Great Advice from Great Minds: How Shire Works in the Sweet Spot


Erik Cline, Shire’s Director of Marketing, talks to Jill Donahue, Principal, Engage RxBy Jill Donahue, Principal, Engage Rx

It happened again recently; a passionate conversation with senior sales and marketing leaders about how to make patient centricity work. “Have we gone too far?” they challenged me.

We talked about Adam Grant’s research. Grant found that people fall into one of three categories; Givers, Takers or Matchers. “Which one do you think does best?” I asked them. I shared with them the book he wrote called “Give and Take” (watch the HS&M interview about it here) in which he proves that “givers” win.

“So how does this play out in our pharma world?” they asked. Grant studied that too, I assured them, and I excitedly quoted page 140 from Give and Take.

“The defining quality of the most successful pharma rep, Grant discovered,” I told them, “is being a giver.”

What did he mean by a “giver” they wondered? “A giver is someone with an intent to help and serve with no expectation of reciprocity,” I explained. So basically, a rep who offers the solution best suited to patients’ and HCP’s needs.

Grant said that being a giver was the only characteristic to predict performance of pharma reps. And I again quoted from page 140 (my favorite page in his book!)

“It didn’t matter whether the salespeople were conscientious or carefree, extroverted or introverted, emotionally stable or anxious, and open-minded or traditional. The defining quality of a top pharma salesperson was being a giver.”

But…. can’t we risk giving too much?” these leaders questioned insightfully. “Yes!” I jumped in, “And that’s a problem for us. You see, Grant also discovered in his research that givers can also be the least successful. When givers have no self-interest, they risk being doormats. Givers can be either the top or the bottom of the success ladder. Matchers are always squarely in the middle.”

“So how does this work for us?” they queried. I showed them the image above and explained that we need to find the sweet spot—the intersection when the best interest of the patient, the HCP and the company all collide. We continued discussing examples of when they had worked inside or outside of that sweet spot. It proved to be highly illuminating! They realized where they should say “yes” and where to say “no.”


Erik Cline, Shire’s Director of Marketing, shared in my interview with him at eyeforpharma Philladelphia, a great example of working in the sweet spot and making the impossible work—when rallied around the patient.

What gets Erik out of bed each day is his connection to the patients. He noticed that the human connection between physicians and patients can often get lost. One might think it happens naturally but daily challenges can hinder their connection at an emotional level.

Erik and Shire saw an opportunity to humanize the connection between HCPs and patients. They brought adult patients suffering from Binge Eating Disorder to speaker programs to share firsthand with doctors their experience with their disorder and their treatments. The result? It changed the way the docs thought, how they felt and treated these patients. It built their confidence and helped them identify the patients and feel empathy for them.


“My legal and compliance would never let us do that!” you might be saying. And I asked Erik about this. His solution? Involve legal and compliance early and show them how this is in the best interest of the patient. Rally together around your combined goal to compliantly help the patient.

This is consistent with what Ed Wallace teaches in The Relationship Engine; “People like to work with people with whom they share common goals.” Best-selling author and behavioral scientist Daniel Pink assures us that

“Raising the salience of purpose is one of the most potent—and most overlooked—methods of moving others.”

Erik is practicing proven influence strategies in behavioral science by helping everyone connect to their purpose.

The program Erik describes is a great example of working in the sweet spot. As a result of this program, not only were the patients better understood, but the HCPs won, too; they felt more confident. And, of course, the company won as well. Not just in increased engagement of their associates, but ensuring that more patients were better understood. A true win for all.


If the HCPs need help connecting with their purpose—the quality of life of the patients — then clearly people in our organizations, who don’t have the benefit of seeing patients in front of them each day, also need help. So how does Erik help people at Shire connect with their purpose? He said a culture of putting patients first really starts at the top of the organization, with the CEO and leadership team. They demonstrate the difference between saying and living it.

“We are advocates for the patient throughout the whole organization,” Erik said.

Their Patient Ambassador program for binge eating in adults, building empathy in HCPs, earned them the Finalist category in the eyeforpharma awards.

Jill Donahue, HBa, MAdEd is on a mission to lift our industry, building purpose-driven, influential people. Through her keynote talks, workshops and award-winning mobile-learning programs, she is helping pharma people build trust, open doors and make a bigger impact.

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