I and others have speculated about the demise of the pharmaceutical sales representative position. Diminishing physician access, regulatory constraints on promotion, outdated activity – oriented management expectations, and misguided and sometimes misleading marketing materials that seem to have been developed by clueless corporate – based MBAs have all challenged even the best of sales representatives trying to do their job. Rather than dwell on what has gone wrong, and why the traditional sales representative role isn’t working any longer, let’s take a look at where to go from here.
To survive, most would agree that pharmaceutical sales representatives must add more value for customers and be able to justify the substantial expense of continuing to have them in the field. One of the more popular solutions often proposed is to enhance the scientific and technical expertise of those who want to pursue this profession, modeling the position closer to that of a Medical Science Liaison. But, after having spent considerable time reflecting on this I have come to the conclusion that the challenges facing the sales representative position are not necessarily just related to the lack of skill, competence, or expertise. Rather, I believe the pharmaceutical sales representative dilemma is a symptom of the current state of industry dysfunction with broad based, deep seated root causes within most pharmaceutical companies.
If this is true, then companies and especially senior commercial management are making a huge mistake and wasting time and money by taking a narrow minded approach to resolving this problem by thinking that this is a sales issue best left to sales management to figure out and fix. It is equally naive to think marketing can figure this out and strategically determine the clever new tactic to resolve this “sales” issue. Territory realignments, new territory management analytics, flashy new electronic detailing aids, and even enhancing hiring standards are desperate attempts at a magic bullet, quick fix for what I believe is a much broader, inherent organizational misalignment with the evolving healthcare market. Companies that appreciate the pervasiveness of the organizational dynamics that impact the sales representative will be able to more efficiently identify the changes needed (less trial and error) and will be able to deploy more impactful commercial organizations for the evolving new healthcare market.
Over the next several posts, we’ll discuss the basis for this conclusion (Hint: it starts with the customer), what organizational changes companies need to make (Hint: it has less to do with sales than other parts of the organization) before company representatives can once again add value and justify their deployment, and finally how the job description for field deployed company representatives will change.