Yesterday, as I was waiting in my doctor’s office, at least seven pharmaceutical sales representatives came into and through the office, all within a 30-minute time span!

That’s about one rep every four minutes! At that rate, my doctor could have seen about 60 reps yesterday.

To amuse myself, I carefully observed these reps in their natural habitat. It was an exhilarating experience that I urge everyone to try. The beauty of it is, you don’t need any expensive equipment like binoculars. You are immersed in the same habitat as your prey — you can even engage them in conversation.

There are a few essentials for the serious Pharma Sales Rep Watcher.

First, you must be able to spot a rep amongst the crowd. Almost invariably, sales reps are much younger and way better dressed than the typical watcher/patient. It’s not likely that the seventy year-old woman with the walker is a sales rep. Don’t even waste your energy observing that one!

Second, you must be able to identify the rep’s employer. There aren’t any written guides for this — reps are very circumspect about revealing their identities to rep watchers (aka, “patients”) who may be lurking in their territories. So, you’ll have to be very observant.

Often the rep carries a canvas bag with a drug logo on it. Yesterday, I spotted two reps that I could identify this way: one was carrying a Zetia bag and the other a Lamictal bag. The first rep, therefore, worked either for Merck or Schering-Plough. The other worked for GSK.

A rep’s bag, however, often is one of those bulky black boxes without any discerning logo. The only way to identify a rep carrying such a bag is to perhaps challenge your prey with a direct query such as “So, you’re a drug rep. What company do you work for?”

This tactic, however, may spook your prey to fly the coop!

Another tactic to employ is to sneak into the back office as the rep intercepts the doctor and overhear the 30-second detail spiel. However, often the rep merely shoves a sample receipt in front of the doc for a signature and then high tails it out of there.

Sometimes, you will be lucky enough to spot two reps from the same company working in concert. This is a very rare thing, however. I was lucky enough to spot such a pair yesterday, although I could not determine what company they represented. One was tall and rather good looking; the other was short and dumpy. My doctor is a BIG woman; any rep that hopes to bar her progress through the back office hallway must be equal to the task!

When there are several reps in the office simultaneously, you are in for a treat! I’ve only seen this a few times. Yesterday was one of those times — at one point there were 4 reps in the office at the same time. Two were sitting in the waiting room working on their notepad computers and two were in the back office hallway waiting to intercept the doctor.

The two reps sitting in the waiting room engaged in conversation, which was amiable. I am not an experienced Pharma Sales Rep Watcher, so I am not sure if this is a common thing or not.

One rep — the Zetia rep — was an experienced denizen of the habitat. The other — the Lamictal rep — was a newbie, trying to stake out her territory. The Zetia rep was very helpful and explained the procedure reps follow in this habitat, which is:

  1. If there are other reps, wait your turn just as if you were at a deli counter at the local Acme super market;
  2. Before entering the back office, the sales rep ahead of you must leave the back office;
  3. Ask the receptionist if it’s OK to drop off your samples in the sample room;
  4. After dropping off your samples, wait in the hallway until you can accost the doctor;
  5. Get the doctor’s signature and leave.

I saw this unfold before my eyes three times! It was a well-choreographed ballet!

The Zetia rep explained all these details to the Lamictal rep. She even pointed out where to find the sample closet. The Lamictal rep, however, flew out the door without ever dropping off any samples! Very unusual. I predict that her family will die of starvation, which, I am told, happens all too frequently in the harsh world of pharma sales reps.

When Pharma Sales Rep Watching, you should note carefully the sex of the rep and correlate that with the sex of the physician. The reason why this is important is that conventional wisdom says that sexual attraction between reps and doctors is exploited by the pharmaceutical industry (see “Sexy Reps Sell Rx“).

In my case, six of the reps were female and one was male. The physician is female. This may have been a rare mis-matching and I am excited that I witnessed it!

At one point I couldn’t help myself and I engaged the Zetia rep in conversation. I revealed that I was taking Zetia and Pravachol for my cholesterol and asked her if her company made a combination pill I could take. She mentioned Vytorin but wouldn’t say any more. She suggested that my doctor could tell me more.

By watching pharma reps in their natural habitat, I learned a lot. For one thing, I was surprised at the camaraderie among reps. They all knew each others’ names and shared experiences. I suppose, however, that these reps were not from competing companies. Still, this friendly repartee between reps belies the experience I had with reps on CafePharma (see “Banned from CafePharma!“), a notorious online pharma sales rep warren.

Which only goes to prove that in order to understand pharma sales reps, you must observe them in their natural habitats and you cannot believe everything you read on the Internet.