Drug Reps See Their World Changing

Drug Reps Soften Their Sales Pitches (New York Times)

Drug Reps Face ChangeAs we discuss in the Types of Selling Roles tutorial, the tasks carried out by salespeople differ depending on their job objectives.  For example, one of the most interesting differences is that the main task for some salespeople is not to convince a sales prospect to make a purchase; rather their main job is to convince the prospect to influence others to make a purchase.

Salespeople who call on ?order influencers? play a key role for many types of companies, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry.  Called missionary sellers or product detailers, the typical pharmaceutical sales rep visits doctors? offices and hospitals where they discuss products and provide samples.  But these sellers usually do not discuss products with the person who actually uses and pays for the medications, the patient.

In years past, the sales tactics of pharmaceutical reps were considerably less aggressive than salespeople in other industries, who are primarily involved in getting prospects to make purchase decisions (i.e., order getters).  However, over the last decade this changed as drug companies were finding they had fewer new products to sell while also facing more competition.  This led companies to increase the size of their sales force and train them to use more convincing selling approaches when discussing products with doctors.

But according to this story, the world of the pharmaceutical rep may be inching back to the earlier soft-peddling days.  In large part, this is a result of growing frustration among doctors, who are tired of dealing with pushy salespeople.  It is also due to increasing government regulation on what the reps can say about their product when they communicate with doctors.

In addition to the change in selling tactics, it appears the industry is now contracting.  According to statistics presented in this story, the number of pharmaceutical salespeople has declined by over 30% in the last five years and many expect it will continue to trend down for some time.

Sales representatives still pay 115 million visits to 340,000 doctors each year, and some companies and reps have kept up the old, aggressive tactics. Doctors still complain about receiving inappropriate pitches from particular firms, and many hold the pharmaceutical industry and its marketing practices in low esteem. Earlier this year, 23% of 680,000 doctors surveyed by market research firm SK&A said they refused to even see drug reps.

What does the future hold for the pharmaceutical sales force?

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