The Disappearing Pharmaceutical Sales Role
Editorials and commentary on Pharma web and blog sites continue to highlight the massive layoffs of pharmaceutical sales reps. These are frequently accompanied by commentary with justifications and desperate rationalizations for maintaining the role of the traditional pharmaceutical sales representative. Most frequently, the commentaries blame regulatory constraints and promotion guidelines for the diminishing value reps can now provide. Many forget that the industry has brought this upon themselves by repeatedly compromising market trust with blatant advertising and promotion abuses.
Here is the reality. Physicians no longer value sales people or the information they try to convey. Patients and office staff see sales reps waiting in the office delaying appointments and taking up physician time. Managed markets find sales people a nuisance and counterproductive to their formulary management and cost control initiatives. Legislators and regulators see the reps as uncontrollable extensions of the “not to be trusted” corporate, Big Pharma and feel compelled to restrict sales activities. Yes, the reality is that sales reps and the information they convey are no longer respected, valued, or trusted. The traditional pharmaceutical sales role has become ineffective, and is quickly becoming obsolete.
If the industry has any hopes to deliver product information “in person”, it needs to abandon this traditional sales rep model, including the hiring profile, job requirements, title, and incentive compensation plans. Yes, get rid of it completely. There is no transformation or minor adjusting that will change the market perceptions or the effectiveness of this outdated model.
Healthcare providers in the evolving new healthcare market will still need information and education about pharmaceuticals and therapeutic options. The internet, continuing medical education, and scientific meetings and conferences will continue to be major sources for product information. If the industry feels a need to continue to communicate product information “in person”, their only hope is with smaller therapeutic area teams consisting of far fewer life sciences trained (degrees) medical specialists with clinical training and therapeutic area expertise. Call them what you like (except sales people), their job will not be to “sell”. They will report to Medical Affairs in research, are salaried professionals with incentive compensation (if there is any) based on advancing their therapeutic expertise. Their role will be as therapeutic consultants to healthcare providers and managed plans. No slick marketing materials or gimmicks to curry favor. Their value is their familiarity with the literature, knowledge about the nuances of therapeutic options (competitive products including generic drugs) as they are of their own and they can back up claims and recommendations with data and literature support. Their job is to ensure the appropriate use of drug treatment, regardless of which product the healthcare provider prefers. They will be seen and respected as therapeutic area experts.
While many might argue this sounds like the role of the Medical Science Liaison. I would agree except that the industry has also corrupted and abused this once valuable resource, pushing them to glorified sales roles or enlisting them to covertly and overtly promote products for “off-label” use. The roles proposed here are for true expertise, no sales responsibilities or expectations, and a genuine interest in supporting the information needs of healthcare providers for the benefit of patients.
The second management or aggressive marketers decide to take advantage of this newly established resource and push this group to a sale responsibility, they will once again, mitigate the value and compromise perhaps one of the last opportunities for credible, value-adding “in person” communication of product information with healthcare providers.