t get the nuance because they had not been on this side of the business equation, nor should they be.

    I certainly don’t pretend to understand why you are so effective and respect the considerable education you have received, but completely get why you are effective in settting up the parameters above the way you did-well said.

  10. Mike: with all due respect, believe it or not, the script HAS to be exactly and precisely what the district manager wants to see tha tday in the field with a rep. So, if there are 2 drs in an office, the “job” becomes “do the canned messaging with 1 dr..then go do the same canned message to the other dr..and ANYONE else within earshot or visual range. The job is not about unearthing problems and presenting solutions, but rather, as they say in the online world and print media: “impressions”. GET THE MESSAGE TO THE DR.

    i wasn’t implying that after the first visit the message is retained or unnecessary. The messaging should be implicit in the development of the customer relationship over time. I presume you have cable TV? Does the cable rep (or electrical or utility) come by your house every 3 weeks to INTERRUPT what you’re doing so he can remind you of how much more you can get from your cable channels, or a electricity rep stopping by to make presentations about more efficient light bulbs? No that doesn’t happen. What reps do is not about “sales”, it’s about PROMOTION, promotion of the messaging, the branding, and repeating it over and over and over until the marketing dept moves on to another brainchild “message” based on their market “research”, which is also canned.

    The essential messaging of the product’s differentiating features (and benefits) to the physician should be implicit in the relationship building. BUT, managers and home office types are CONSTANTLY shadowing reps in the field to watch us give these blasted canned presentations to an audience THAT WE HAVE INTERRUPTED from their daily business.

    New reps are trained to be human tv commercials, as if they are walking into an office with a sandwich board wih the product message on it, making the “impressions” with the marketing message. “once-daily”, “first oral”, “first nasal”, This is now a managed care world. When you see a tv commercial, does it EVER veer “offmessage” halfway through it to vary according to how the viewer feels at the moment ..or if the viewer is even paying attention ? Nah. SAME MESSAGE. OVER AND OVER. TO THE SAME PEOPLE. OVER AND OVER.

    Imagine in your blog here if you had posted the SAME exact article, every single day. Your audience will soon grow tired of the content–in a matter of days– and lose interest. I also think, quite strongly, that you wold be personally bored, unchallenged, and unmotivated, because all you’re doing is rolling out the same exact article every day. NOT EVEN A CUT AND PASTE…but to type the whole thing from scratch….you’d be VERY VERY bored before the end of the 2nd paragraph, and wondering “why am i doing this?”.

    So, we all wonder, in the present pharma model, “why do any of us with some brains even bother anymore “? We’re not paid for our brains, we’re paid to give the same old message to the same old audience day after day, and o nsome days we have senior managers looking over our shoulders to make sure we are doing it PERFECTLY.

    Mike, try it someday. Go out with a rep and you’ll see why we hate the scripted messaging. The messaging SHOULD be around the nature of the customer relationship: they are all physicians yes, but they are not homogenous in one big GROUPTHINK. Regrettably, the biz creates a singular message each quarter, and THAT is what the customer will hear over and over and over and over and over and over.

    I agree with “ME” above, that there are “sales pros” and then there are “pharma reps”. If you’re a sales pro, you know the difference.

  11. This may well separate the valued rep from the cookie cutter reps. You’ve got to know your material. Some days it’s as rehearsed, some days it’s unplugged, and other days it may have a back up chorus with orchestral accompaniment. Once the message is out, I’m looking for the continue call and “close.” One of the best days I had in the field with a manager was when I started a lunch presentation with, “How’s xxxxx doin’?” The physician went on to tell me the successes he had with the product, had some clarifying questions, and then wanted the run down on formulary. Walking out to the car, my manager said, “I was going to wring your neck! How’s xxxxx doin’?” I smiled and said, “They don’t teach you that in training.” Point is that I did my job and laid the foundation down. Now it was time for pull through, but there would be know pull through with out the presentation.

    Unfortunately, with very mature products and more restrictive managed care, I find myself spending the bulk of the time on access, prior authorizations, co-pay cards and hoping blood doesn’t shoot out of my eyes by the end of the day.

  12. Doctors hate cookie cutter canned presentations and is one of the biggest reasons they stopped seeing reps. That’s a fact and they don’t feel the reps are bringing any value coming in and giving a canned speech.

  13. Here’s another reasons why reps are being held tightly to the the scripted word. It has nothing to do with their abilities and everything to do with the actions of their predecessors. I spent a number of years on corporate compliance committees, and have seen examples where reps created “homemade” detail pieces that they thought could work better than the standard ones, sometimes with the encouragement of their manager. Any rep on this board who sees the word “homemade” knows what I’m talking about. These have the potential for creating regulatory and potentially legal consequences.

    I also agree with Mike that repetition and reinforcement can be a good thing. Otherwise you would have to accept the premise that the approach of reach and frequency first set forth by ZS Associates is completely without merit, which I do not. It was less of a problem when there were fewer reps with multiple products in their bags, that could vary the mesaage along with the product. However, I agree that when you have armies of reps tripping over each other in the same waiting room saying the exact same message, that can be a little much. In the old days when they spoke of the rep who “carried the bag”, that bag usually had lots of different products in it, amd the rep was conversant with them all.

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