How to Make Friends and Influence Doctors

I got a little behind in my reading list this year, but I’m just finishing up Ben Goldacre’s Bad Pharma and it’s really good. Highly recommended if you want to know all sorts of excruciating detail about how we get the drugs we do, and lose faith in most everything.

The book introduced me to a paper from 2007 called “Following the Script: How Drug Reps Make Friends and Influence Doctors“, where a former pharma salesman lays out the different categories of doctors he encountered and how he worked to sell to each of them. This includes a whole table with doctor categories including “The friendly and outgoing doctor” and the “aloof and skeptical” doctor, along with the techniques used to sell to each.

Since Goldacre is the absolute epitome of “aloof and skeptical” he added his own explanation of the tactic they use on evidence based doctors:

“If they think you’re a crack, evidence-based medicine geek, they’ll only come to you when they have a strong case, and won’t bother promoting their weaker drugs at you. As a result, in the minds of bookish, sceptical evidence geeks, that rep will be remembered as a faithful witness to strong evidence; so when their friends ask about something the rep has said, they’re more likely to reply, ‘Well, to be fair, the reps from that company have always seemed pretty sound whenever they’ve brought new evidence to me…’ If, on the other hand, they think you’re a soft touch, then this too will be noted.”

Maybe it’s just because I’ve never been in sales, but it really had not occurred to me that was a sales technique a person could use. Sneaky.

Of course I then realized I’ve seen other, similar things in other situations. While most people know better than to come to me with shoddy stats during political debates, I’ve definitely seen people who told me that they personally agree certain numbers are shoddy later use those same numbers in Facebook arguments with others who aren’t quite as grouchy. It’s an offshoot of the old “be pleasant while the boss/parent is in the room, show your true colors later” thing. Like a data Eddie Haskell. I may have a new bias name here. Gotta work on this one.

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