More often than not there is a perception that using digital devices and e-detailing technology to communicate with physicians and provide product information is going to eliminate the need for sales representatives. This belief is only strengthened by the big number of layoffs at pharmaceutical companies due to tight budgets. Thousands of sales representatives lost their jobs everywhere in the last couple of years while digital solutions to deliver product messages successfully took center stage. So how do these two changes correlate? Is pharma trying to replace sales reps with digital technologies or is the connection between these two trends less obvious?
There is no reason to deny the financial difficulties and how these effected the changes in the number of sales representatives. It is also clear that digital devices are more popular than ever. But I feel hesitant to draw a parallel between these trends. I also feel the predictions about the total replacement of sales reps are over-represented and exaggerated.
Wall Street Journal recently ran an article about the connection between e-detailing solutions and the decreasing number of sales reps and in person visits:
When German drug maker Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH launched the cardiovascular drug Pradaxa in the U.S., it put together a digital-marketing package to target doctors, including organizing webcasts for leading physicians to speak to other physicians about the drug. But the company found that sales calls to doctors’ offices were still the most powerful tool for driving new prescriptions, says Wa’el Hashad, vice president of cardiovascular and metabolic marketing. ‘No doubt digital marketing does have an impact … I don’t believe, however, the shift happens overnight. I think it’s a gradual shift,’ he says.
Other studies also proved that physicians still prefer assistance from sales reps while they are increasingly find digital detailing and e-detailing effective and a comfortable way to receive information. According to the research 68 percent of the physicians who received iPad details before reported being extremely satisfied or very satisfied with the digital technology. It also seems that using digital platforms still needs the sales reps to present the information in an effective way. Based on the findings it is safe to say that pharma representatives have a key role in providing a combination of digital and face-to-face detailing.
Additionally it has been shown that physicians who are interactive during an assisted e-detailing process have a better experience and detailing presentations that engage doctors are more likely to drive prescriptions as well. To ensure that a presentation is interactive, to make physicians involved in the information delivery process a company needs tech savvy sales reps who are comfortable with not working against digital tools, but to work together with those.
Maybe it is hard to see digital tools as helpful and handy while constantly facing more layoffs, but digital solutions are not created to replace human work force. These devices are only tools and not messages, they help sales reps to work effectively, but they have to be used correctly. A new device may catch a physician’s eye, but the emphasis has to be on the information represented with that particular device. and this is where sales reps are not replaceable.