Internet Killed the Pharma Sales Star

Well it doesn’t exactly roll off your tongue like the iconic hit, Video Killed the Radio Star by the Buggles, but the title is perhaps foreshadowing to the inevitable…the reduction of pharmaceutical sales rep and their role in the drug marketing process.

The infamous Accell report (“Through Our Customers Eyes”) find many revelations in regards to pharmaceutical sales and marketing. There is lots of data in the report, but my key takeaways include –

  • Between 1995 and 2000 the number of pharmaceutical sales reps almost doubled, yet the sales generated were not nearly proportional to the increase in reps

  • About 10 years ago, adding a rep to the sales force yielded 750,000 visits per year. By 2000, the number dropped to just 17 visits per year. Today, more than 90,000 drug reps compete for the attention of 768,500 doctors.

  • For every 100 visits, only 8 reps succeed in speaking to a physician and being remembered.

What gives? Did drug companies loose sight of the value that solid pharma reps provide to the physicians? Is the proportion of reps to physicians at its saturation point? Do the physicians simply no longer trust a typical rep? I believe it to be a combination of the later and the three major reasons why eDetailing is on the forefront of many product manager’s minds and also of execs with companies such as Pfizer, Seprocor and GSK who have slashed their sales forces. Bob Dylan said it best…Times are a Changing.

Against the backdrop of the Accell report, electronic detailing (eDetailing) has emerged as an increasingly popular alternative, with 31% of physicians participating in eDetailing according to Forrester Research. For more on eDetailing see (

So will eDetailing kill the pharma star? In my opinion most likely - in due time of course. Like many industries, methodologies and processes, the internet and technology have revolutionized how people do things. Traditional drug detailing is no different. Today’s physicians have less time, are embracing technology and want to talk science. Studies indicate that physicians do not listen or care for pharmaceutical reps. The most impactful value proposition that a rep provides is samples.

There are research firms out there that walk a fine line on this issue suggesting that both eDetailing and traditional detailing can co-exist in harmony by allowing the reps to focus on details for “willing” physicians and leave eDetailing for the hard to reach folks. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Why not use the eDetailing machine to detail all physicians in a consistent, ethical and regulated manner yielding better educated physicians who can make the right therapeutic decisions. There’s also the potential of adding eSampling to this whole mix! On the flipside there is something to be said about relationship building between the rep and a physician for the pharma company, but as a consumer that’s exactly what I’d like to not happen.

Let’s face it, regardless of how unbiased a rep is, it’s in his/her best interest to spin the data and facts in favor of the company that they work for. If Joe Rep is counting on a huge bonus around the holidays to pay for his wife’s new Tag watch, Joe Rep is going to say and do what he has to, to establish credibility with the physician to net more prescriptions. You may want to take a look at a recent New York Time article (Dr. Drug Rep). The article is an example of the types of behavior that has shed severe scrutiny on pharma sales reps and the traditional marketing process.

Pharma companies are smart…really smart and are facing other promotional issues such as ghost writing, CME, and patent expiration for small molecules. Add the pressure of cost cutting and mergers and you get a perfect storm begging for a clearing. Enter eDetailing. It’s not the answer to all of pharma’s problems, but just may help them sing a different tune and revolutionize medical promotion by enhancing reach and message quality, while performing details with the highest integrity. Perhaps that tune would be Honesty (Billy Joel), or I could be completely wrong and we’ll all be singing Dream On (Aerosmith).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How true