By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
Not so long ago, only a few hospitals and medical practices had some sort of “ambassador” on their staff. But as healthcare marketing and delivery systems have changed in recent years, this occasional and sometimes informal position has evolved significantly.
Practices, hospitals and health systems large and small have hired physician liaisons for the primary and highly important work of winning doctor referrals. Competition and consolidation have created necessity and demand, and it’s now commonplace to find one or more “rep” staff positions.
Although the job titles vary a bit—Physician Liaison, Physician Relations, Practice Representative—their primary task, often as an arm of healthcare marketing, is new business development.
At the same time, as the need to fill these positions has grown in the healthcare delivery sector, the pharmaceutical industry has been reducing its sales staff in huge numbers. For various reasons, there are fewer and fewer pharmaceutical reps in the field knocking on doctor’s doors.
It seems like a natural opportunity for this army of (former) pharma reps to try to apply their skills and experience in a physician liaison role. The transition isn’t always easy and their tactics are varied. Some former pharma people work as employees, while others choose to be free agent “hired guns.”
On the other side of the interview table, some providers want a “pay-as-they-go” employment arrangement, while still others want full-time, dedicated employees. We’ve found that the matchup—which seems like a natural fit—is sometimes not so natural after all.
On the plus side, reps do know how to visit practices and—at least occasionally—win doctor face time. Some pharma reps are quite good, but many don’t have all the skill sets. Often the trouble is that many pharmaceutical reps are not traditional sales people. Their experience is strong in waiting in lobbies and reception areas. And when the opportunity arises, they can knowledgably present details and educate.
Unfortunately, there’s a further “disconnect.” Since providers (the people in the position to hire) are not sales VPs, they don’t know how to evaluate sales talent and distinguish between someone who can actually make the sale and someone who merely presents well. That’s an expensive (and frightfully common) mistake.
Corporate America believes that someone is a qualified salesperson if they can routinely make sales. (In the business world, getting someone to sign a contract is quite different from being a presenter and educator.)
To make matters worse, most hospitals and practices do not know how to recruit, evaluate candidates, compensate, and manage physician liaisons. This is especially problematic because sales, sales management and sales talent are far outside of the culture. (Many not only misunderstand the purpose and function, they resent it.)
Oftentimes, we can be a “matchmaker.”
With all of that said, there is still an opportunity here. For hospitals, health systems and medical practices: We can help you find the right people and help with training, management, compensation, metrics, etc. And, if you are a former drug rep, or a physician liaison for that matter, please email us at: email@example.com.