As 2011 draws to a close, it’s clear that the world of the medical sales professional continues to change. In an environment increasingly dependent upon proving value, it’s pleasing to discover that on a global scale, the work of the drug representative is valued by more than 90% of physicians. Undoubtedly however, the number of representatives in the market place has fallen dramatically in the past few years. In the UK, commentators estimate the collective field force now totals somewhere between 6,500 and 7,000 – a significant reduction from the heyday of some 12,000-plus less than a decade ago.
A key article in this month’s Pharmaceutical Field moves beyond the rhetoric of a changing field force and, in an all-too-rare moment of clarity, presents some actual real world data that shows how both contact rates and face-to-face calls with GPs have incrementally fallen in the last ten years. 93% of global physicians may well value the information exchanges they enjoy with industry representatives, but in the UK, access to GPs continues to be a major challenge. In a changing NHS, starved of resource, this will only continue. The fall in contact rates may, of course, simply be due to the industry’s wider transition towards a KAM approach – and the fact that newer customers and influencers may be even harder to access than the traditional GP.
One further area of change for sales professionals is the incremental move from traditional detailing methodologies, to more digital means of presenting information using mobile technologies. Between 2006 and 2009, only 16% of new marketing initiatives in Pharma was being developed for mobile devices. By 2010 this global figure is now around the 50% mark – and many of these developments are being placed in the hands of sales representatives via iPad and other mobile devices. Developers and, more importantly, customers claim such presentation is more engaging and memorable – but crucially, the delivery of information to GPs via mobile technology still requires human interaction to bring it truly to life. Digital detailing is there to support the work of the ‘rep’, not replace it.
So there is much to look forward to as medical sales moves into a new year. The landscape is changing and the challenges don’t get any easier – but the value of human-to-human interaction in the exchange of key medical information remains as strong as ever.