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Pharma Sales Reps are Struggling – Here’s Why

Just a decade ago, the job of a pharma sales rep was much desired among pharma professionals. DTC advertising did most of the heavy work, and sales reps only needed to finish the job. Physicians loved to see sales reps popping by and welcoming them into their offices.

Then a major shift happened around 2011. With a rise in pharma’s new intrusive marketing strategies, sales reps weren’t so welcomed anymore. The number of physicians willing to talk to a rep was decreasing rapidly. And ever since then, things have been getting more difficult.

Physicians decline access to pharma sales reps

Besides the negative attitude toward pharma sales reps, there are additional problems with access to HCPs. With more patients to see every day and more administrative work to do, physicians just don’t have time for sales reps, and data shows it.

The rep-accessible physician is a dream come true, but that dream is becoming harder to achieve. Rep-accessible means that they meet more than 70% of sales reps who try to approach them. Unfortunately, the number of physicians like these is dwindling each year. In 2015, there were 46% rep-accessible HCPs, while the number shrunk to 44% in 2017. You may think that’s not all bad… But there were 80% of rep-accessible HCPs in 2008. In less than a decade, the percentage was halved, and there are no tendencies for growth or stagnation either.

In fact, things have gotten so bad that some people simply cannot stand another sales rep visit. As research shows, almost 50% of HCPs could easily imagine a world without sales reps. Ouch.

You may be wondering – how much face time does a sales rep actually have with a physician once they come in for a call? Data says it’s only a few minutes, as little as 2 minutes in most cases. Add to the fact that most sales reps have to travel across an entire region to see a physician in their office, and it becomes increasingly apparent that the current model needs to be changed.

Fierce competition

One of the reasons why physicians are increasingly declining access to reps is the fact that the number of reps is still fairly high. Even though the numbers are dwindling year after year, the average physician gets about 2,800 contacts per year from a pharma sales rep.

Translate that into working hours, and it turns out that for every hour spent at work, a physician gets contacted by a sales representative. As reports state, these messages get spread out across different channels, including in-person, email, phone calls, and other media.

As great sales reps can establish connections that last decades, it’s extremely important to click with physicians. However, as there are thousands of other sales reps out there, it’s getting harder every day to stand out, be memorable and establish a meaningful relationship with a physician.

Face-to-face communication is not preferred anymore

Lots of professions have gone almost fully digital, and HCPs are no exception. When it comes to sales rep communication, it means that approaching a physician directly is no longer the preferred option. As one research states, 79% of doctors prefer getting information online instead of a sales rep visit. This used to be true for younger physicians only, but nowadays, even older physicians simply like relevant information shown on the screen instead of in person.

Digital is the new frontier for physicians, and it’s the best place for pharma sales reps to meet them. Physicians visit pharma websites regularly for different reasons – 82% of HCPs visit them to search for dosing info. 74% of HCPs are on pharma websites to find clinical trial information. 70% of them look at pharma websites to find patient assistance materials. There are more compelling stats, but it boils down to this – it’s necessary to meet HCPs on pharma websites.

This is not to say that digital can replace face-to-face communication, it’s just that it’s not the preferred method anymore. However, digital marketing methods can amplify the success of pharma sales reps and help them provide additional materials that HCPs will appreciate.

Reps stick to a routine

One of the most common complaints from physicians is that sales reps don’t deliver any new, relevant data. In fact, their entire performance seems scripted or canned, with very little personalization. As a result, most rep visits seem repetitive and don’t keep physicians’ needs in mind.

As one fairly old article says, reps get so focused on their spiel that they have to carry it out completely, no matter what. Even if the physicians have questions, the rep continues presenting until they’re done.

Unfortunately, even 20 years later, things have changed very little. Today’s reps have new tools at their disposal, but their approach has remained very much the same. The majority of the time, the data that physicians get is the same data they could have gotten elsewhere. Moreover, their questions remain unanswered.

The key to fixing the routine is to personalize the approach to every physician that a sales rep visits, present data carefully and meaningfully, stand ready for questions, and answer them as soon as they arise.

Physicians don’t want free samples anymore

When you think about it, who could say no to a freebie? In the days of the old, HCPs loved taking a free sample of a new drug to try out. Although they didn’t always end up with patients, they were welcomed. Over time, physicians started viewing them as more pressure to prescribe expensive drugs to patients. Nowadays, it’s becoming increasingly harder to get HCPs to take a sample, no matter your therapeutic area.

Physicians are taught to refuse early on

Pharma sales reps may have been taught to sell as part of their education, but HCPs are no different either. Some medical colleges have entire classes devoted to ways to encounter sales reps in our outside of an office.

Besides learning how to say no, physicians are taught one more thing. If a patient comes in asking for a specific drug, programs like these teach them to put patients off. HCPs are trained to tell patients not to take highly advertised drugs and instead opt for something less known but more effective. This approach is far from ideal, as it takes more time to convince patients about the benefits of a certain drug, instead of prescribing them what they desire. And with an increasing number of patients and a pile of paperwork, physicians can’t afford to spend extra time on this activity. Moreover, if a patient feels like a physician is pushing too hard, they might go somewhere else.

How to help sales reps

The traditional pharma sales model is far from dead, it just needs some revamping for the modern age. Namely, that means investing more time and resources into all things digital.

Instead of relying just on sales reps or just on digital promoting channels, what pharma needs is a healthy mix of both. As shown in research, 88% of all sales and marketing funds still go to sales reps. However, the majority of the contacts made with physicians were actually outside of sales channels.

Non-personal promotion is thus a very effective method that needs to be combined with the traditional sales model in order to maximize pharma sales reps’ efforts.

As we’ve already mentioned, physicians navigate pharma company websites frequently. This is the perfect chance to provide materials that HCPs can use. This can include dosage info, beyond-the-pill solutions, guidelines, general information not pertaining to specific drugs, and much more.

The top 3 channels for pharma marketers to reach HCPs are promotional emails, KOL webinars, and HCP portals. As webinars take significant time and resources and HCP portals have proven to be unsuccessful, email is one of the best channels to reach physicians. Moreover, email is the channel where it’s the easiest to monitor performance and calculate marketing return on investment.

It is far from ideal, with the average open rate for pharma marketing emails at 18.11%. The clickthrough rate is not much better, at 2.02%. On its own, email is not an impressive tool for sales reps to reach physicians, but it works well combined with other methods of personal and non-personal promotion.

Optimize your approach

The most effective way of ensuring your sales rep goes through physicians’ doors is by offering physicians exactly what they need, instead of bombarding them with canned presentations offering the same data that they’re already aware of.

Ask the physician about their preferred channel of communication. Whether it’s email, video, reprint, webinar, or e-detailing, each physician will have their own vision of how they like information delivered to them. By simply listening to their needs and desires, you’ll be able to outperform the competition by a landslide.

Offer fresh data

Did we already mention how most of the data in calls has already been heard before in some shape or form? If you have brand new data about a certain product, make sure to show it off. Especially if you’ve just launched a new product, physicians will be much more open to hearing about the latest advances instead of the same information from before.

However, the gate is only open for a limited period of time. As research has shown, oncologists prefer having fresh data delivered within six months from product launch, and data will differ across therapeutic areas. For example, if a disease is highly relevant at the moment, you will need to be more expeditive with delivering data during calls.

For this reason, make sure new data is sent out to the sales rep team as soon as it’s available, and it’s presented in an engaging format. We suggest using video, as it’s proven that physicians remember up to 95% of data from video, in comparison to 10% from the text.

Use tablets

The fact of the matter is, that lots of pharma companies and sales reps already use tablets in their promotion efforts. However, they’re not using them to their maximum potential.

An effective sales rep call means showing the right materials, at the right time. If all the sales rep does is present stale information on a reprint or a poorly designed infographic, they’re going to miss the mark completely.

Instead, you can turn your scientific publication into an engaging explainer video and have the rep show it on a tablet during their call. At BlueNovius, our PubExplainer videos are about 90 seconds long, which means that the physician will have enough time to watch the full length, even if they do have only 2 minutes available for the sales rep. What’s more, if they like the video and want to watch it again, the sales rep can simply send it to the physician’s email. Not only can they watch it again, but they’ll also be able to share it with their colleagues and your scientific data will get much more traction.

Don’t use calls frequency as the only metric

As we’ve written repeatedly, sales rep calls are only one part of the equation. In order to truly maximize your approach to physicians, you can and should leverage as many channels as possible. In doing so, you can also set different standards for sales reps to judge their success, not only by the number and frequency of calls.

For example, once you start using email marketing as a strategy, you can analyze performance by the number of opened emails and clickthroughs within those emails. Moreover, once you get into using video marketing, things get even easier. You can analyze each aspect of the video’s performance, including the number of views, where the biggest points of interest are, who specifically watched the video (which physician), and what kind of actions they took immediately right after watching. Put simply, video makes a sales rep’s job much easier to perform.

Improve non-personal promotion efforts

As can be seen from the research, NPP is one of the best complements to the traditional sales rep model for pharma. In our pharma marketing efforts, we found videos to be particularly helpful for amplifying sales reps’ efforts and helping them contact more HCPs.

With a solution such as PubExplainer, you can use videos as a great multichannel marketing device. We’ve had excellent results from using videos in emails when contacting physicians. One of the most effective strategies is using videos before a sales rep visits. As their time with HCPs is pretty limited, pre-educating the physician is key here. As your most important scientific information is laid out in a short video format, sales reps have the rest of the time for physicians’ comments, questions, and concerns. They’re able to take the call to the next level and build that relationship you are looking for.

Over to you

Are you looking for an effective way to get your foot through the physicians’ doors? Do your sales reps need a helping hand to see more physicians? At BlueNovius, we’ve been helping pharma brands increase their share of voice and maximize physician touchpoints for a decade.

We know what it takes to build a successful pharma marketing strategy and we can work with you on your way to success. Reach out to us today and see how to help your sales reps become influencers.

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