A decade ago, pharmaceutical sales representatives were in great demand. Their jobs also seemed relatively easy. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising helped market medical products. Sales reps only needed to come in and conclude sales. Physicians used to enjoy their visits.
However, the pharma industry underwent many changes. Correspondingly, marketing and sales also changed. As a result, the job profiles, roles, and even lives of pharma sales reps are slowly changing.
Overview of Pharma Sales Rep Jobs
Marketing in the pharmaceutical industry ranges from advertisements, commercials, and sales rep visits to doctors’ offices, and educational or scientific activities, such as industry‐organized conferences and clinical studies.
Among all these, detailing or sales representative visits to doctors is the most common marketing method. Pharma sales reps are the strongest link between the pharma industry and healthcare providers.
They communicate approved label information for drugs. Although their jobs can be quite taxing, pharma sales reps generally receive good remuneration.
Pharma Industry: Changes and Challenges
Nature of products: The industry has been shifting from generic drugs and primary care markets, which see higher sales, to niche drugs and specialty care.
Marketing: Pharmaceutical companies are slowly realizing that they have to treat healthcare practitioners and patients as consumers and reach out to them via multiple channels. They are shifting towards digital communication as it is a faster, less expensive way to engage with many doctors.
Many of them have their own customized digital systems to monitor sales. They also gather feedback from online forums, blogs, wikis, and professional networking sites.
Target audience: Emerging markets, such as India, Russia, Brazil, and China, will influence growth in the pharma sector. With modern communications technologies, pharma companies will be able to manage multi-country launches with ease.
Regulations: Pharmaceutical companies are subject to many laws and regulations governing the sales and marketing of drugs, such as the guidelines issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Physician-Pharma Sales Rep Interactions
Apart from the changes in the pharma industry that affect them indirectly, pharma sales reps face direct challenges in their profession.
Many physicians restrict access to pharma salespeople due to the following reasons:
- Physicians have more patients to see these days. They have more administrative duties and paperwork. This leaves them with no time for the many sales reps, who vie with each other to meet them.
- Sales reps may give free samples and gifts to physicians. However, many physicians view this as a way to influence them to prescribe expensive drugs to patients.
- Doctor-sales rep interactions are always under scrutiny. Besides, the Open Payments program of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) mandates that physicians and teaching hospitals provide detailed information about payments and other gifts they receive from pharma companies.
- Doctors prefer getting information online. They feel that sales reps don’t deliver any updated, relevant data.
If and when they meet physicians, pharma sales reps have little time to elaborate on their products, let alone establish good relations.
The Future of Pharma Sales Reps
Pharma sales reps operate in a rapidly evolving environment. The number of pharmaceutical sales reps has been declining since its peak in the late 1990s. They can adopt the following measures to perform well in the future.
Knowledge and skills: Sales reps should have pharma sales qualifications and experience. Technical knowledge and social media skills are indispensable to keep up with online-savvy healthcare practitioners and patients. Foreign language skills will also be handy, with the upsurge of the pharma markets in developing nations.
Time management: Pharma sales reps should manage the time and frequency of their visits to physicians. They should prepare detailed information about the products they wish to introduce in advance.
Communication: Physicians usually want the latest patient-centric, digital content. Sales reps should check each healthcare practitioner’s preferred channel of communication and deliver information accordingly. They should avoid any repetitive sales talk.
Role requirement: Sales reps may have to provide customer solutions, thereby bringing added value to pharma companies. The pharma industry has already started using non-personal promotion (NPP) channels, such as emails, chats, and mobile alerts, to reach out to physicians. Sales reps should use NPP effectively to enhance physicians’ experiences and not let those channels replace them.
Sales reps need to be more flexible and insightful enough to adapt to changes. This will ensure that they remain unchallenged as one of the major driving forces in the pharmaceutical industry.