Is the Pharmaceutical Medical Sales Rep an Endangered species?

death_of_a_medical-salesmanAs the multiple tiers of influence across healthcare networks continue to change and evolve, there can be little argument that the traditional pharma company sales force is losing effectiveness. However, it is also vital to note that there is still an important role to be played by the traditional pharma sales reps. The industry is currently rethinking the sales force model.

How can pharmaceutical companies revitalize their sales model and regain their consultative status and influential role in physician’s choice of  medicines?

Personal selling with a well-trained sales rep will not be replaced, at least not within the next decade, but sales representatives will be required to bring value to the table, functioning not only to move their brand’s share, but also as partners in the healthcare cooperative. Dialogue is essential. This will require having the reps understand the big picture: the market, the competition, their product’s share of voice. In this scenario, the purpose of the sales call takes on increased enormity. The rep is there to help the physician make the best decisions and provide the best treatment for their patients. This is the rep as a problem solver, a resource who adds value to physicians.

The customer-centric approach: a new model for pharmaceutical sales

The physician’s world has changed significantly in the past decade and will continue to change. To be effective, sales representatives must keep pace with this change and expand the scope of services they provide. A customer-centric approach focused on how best to deliver value to the physician will guide these efforts. Based on field data, segments and territories, pharma companies must paint an individual, centralized picture of each physician and then use this information to create appropriate and relevant communications. It is crucial for pharma companies to make sure that physicians receive the information they need at the right time and in their favored format. This customer-centric approach enhances the role of the sales reps. They become trusted partners in a two-way dialogue, which increases their influence and improves job satisfaction.

The following five best practices should be used to make pharmaceutical sales more customer-centric:

1. Making information available for sales reps everywhere & anytime

Physician prefer to work with sales reps who have an extensive product understanding, a clinical perspective and constant access to additional, up-to-date information. Sales reps should be familiar with local hospital and pharmacy practices and react quickly to requests for more information or samples. Ideally, they should be able to compare products across a range of parameters, besides cost. Aligning specific content and materials with the appropriate sales rep helps ensure this information satisfies individual customer needs, for example:

  • Developing and implementing guidelines for patient compliance;
  • Supporting disease management by advising the physician on long-term care;
  • Participating in partnerships that help design innovative cost containment approaches and effectively execute contract strategies;
  • Maintaining access to managed care networks.

The abundance of data available on competitor products, demographics, disease management, patient compliance and prescribing behavior can help sales teams to create messages that  effectively support the restructured sales force.

2. Meeting physicians’ needs

Pharma companies have recognized that different physicians have different needs for information. New sales force strategies align sales resources to reflect these variations. The new sales models aim to focus on a particular territory, physician specialty or physician practice size and organization type. They segment physicians based on their  requirements, plan sales activities and design more customized campaigns. The impact of new approaches will depend on adding value and objective, timely, and relevant clinical information. Relevance and value will be more important than frequency of contact. This will benefit company productivity while satisfying the needs of the physicians and their patients. Some new models respond directly to physician complaints of “oversaturation”. They reduce the number of physicians assigned to a single rep and increase the number of products the sales rep presents. The result is that the physician sees fewer sales reps.

3. Enhancing the dialogue with electronic communication tools

Today’s physicians expect a prompt response to requests for additional information or samples. Therefore, sales reps need a number of tools to hand which run e-mail, CRM, and sample tracking applications, and can store the product information and related research, organized by therapeutic area. If sales reps manage to reply quickly to physicians’ queries via e-mail, this will strengthen the physician-representative relationship, and lead to higher levels of prescription and sales growth. Using e-mail might not appear very innovative, but there are numerous advantages to it particularly as doctors now increasingly rely on the internet to access the better part of their product information.

4. Timing sales and marketing activities

Frequently, doctors confront sales reps with detailed questions based on research they have already received from the marketing department. Sales representatives, however, often do not have the same information available. Today, software systems track all emails, whether sent by the marketing department or exchanged between physicians and sales reps. Based on this sales and marketing feedback loop, sales representatives
are able to check which data on a specific product a physician may have already received. Sales managers can use this e-mail communication to enhance physician segmentation and to oversee each sales rep’s activity and schedule additional visits, where necessary. Marketing plays a pivotal role in providing reps with the data and instructions they need to better serve physicians.  Information should always address specific requests rather than flood the physician with huge amounts of data.

5) Designing customer-centric territories

Pharma companies can build more efficient and effective territory plans for their sales force by maintaining a single, detailed profile for each physician,. With the support of automated CRM systems, doctors can maintain relationships with specific sales reps and also receive relevant information at the right time, which results in increased service satisfaction. Sales reps, on the other hand, will appreciate acceptable travel distances and times, leading to higher staff retention and motivation. Moreover, costs can be controlled and reduced through careful territory planning.

From mass army to specialty sales force

The mass army of sales reps were supported by an equally powerful mass market approach to direct-to-consumer advertising. The industry launched new products with big-budget campaigns. These mass market strategies worked perfectly to drive diagnoses and prescriptions of
blockbusters especially in US, but the landscape has shifted.

Also, one of the principal tools pharmaceutical companies currently use to get access to doctors – the distribution of free samples – will be irrelevant in most cases. Specialist medicines often require refrigeration, must be administered by a healthcare professional and are much more expensive to produce than small molecules. These product characteristics make sampling impractical and economically unfeasible. The product-service offerings the industry develops must therefore be both clinically and economically compelling, to ensure that it can reach the physicians who typically prescribe such treatments. Most companies will thus have to change their marketing and sales functions quite substantially, as their focus switches to specialist medicines. Rather than hiring huge numbers of sales representatives to knock on the doors of general practitioners, they will have to employ a small cadre of specialists who can negotiate with large healthcare payors and talk to highly qualified consultants on an equal footing. Clearly, the specific organizational model different companies adopt will depend on their individual requirements.

About the Author

Dipesh Majumder

I am a Marketing Technologist, a strategist & a visionary with over 8 years of experience in traditional & digital marketing. I have been responsible for the development & execution of sales force effectiveness strategies, tools, processes for global Pharma sales organizations. Lead key initiatives, critical projects & continuous improvement activities.

Chennai, India ·

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