Professional Pharmaceutical Representatives will be in High Demand

From our last post it should be apparent that successful pharmaceutical companies will move to a considerably more complex product sale than a simple discussion about indications for use and potential side effects or adverse reactions.   The technical depth of the science, the volume of data, and breadth of expertise required (basic sciences, therapeutics, diagnostics, pharmacoeconomics, and new quality metrics and outcomes) will require a level of scientific and technical expertise beyond that required or expected for most traditional sales presentations.  Success for pharmaceutical representatives will also require a much broader understanding of market dynamics (government, insurance, payers, and managed markets) and enhanced territory management skills beyond physician call scheduling.

I’m sure some readers are saying they already do these things and this is not new.  I am going to make a point here that might irritate some readers but it needs to be made.  There is a difference between being a sales representative and being a professional representative.  I believe sales representatives have little opportunity in the future of the pharmaceutical industry while professional representatives will be in high demand.

Being a true professional is more than just getting paid to do something.   So what’s the difference between being a professional and not being a professional?  One way to distinguish a professional from others is that they works so hard at being good at something that they can  even make difficult things in their profession look easy to do.

I know you have seen it.  There are those who always have perfect scores on package insert tests and always win the product presentation contests.  They even know stuff you don’t need to know.  They are also the ones who know every office staff person in their territory and have more access in their territories than most of their competitors.  They are always in their territories until late, sometimes even after most sales representatives would consider beyond a reasonable time to call on an office.

Professional representatives are frequently the ones who volunteer to help or mentor new representatives.  Probably most interesting is they are also the ones that seem to complain the least and accept regulatory or market challenges as something they just have to deal with.  And, while they may be critical of marketing materials, they offer constructive feedback and find ways to work with what they have.  They also welcome skillful manager coaching and performance reviews as ways to get critical feedback on how to get better rather than looking at them as their manager checking up on them and a scorecard for incentive compensation.

For every job there are different levels of performance and expertise.   If you are a sales representative you do what needs to get done, make the calls you can, learn enough about your products to deliver the marketing message and answer the important, high probability questions, and in the end,  hopefully you’ll deliver the sales expected.  You give the company a full day of “work stuff” and maybe even do some “work stuff” at home to make you feel better about being committed to your job.  Again, there are varying degrees of performance and expertise in being a sales representative.

If, on the other hand, you are a professional representative, you commit to a much higher level of job performance and expertise than merely going through the motions and doing “work stuff.”  You research more, study harder, practice often, and try to reach a level of job performance and expertise beyond the expectations of others.  You are doing it not just to increase sales in your territory.  You are doing it not just to be the smartest person in your district or to garner favor with your District Manager.  You are not even doing it just to please your customers.  You are doing it because it is your profession and you are committed to being a professional representative.

Today both types exist (pharmaceutical sales representatives and professional representatives) but I believe you have no choice in the evolving new healthcare market.  If you want to be employed as a pharmaceutical sales representative, your days are numbered.

If, on the other hand, you are committed to being a professional pharmaceutical representative you have a much higher probability for being employed and having a positive impact on patient care.  And while you may find the market more complex and products more technically difficult, you will find that overcoming those challenges will be even more professionally satisfying.  You will also find that patients in your territory who should be on your products will have a higher probability of that than if you are a pharmaceutical sales representative in that same environment.   Professional representatives will be in demand because, while there are plenty of people who can be pharmaceutical sales people, there are far fewer people who are ready, willing, and able to commit to the hard work and effort required to be a professional pharmaceutical representative.

In our next post we will discuss how the corporate mindset and expectations must be aligned to support professional pharmaceutical representatives in the evolving new healthcare market.

10 thoughts on “Professional Pharmaceutical Representatives will be in High Demand”

  1. Mike,
    I am one of those professional reps. that you are speaking about. They are in the industry where the product lines go beyond F&B’s, and that are predominantly related to a hospital based product line. Having said that, the most informed and scientifically based professional reps. are those that are self motivated to be informed of the sceintific and medical industry and managed market environment on their own because the pharma industry has not been very interested in providing the resources to become a professional rep. Why? Because lower level and higher level mgmt. (that would include all those MBA’s in marketing) are not knowledgable of this information, in some cases at all. Mgmt. becomes informed by those very professional reps. in the field who stay on top of their industry information, whether it is CMS requirements on Core Measures, Hospital Acquired Conditions (HAC’s), SKIP protocols, or Healthcare Reform issues. This information gets what the field refers to as “managed up” the chain of command. Unfortunately, the pharma industry is not very interested in the professional rep. from my perspective. Corporate culture in this industry is lacking in any depth of understanding or interest in understanding these very issues that you claim will be of value. The corporate environment is determined to keep the professional rep. from having a complete broad-base of knowledge, and in many cases show disdain for this type of knowledge from reps. (they can be fired from going beyond the madison avenue promo) Also, from my experience these reps. income levels are on the higher end in salaries, and many pharma companies simply do not want to pay for their years of experience & expertise. So unless the corporate climate recognizes the benefits of the broad-based knowledge of the professional rep., then the demand for these people will not fully be recognized. Having been in this industry too long to mention, sadly it is the opinion of many that that they do not, and the industry is headed down a path of major destruction.

  2. Unfortunately, your description of a “professional” rep further contributes to the decline of professionalism. In order to be a considered a professional, you must adhere to a code of ethics that places the interests of others before your own self interest. Think “First, do not harm”, etc. The fact is that pharma reps often know of unethical conduct on the part of the companies they work for, fellow reps and doctors, but fail to make an effort to correct that conduct.

    Until reps are at least theoretically required to talk doctors out of inappropriate uses of the drugs they push and consider collection and reporting of adverse events as an essential job duty, they will remain anything but professional.

  3. M Burton,
    You are correct. Professionals tend to rigorously police themselves to ensure compliance with ethical as well as legal standards for their profession. I believe professional representatives do adhere to a code of ethics and many work in this industry because they inherently want to help patients get better or live healthier lives.

    On the other hand, I don’t feel it is a professional reps responsibility to determine the appropriateness of a physician’s choice of treatment for a patient. It is the professional rep’s responsibility to discuss the product within label claims and with a balanced presentation of risks as well as benefits. They should be collecting and reporting adverse reaction data. They should not be soliciting or encouraging off-label promotion (if that is what you mean by “inappropriate use”). I also feel it is the professional rep’s responsibility to notify their manager and/or the company of what they see as unethical or illegal activity.

  4. Interesting description of the “professional”. I was a DM for a large major pharma co. for 23 years and hired hundreds. The person you describe was my dream hire and few and far between. But they were there and if a DM got them and was not intimidated to let them run they sure made our lives easier and better. Their talent was usually soon recognized outside the district and they were either promoted by me or another manager or ho. Pleasure though to really see someone go beyond in everything just because that is their makeup. Everything else postive usually followed those w this behavior. Bigger raises, awards, promotions etc. Most were just the average reps you describe that go through what they have been told to and either don’t want to raise their bar for what ever reason or are capability limited into just being an average rep going through the motions. Good call there I totally agree with you.

  5. mark,
    I appreciate your commentary because I, like you I’m sure, have heard too often that this “professional” profile for a pharmaceutical representative is not a realistic expectation. Good management and experienced DMs, in particular, recognize and treasure it when they see it and get to benefit from experiencing it. The industry and many inexperienced managers, however, undervalued the attributes of a professional representative and opted for competitive “critical mass” by throwing more people in the field and “filling positions.” The industry and pharmaceutical sales representatives are now suffering the consequences.

    I believe “professional pharmaceutical representatives” do exist and will prosper in the evolving new healthcare market. There are not as many as the industry might need nor as many as some managers might like to think there are, but they are there. I also believe these representatives will be valued for their professionalism and will be in high demand in the evolving new healthcare market. Again, thank you for sharing your experience and insights.

  6. Dear Mike,

    Great read. I fully agree with you. I have written 2 books for Pharma Front-line Sales professionals and would like to send copies to you.


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