From Salesperson to Concierge: The Evolution of the Pharmaceutical Representative
These days, the pharmaceutical representative’s role is less about being a sales representative and more about being a customer-service representative. Pharma reps are increasingly tasked with finding ways to anticipate and meet the needs of healthcare professionals (HCPs), providing them value far beyond samples and the branded office supplies of yore.
It won’t be an easy paradigm shift, or a fast one. After all, “detail men” have been playing roughly the same game for more than 150 years. But market pressure is on. It’s a matter of survival. There have always been “no-see” doctors, but as many as half may now decline visits from reps.
It’s time to rebuild bridges between HCPs and pharma, and while there are many digital tools that can help, the individual rep is uniquely suited to do this.
Information is instant now. In an age of smartphones and Siri, nobody needs a rep’s weekly visit to give them information. But a rep’s purpose has always lain more in being a concierge than in being Google. Their role is less to tell an HCP what he or she wants to know, and more to tell them what they didn’t know they didn’t know.
It’s analogous to a concierge at a luxury hotel. Their value is not in their ability to make reservations or offer maps — guests can do that themselves. The concierge’s talent is in the ability to understand what would be best for a guest — without the guest necessarily knowing themselves — and connect them with it as seamlessly as possible.
Financial changes will reflect this new “concierge” ideal, eventually. Glaxo famously overhauled its sales-rep compensation in 2011 — but only as part of a Corporate Integrity Agreement settlement. Reps now win bonuses based not on prescription volume, but on knowledge. The program has met with internal friction, though, and continues to be adjusted.
Blurring the line between rep and MSL?
Will making reps less sales-focused blur the line between their work and that of medical science liaisons (MSLs)? It’s a reasonable concern, but unlikely. MSLs — typically pharmacists or physicians — are scientific professionals employed to build relationships with medical thought leaders. They work less with active clinicians and more with research or academic HCPs, and focus is more often on research than on prescribing.
Data will drive a shift in rep activity
Will we see more representatives paid for their usefulness to physicians and patients, not by how many scripts their doctors write? Yes — as that work and its results become increasingly quantifiable.
The main reason it’s been challenging to date is that it’s been hard to measure “usefulness.” As MM&M noted recently in a piece on new data about sales reps: “The pharma industry's shift toward outcomes and accountability-based sales could be the catalyst for a new era of success for pharma sales forces.”
“The pharma industry's shift toward outcomes and accountability-based sales could be the catalyst for a new era of success for pharma sales forces.”
Rep tools (often tablet-based) are becoming more precise and able to feed back detailed data on HCP conversations. What is the path that the discussion takes? What matters and doesn’t matter?
Simultaneously, reps are increasingly armed with outcomes-based information and enabled to offer patient services “beyond the pill.”
This combination — more and better data to offer, and more and better data to gather — will be what overhauls the rep/doctor conversation, and the role of the pharma rep.
Where once a rep dropped off lunch, delivered some key messages and pointed to a glossy brochure, today that conversation can analyze data specifically useful to that practice — based on previous conversations, up-to-the-minute disease activity in the region, and global peer-reviewed data. It can offer tools for the practice and its patients that address unique and current concerns and issues — again, personalized based on constant streams of data.
When reps can provide unique, beneficial “beyond the pill” utility to HCPs and their patients, and their success in doing so can be accurately measured, we’ll truly have entered a new phase in pharma. The journey has already begun.
In 2011 and 2015, Intouch Solutions conducted surveys to gain insights on digital sales aid utilization. Learn more here.