The question I get asked more often than anything is, “given what is happening in the medical/pharmaceutical world, is there a future for the pharmaceutical sales representative?”
The short answer, in my opinion, is yes. But, there is no doubt that with all the restrictions on access, the sunshine act and the changes in what representatives are allowed to say the way a medical sales representative can interact with health care professionals (HCPs) has changed forever.
When it comes down to the essentials, HCPs still need to be kept updated, and who better to be the purveyor of that information than the representative of the company who provides the service, device or drug. It happens in every other industry, so why not in medicine? Somewhere the perception has arisen that doctors will prescribe bad/wrong drugs for reasons beyond what is best for the patient. Now, in all walks of life there are some people who do things for personal gain, but in medicine I still firmly believe that the vast majority of doctors will give a patient the most appropriate drug for the individual and their condition as if they were a family member. The day has come where the doctor does not have the prescribing freedom that he/she once had. With restricted formularies, financial constraints and insurance coverage the decision on which drug is most appropriate has to include these intangibles.
In much of the research I have done over the last two years, HCPs and in particular specialists have told me that their available time during a working day to see medical sales professionals is limited at best. They have to see more patients and spend less time with each patient in order to maintain their income and cover their expenses. The attraction of private practice gets is diminishing with more and more doctors are joining larger groups or going “on-staff” as this is the only way they can practice medicine and live a life.
So, back to the question as to what is the future of the medical/device sales representative? The sales rep of the future is going to “carry” more than just 2 or 3 drugs in their hypothetical bag. They will have a scientific, nursing or medical background and be trained on a portfolio of products maybe even all the products that their company has. They will be available at a time of day and in a way that suits the needs and work day of the specialists they cover.
Many doctors stated that the only time they can interact with pharmaceutical sales reps is out of hours or at conferences. Many of the big institutions do not allow sales reps into the building. Yet, doctors still need to be informed of current developments and new therapies. They will seek out this information and expect to be able to get it when they want it. Online sales professionals will be available for virtual sales calls at all times of the day and night.
In all the research I have done, doctors do not like telesales but are more than happy to be “detailed” online as long as there is a visual component to the presentation and there is a real person at the other end of the interaction. Bottom line is that doctors cannot do their job without the pharmaceutical, medical device and biotech industry. They need to know what is current and in the pipeline and being people/people they would prefer to get this information directly from representatives of that industry. The industry needs doctors to test, use and refine what they do. A symbiotic existence continues to be needed but a status quo needs to be established in the new world we exist in.
What questions about the future of pharmaceutical sales do you have?