Do you remember being a pharma sales rep 20 years ago...... has it really changed?

Do you remember...........

Eight long weeks of being locked up in a hotel on an ITC.

Putting your card in at GP Surgeries at 8am, going for a coffee and returning at 9am hopeful that you were one of the 5 lucky ones that would get an appointment with a GP in the practice.

Flicking through your record cards in the car when you weren't lucky to see who you could maybe drop in to during the morning so fulfill your call rate.

Finding a phone box to ring the office to send more samples to deliver to dispensing practices

Writing memos on triplicate paper to send to the boss

Filling out your weekly time trackers to record calls in triplicate and posting off to the boss.

Afternoons spent in retail pharmacies doing deals on OTC products

Reams of marketing leavepieces and expensive advertising campaigns

Taking GP's on "factory visits" and feeling more like a holiday rep.

Sales conferences where.... "what happened on conference stayed on conference".

Well if it does ring true then you were probably a sales representative in the pharmaceutical industry 20 - 30 years ago. There were no laptops, no mobile phones, no customer management systems and certainly a very long time before social media. But are things better for the pharmaceutical sales representatives now?

Multi-media marketing is now so entrenched that we forget what life was like before but with tweets by pharmaceutical companies having risen by 530% since 2013 and nearly all pharmaceutical companies engaging in e-detailing, disease education online collateral and utilising latest technology, one may wonder what the role of the sales representative actually is.

A key customer can take an online e-detail to gain the key messages to encourage usage. Key clinical data can be sort through easy online portals. Webinars can be viewed and interacted with to gain advice on patient positioning from peers. Even patients can be supported through their therapy though online tools produced by organisations so again what is the role of the sales representatives?

Even with the tight regulations now imposed by the regulators healthcare professional do rate their interactions with sales representatives highly but there are top tips that recent research has highlighted enhances the relationship and makes the role "future proof":

1. Really understand the patient. With salesforce training being cut shorter it is still important that the representatives understand the whole patient and not just the drug that is being sold. Unlike 20 years ago, there are no new blockbuster drugs and finding the right patient for the drug is very important and it needs to be a partnership between the HCP and the sales rep to find that ideal patient.

2. Be respectful of time. HCP's are so incredibly time limited compared to 20 years ago. There isn't the time for long coffees and lunches. If they give time for an appointment set out how long it is going to be and respect that time and don't try and push a 15 minute appointment out to half an hour.

3. Understand your sales material and prepare beforehand. With the invention of the ipad the sales appointment has been transformed. 20 years ago we would have a briefcase full of detail aids, leavepieces and clinical trials (as well as some funky giveaways - I distinctly remember trying to giveaway a winter car care kit in June as it had taken so long to get it through approval!)

But because of the volume of material we would pick out the most relevant bits before we went into a call. The ipad has meant that you no longer have to break your back carrying everything around but the tendency maybe to think because everything is accessible on a "swipe" you don't have to prepare your material..... this is one of the most currently irritating behaviours cited by HCP's during sales call. Instead of the fumbling in a briefcase, reps are fumbling through volumes of material on the ipad. Be clear, be concise and choose 3 or 4 slides that get your message across.

4. Understand the process for off label enquiries and ensure prompt appropriate feedback. This is one that hasn't really changed over 20 years. HCP's want to be able to talk to the company about all the issues relating to the product and there is still the same sense of frustration when they are referred to medical information. The difference is though that technology means that these enquiries should be followed up very quickly...just make sure that it happens.

5. Help the HCP's to understand the issues in the funding and clinical pathways in their own Trusts. Financial pressure has changed enormously over 20 years when hospital budgets were independent of the PCT's and consultants individual prescribing habits superceeded any budgetary pressure. How the times have changed. Specialised and non-specialised prescribing demand cost-effectiveness to be demonstrated across the board. Different stakeholder are involved in both the clinical and financial pathways and don't make the assumption that all HCP's understand how to make a change to thier own pathway. Be a source of information.

In 2017, sales representatives are still integral to a marketing campaign but remember to ask you customers what they want from the interaction and how they want to integrate with your other multimedia marketing channels.

For a free chat about how to commission a small research project to identify optimal channels at any stage of product lifecycle please contact Lancaster Hammond...

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