Living in a material world

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Medical sales professionals are well paid. But they are still not happy. Pf Editor Chris Ross wonders why the traditional ‘drug rep’ wants to shake off the stereotype, but seems happy to live it.

So it’s official, money can indeed buy happiness – at least that’s what a recent national survey by data company Mintel would like to have us believe. According to the poll, almost six in ten (58%) of those earning more than £50,000 are happy with their lives. But equally, as if to prove the cliché that there are lies, damn lies and statistics, the same survey shows that almost half of people who earn less than £15,000 are happy too. In fact, despite the current climate of job losses, pay freezes and the rising cost of living, more than half of the nation is happy with its lot, with only 20% dissatisfied with their current state of play.

All of which seems to prove that, far from being the answer to all our prayers, money is not necessarily the root of personal contentment.

So what does this say about medical sales professionals? Pf’s annual survey of satisfaction and motivation among UK pharmaceutical sales executives shows the profession to be well-rewarded. In 2010, the median salary for medical sales professionals was more than £40,000 and the top-earner in the sample picked up in excess of £72,000 a year. In both examples, these figures excluded bonuses which, in many cases, are not inconsiderable. Yet despite this, many across the industry remain dissatisfied with their remuneration. This year’s study showed that whilst respondents were mostly motivated by salary, huge numbers claimed that their employers were failing to satisfy them in this area.

The pharma industry has, for many years, been trying to shake off a poor reputation. It has long been derided for alleged profiteering at the top, and for encouraging apparent opulence amongst its collective workforce. It has been accused of over-indulgence in its promotional strategies, with sales and marketing expenditure often perceived to exceed R&D budgets. And trust in the industry among both the general public and sections of its customer-base has generally appeared to be (unfairly) low.

The image of the drug industry is, in the media and (all too often) on an average evening out, symbolised by the description of the stereotypical ‘drug rep’. For example, the blockbuster movie Love and Other Drugs painted the life of the rep as decadent, adrenalin-fuelled and materialistic – characterised by fast cars, loose women and loose morals. Fiction or otherwise, it did the image of the industry in general no favours and the reputation of the drug rep in particular no good. It pandered to a stereotype that the pharmaceutical industry is desperate to shake off, and it continues to work tremendously hard to achieve it.

So, in a global economy where jobs are falling by the wayside at an alarming rate, where job security is scarce and a pay-rise seems a pipedream, do UK medical sales professionals really need to conform to the stereotype? “Pay me more, give me more.” Medical sales is a well-paid job in a market that has demonstrated greater stability than many others. It provides the kinds of benefits many other professions would die for and, in its purest form, operates in an environment rich with reward in terms of helping enhance lives and improve patient care.

Sure, we’d all like to earn more. But with a median salary that is well in excess of the average wage in the UK, the medical sales professional, despite all the pressure that goes with selling in a competitive environment, has got it good.

Surely that’s a reason to join the majority of the UK and, amid the doom and gloom, be just a little happier?