Pharma Sales Reps Can’t Seem to Catch a Break; Here’s What’s Happening

Pharma Sales Reps Can’t Seem to Catch a Break; Here’s What’s Happening

Bringing Pharma Reps Back to the Top

Pharma professionals once coveted the job of pharma sales reps; at the height of its popularity, the position was held in the highest regard just a decade ago. As the last few years have passed, however, that has changed, and reps no longer need only to finish the job that DTC advertising used to do the “heavy lifting” on. Starting around 2012, major industry shifts all but thrust the brunt of the pharma sales workload into the laps of the reps.

Two major issues developed around 2012 that contributed to the big shift in sales rep reputation:

  •         The number of doctors willing and able to speak with reps during their busy shifts decreased rapidly.
  •         The new intrusive marketing strategies in pharma cast a “bad light” on pharma reps, and they began to not be so welcomed any more.

Accessing HCPs

In addition to a gradually increasing negative attitude toward pharmaceutical sales reps in general throughout the industry, there also arose additional issues with reps gaining access to health care providers. Much of this was due to the surge in the number of patients that needed to be seen on a daily basis, in addition to more administrative work that physicians are now required to do.

Doctors simply no longer have time for sales reps.

Every pharma sales pro dreams of accessible HCPs; industry standards state that for a physician to be considered accessible, he or she must meet more than 70% of the reps who approach them. The number of rep-accessible doctors is diminishing quickly, as is evidenced by these statistics:

  •         46% of HCPs were considered to be rep-accessible in 2015.
  •         In 2017, that number shrank to 44%.

What’s the big deal about a 2% drop in the number of accessible reps in two years’ time? At first glance, it doesn’t seem like there is a big deal here, until you consider this statistic:

  •         In 2008, the percentage of rep-accessible HCPs was 80%.

The big deal is that in less than a decade, the percentage of HCPs who made time for at least 70% of the reps who approached them was cut almost in half. To really demonstrate the issue that pharma reps today are battling, research shows that almost half of HCPs say they could easily imagine a world without sales reps.

But why?

Why Pharma Sales Reps are Battling an Uphill Battle


One of the reasons why physicians are becoming so much less accessible is the fact that there are just so many reps out there. While it’s true that the number of reps decreases year by year, on average, a physician gets over 2,700 contacts annually from pharma sales reps. This translates to an average of one sales rep contact for every single hour a physician is at work. These contacts include phone calls, personal visits, emails, and more. With so many sales reps out there pounding the pavement, it’s more difficult than ever before to stand out and establish a meaningful relationship with HCPs.

Face-to-Face is Out

Physicians have followed suit with the trend of going digital, which means that approaching them directly is no longer a preferred method of communication. In fact, research shows that almost 80% of doctors prefer getting information online instead of talking with a rep. The screen is now the best place for reps to meet HCPs – 82% of them visit pharma websites to check dosing information and 74% of them visit to find clinical trial info. In addition, 70% of doctors visit pharma websites to look for materials to assist patients. Digital marketing for pharma can amplify success and help provide materials to HCPs at the same time.

Riding the Routine

Reps are notorious for sticking to routines – which is one of the most common complaints from doctors. Physicians generally consider the performances of pharma reps to be repetitive and almost scripted, with very little personalization. Things have not changed greatly, and although reps have new tools at their disposal as opposed to what they had twenty years ago, their approach has remained very much the same. It’s critical that pharma reps personalize their approach for every single physician that he or she visits in order to present information concisely, accurately, and meaningfully.

Mastering the Right of Refusal

Some medical schools have entire classes devoted to teaching students how to encounter sales reps – doctors are essentially taught how to say “no”. They are also trained to tell patients not to take highly advertised drugs and to instead opt for something that is more effective, even if it’s less known. It’s difficult to convince a patient to take a drug that isn’t widely known, which often also means more of their time is spent doing so. Add that to an increasing number of patients and piles of paperwork and digital record-keeping, and it gets to the point where physicians have no extra time left for reps.

How Can the Pharma Industry Help Reps?

Believe it or not, there is still a place in today’s world for the traditional pharma sales model. It just needs updating, which means investing more resources into digital. A healthy mix of both digital promotion and sales calls is best; however, research shows that despite the digital revolution, almost 90% of all marketing and sales funds still go to sales reps, even though most contact made with HCPs today are through digital sales channels.

Since physicians regularly visit pharma websites, it presents the perfect opportunity to provide useful materials for those HCPs. The key is that whether it be via sales reps or digital medium, pharma can help reps out by making available everything the doctors ask for. Don’t bombard them with scripted presentations offering the same old info they already know; reps need to come right out and ask what the physician prefers. Something that is new for HCPs is a rep who listens to their needs instead of pushes through canned presentations.

An effective sales contact means showing the right materials at the right time. Research shows that oncologists, for example, want fresh data delivered within six months of a new product launch. Make sure new data is sent out as soon as it’s available and present it in an engaging manner. Using video is very effective because according to research, doctors remember over 90% of information from a video, as opposed to only 10% from text.

Finally, don’t make the mistake of using call frequency as the only measurement of success or failure. Leverage as many channels as possible, tailoring each approach to each specific physician to truly maximize results. Sales rep calls are only part of the equation, remember – and although they are struggling in the age of digital data, there is still plenty of space for them, if they are willing to re-shape their approach in order to fit into that space.

If you’re looking for more effective ways to develop meaningful sales relationships with HCPs, learn all the latest inside news and protocols by attending pharmaceutical conferences designed with sales reps in mind.


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By |2020-04-26T18:43:15-04:00September 24th, 2019|

About the Author:

An accomplished writer, editor, and Director of Content with over a decade of professional experience, Laura is the recipient of numerous industry awards and accolades. Also a professional photographer and hobbyist musician, she brings creativity and sound knowledge of writing principles to the table for clients across the globe.

Her writing and editing experience includes pieces for a variety of niche clients ranging from large global corporations to small, local brick-and-mortar businesses, producing works for everything from premier online medical magazines and real estate entrepreneurs to small town appliance stores and solo professional photographers.