Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Pharma Sales Rep of Tomorrow

Pharmaceutical companies are dramatically reducing the number of pharma sales rep jobs. According to searches performed on, pharmaceutical sales rep jobs have declined nearly 50% over the past 5 years. This is an astounding figure for an industry which has historically depended on sales reps detailing prescribers.

There are several major factors driving this decline:

1. Shift to higher-growing markets, such as China, and away from low-growth territories, such as the USA.

2. Physicians are increasingly time constrained due to declining reimbursement. With less income per patient, physicians are seeing more patients per day, at the expense of the time which would have been spent with a pharmaceutical sales rep.

3. Much of the information provided by sales reps is now readily available online. Critically, high quality information is becoming increasingly available on mobile devices and tablet computers.

4. Because of time constraints and the widespread availability of digital resources, physicians want information that relates to innovative products and/or innovative clinical trial results, but that is not readily available elsewhere.

So what will the pharmaceutical sales representative of tomorrow look like? We think that the pharmaceutical sales rep is not a thing of the past. However, the qualifications of the pharma sales rep will change dramatically. We think that the sales rep will not be a "direct" sales person, in the traditional sense. Rather, we think that the sales rep of the future will be a combination of medical/technical knowledge and Internet marketing or search engine optimization skills.

From a medical perspective, it will become increasingly important for tomorrow's pharma sales reps to have some medical training, such as degrees in pharmacy, nursing, or pre-med. This clinical and scientific background will become increasingly important as therapies become more complex, such as RNAi therapies, therapeutic vaccines, and so forth.

However, as more and more marketing becomes digital (especially mobile), having sales reps with search engine optimization and internet marketing skills will become increasingly important. Pharma marketing groups will need to think about how to achieve high-ranking positions for their products and information in search engines (both PC and mobile-based). They will need to understand how physicians use search, online encyclopedias, journal repositories, and the lay press to uncover and use medical information.

What we are proposing is more than simply digital marketing. What we are proposing is a migration from detailing to online sales. In fact, shifting the marketing effort online also means that product sampling must also follow suit, as the sales rep will no longer be there to drop off product samples as part of the detail.

If this is true, then there are several implications:

1. Current and future reps will need additional training beyond their pharmacy or nursing degrees. Specifically, additional training will be required in SEO and online/internet marketing. Degree candidates with dual degrees in, for example, pharmacy and IT may be especially valued.

2. The sales efforts can be increasingly outsourced, but only to those companies who have this blend of internet marketing and clinical experience. Simply "renting" sales representatives will be insufficient.

3. Online marketing will have to be available in multiple formats (PCs, mobile devices) through multiple channels (search engines, online encyclopedias, social media, etc.).

These are both frightening and potentially exciting times for the pharmaceutical industry to reshape how it conveys information to physicians. It is our hope that these changes lead to better information transfer to physicians and better patient care.

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