Give Docs What They Want OpEd by John Mack

While attending the recent Gaining Physician Access conference I heard a lot of advice from consultants as well as physicians about how pharmaceutical companies need to change the number and kind of interactions between sales reps and physicians.

The article, “Marketing’s Role in Limiting Physician Access and What to Do About It,” for example, offers useful insight on how marketing can help sales reps communicate more effectively with physicians. The expert consultant cited in that article, Mr. Jerry Acuff, says that physicians want better relationships with sales reps and he cited a study showing that physicians ranked friendliness higher than scientific knowledge.

Physicians in a keynote panel at the same meeting, however, emphasized that they value a rep’s product knowledge over the relationship with the rep. The panel moderator also cited a new, unpublished study that supported this preference (when asked “What do you like about sales reps?” respondents cited product knowledge first, relationship second, and samples third).

The docs on the panel worried that the impending downsizing of the pharma sales force (see “Cost-Cutting Strategies for the Pharma Industry“) will remove the highest paid and most knowledgeable reps and leave behind the younger, less knowledgeable ones and thus exacerbate the “dumb rep” problem.

What docs seem to want are pharma representatives that keep them informed about the product, talk to them without regulatory constraints, and maintain their sample closet. O yeah, they also want someone who talks like they do. In other words, they want another health professional and not a sales person at all! I’ve heard the same from other doctors at other industry meetings (see, for example, “A Crisis in Professional Detailing“).

What if pharmaceutical companies actually listened to these physicians? Instead of talking about gaining “physician access” by sales reps, pharmaceutical companies might provide more access to the kind of representative physicians seem to want — the medical science liaison or MSL. Except let’s drop the liaison part and just call them medical science representtatives.

While I am not an expert on the current roles of MSLs and how often they are employed, I do sense a rivalry, let’s say, between sales and marketing and the medical sciences department. MSLs play, at best, second fiddle to the sales reps. That situation should, IMHO, be turned on its head. The MSL should be the primary contact and call in the rep when the physician asks for samples. Sample delivery is the primary reason sales reps gain access to physicians anyway.

I think this idea could also save pharmaceutical companies money. Much fewer MSLs than sales reps would be needed. Docs would be more eager to see MSLs and not make them wait in the office or turn them away. Less time would be spent on unproductive calls and each MSL could service many more docs than a sales rep. The sales rep’s time would also be better managed because the docs would request reps to deliver the samples. At that time, the rep can still make the pitch without having to explain the value of the product — the MSL would have already done that.

Vol. 4, No.3: March 2005
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