It’s a new world for pharma sales reps


Pharma sales rep with docs

Much is being written about the reduction in the number of pharma sales reps – down 25% from their peak in 2005 with additional declines expected. While the economy certainly is behind these declines, other reasons are cited. A tighter regulatory environment provides more restrictions on what reps can say and stiffer penalties when reps slip up. Docs have less time available to talk and in some cases docs are changing their prescribing practices because of influence by insurance companies.    

Let’s take a deeper dive. Today most primary care docs treat approximately 40 patients each day to make similar margins to what they made 5 years ago. One fall out is they simply don’t have the time to meet with pharmaceutical reps. By the end of 2011, it’s estimated that fewer than one in four docs will still be willing to meet with reps. A second implication of the changing pharma market is that many docs now view pharma sales reps solely as sales reps rather than experts.  While subtle, this is a critical distinction. It is at the core of how much perceived value the pharma rep brings to interactions and it affects both access to the doc and sales rep effectiveness.     

As we posted in an earlier blog, the void is being filled by digital sales tools like websites and iPad apps. Although they’ve been used in pharma for several years they are becoming more viable as docs are more comfortable using computers and accessing information electronically. With these tools docs can ask questions about drugs, order free samples and find out which insurers cover certain treatments. The changes are designed to cut costs and to reach docs in ways other than the office visit, which many docs say they find intrusive and annoying.    

For example, Novo Nordisk’s biopharmaceutical business in the U.S. reported that 72% of U.S. doctors own a smart phone, and 95% of them use it to download medical applications. The company now has several iPad/iPhone applications for docs. Eli Lilly now is considering “on-demand portals” so docs can access information instantly as they are treating patients.    

ePromotions, including online detailing, online events, and other ways to engage docs electronically, make up only 3 percent of total pharmaceutical promotion spending in the U.S. today; however, that’s triple the amount spent six years ago, when it made up just 1 percent of total spending. Yes, technology is playing a small role today, but it’s growing.    

©2011 Sales Horizons™, LLC     

Check out other posts on sales effectiveness at the Sales Training Connection.    


You can find many articles and research reports written about pharma and pharma sales reps. One recent piece you might want to look at is the cover story in the July 2011 issue of Selling Power. 

About Janet Spirer

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. Janet has followed two different, yet complimentary paths. First, as a B-School Professor she taught marketing, sales, and business strategy courses. She also managed a consulting practice focusing on sales productivity and marketing – working with a variety of clients ranging from Xerox to IBM. She translated those experiences into a book – “Parlez-Vous Business” – that helps sales people develop the business savvy to sell successfully. Since co-founding Sales Momentum® in 2000 with Richard Dr. Spirer received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, an M.P.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in Economics from Brooklyn College. She holds the appointment of Professor Emeritus at Marymount University.
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