The role of a pharmaceutical sales representative has changed dramatically over the last decade. Calling on physicians, pitching a product, and calling it a day is a process of the past. Only the strongest pharma reps survive, as over 25,000 pharma sales rep positions were lost in the economic downturn from 2006 to 2011.
Less Access to Physicians
It's much harder for pharma sales reps to get face time with physicians than it was even 6 years ago. In fact, studies show that physicians are now twice as likely to place moderate or harsh restrictions on their meetings with pharma reps than they were in 2008.
This has two distinct implications for pharma reps. First, it means that they have to make the most of the time they get in front of physicians. Second, and most importantly, it means that it's increasingly important to find alternative methods to get in front of physicians. These alternative methods will largely include technology, the focus of our next major industry shift.
Use of Technology is Increasing
Technology has become a critical piece of the pharma sales puzzle. A recent survey of pharma reps found that 58% believed technology had moved from being a distraction to being an important sales tool. Combined with the fact that 67% of physicians rely on digital media to obtain information versus 20% that rely on traditional sales reps- and it's clear that technology is vital.
Many doctors, for example, will prefer perusing emails or browsing websites to a traditional sales call. A successful pharma rep will need to engage physician prospects digitally as well as face-to-face. Busy physicians may find it easier to fit a quick webinar or Skype call into their schedule, and reps should be prepared and ready to lead these whenever necessary.
Another way to think about it is that pharma reps will move to fill the role of multi-channel content distributors, rather than traditional salespeople.
Meeting With More Than Just Physicians
Since 2004, the number of physicians that work as salaried employees for their hospital system has nearly doubled. These physicians are less likely to have autonomy in pharma purchasing decisions, making it necessary for reps to meet with people across the chain of command. These sales reps act as account managers rather than salespeople, managing a portfolio of professionals that includes doctors, payer representatives, nurses, pharmacists, and even administrators.
Pharma reps will be forced to discern each stakeholder's concerns quickly. Doctors could be worried about the product's effectiveness, payers might be nervous about the product's affordability, and administrators may possibly worry about both equally. A skilled rep will be able to quickly figure these concerns out, and have the knowledge to address them fully.
Training these successful pharmaceutical sales reps is trickier than before, but it can be done. Providing them with the tools to make the most of their face time, reach physicians using technology, and speak to a wider audience, will help ensure any pharmaceutical rep will be ready for success. For more information about successfully training pharma reps, check out this post reflecting on sales training