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Will Digital Pharma Marketing Replace Sales Reps?

Even though pharma has had a bad rap for being old school, things are slowly picking up. More and more pharma brands are going digital and placing increasing focus on their online presence. Research has shown that the number of sales reps is decreasing every year, while bigger budget chunks are allocated to digital pharma marketing.

Does this shift indicate that traditional marketing models will soon be forgotten and that digital is making its way through? Let’s delve into the current state of affairs.

Why are sales reps in trouble?

Simply put, if you are a sales rep in pharma, you have your work cut out for you. It’s no secret that the number of patients is increasing each year. On the other hand, the number of available physicians is more or less stagnant. This means they have the same amount of time to stretch and provide adequate care to a larger number of patients. On top of this, there is an increasing number of obligations for HCPs to take care of.

It is therefore only reasonable that physicians cut short their time spent with sales reps. It’s pretty discouraging, but only 43% of reps are able to get through the front door and past the receptionist. If they do get an in-person visit with a physician, things are going to get even tougher. On a typical day, the average sales rep will only get two good details. This means being able to present all the relevant details about their product.

Let’s get some more disheartening numbers out of the way. If a sales rep is able to see an HCP, the visit won’t be too long. In fact, just 7% of all sales rep visits are longer than two minutes. Say that you’re finished and you’re hoping the HCP is familiar with your product, its benefits, and key scientific data. Well, that’s not going to happen, in the vast majority of cases. The average physician will remember only about 8% of what a sales rep tells them during a visit.

Why aren’t they listening? One of the most common complaints that physicians have is that sales rep info is biased. In fact, about 6% of all physicians think that sales reps are objective in the information that they provide.

Sales reps don’t come cheap

Sales representatives are the key connection between pharma brands and physicians, and their service comes at a price. In the USA, this price goes anywhere from $125,000 to $200,000 per year for primary care and up to $243,000 per year for those in charge of specialist physicians. Taking a look at the big picture, salaries for sales reps take up a large chunk of sales budgets for pharma brands – anywhere from 30 to 70%.

Translated into actual performance, the average sales call to a primary care physician in the US costs anywhere from $178 to $210. On the other hand, a single call with a specialist will set a pharma brand back anywhere from $267 to $285.

Take these factors into consideration along with sales rep performance figures from the previous paragraph, and the future is not looking so great. In fact, over 40,000 sales reps lost their jobs in the period between 2006 and 2013. As industry experts predict, the ratio of reps to physicians is bound to decrease in the years to come. Instead of 4:1, it’s more likely to be 1:1 in the future.

How to go forward

Sales reps are one of the major driving forces in pharma today. As such, they are here to stay. However, with the shift in physician behavior and free time, the way they do work will have to change.

As stated in Wall Street Journal, only 10% of interactions that sales reps have with physicians is digital. This means that the vast majority of communication still boils down to a face-to-face visit. As we discussed, this is no longer a viable option.

Instead of completely banishing sales reps from a pharma brand sales arsenal, it is time to equip them with new tools and methods of work. According to Fierce Pharma, more than 90% of physicians use digital channels to engage with their patients. This is where sales reps need to meet HCPs – on the digital frontier.

One of the best channels for presentation is video. Given how short the average visit is, instead of talking them through a presentation, sales reps can simply play a medical explainer video laying out the most important information from your medical publication.

Using video takes care of multiple problems in the traditional sales rep model. First, you save physicians’ time because the explainer videos are short and to the point. Second, they remember much more information from video than they do from spoken words or text. Third, video is truly multichannel – you can play it during a visit, send it via email, present it during conferences, place it on your website, and repurpose it in multiple ways.

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