Pfizer has become the latest drug company to offer doctors the option of using the Internet to order free samples of its drugs, a trend illustrating the diminished role of sales representatives, whose ranks continue to decrease (see PR Newswire). The service is called SamplesDirect.
The WSJ Blog reports that the fear among Pfizer reps was that online sampling would only further erode their job function. “But Pfizer reached a compromise with its reps: when a physician places an e-order, it’s flagged to his or her sales rep, who has 48 hours to step in and personally take over the order. If the rep doesn’t act, the order is filled electronically.”
Suppose you ordered a book from Amazon.com and expected prompt overnight delivery, but your order was placed on “hold” for 48 hours to allow a brick-and-mortar local bookstore to fulfill your order? Is that a model destined for success or the trash bin? I think we all know the answer to that.
Some Pfizer sales reps also seem to understand that they are being “duped” by Pfizer’s claims that this will “keep them in the loop.” Here’s some chatter about this heard on the Cafepharma’s Pfizer Company Discussion Board:
“Why spend $300 for a sample drop when FedEx will do it for $20. Forcing reps on physicians to drop sample – the old pharma model continues”
“This is a joke, reps have 48 hrs to deliver the goods ? Why not overnight them for $10 and not pay the rep $400.00 / day income. Gas and insurance in the car etc. Folks this gig has a very very short horizon ahead, think for yourselves.”
Other anonymous CafePharma “reps,” however, think it is a good idea:
“Reps are right, the sample calls are a huge part of getting in to see the Drs. The other side is, no sample calls, no calls.”
“it’s much more convincing when you have a rep “close” a doctor and won’t take no for answer that you know you’re going to have to callback for more freebie samples to subsidize those patients complaining about their doctors bills!”
“This is actually positive for the rep as they will have a reason to see the MD due to their need of samples. It is up to the rep to act with a sense of ugency.”
This last post received this rejoiner: “Obviously, the home office is reading and posting on Cafepharma.” Maybe, but home office types do not make spelling mistakes!
It will be interesting to know what percent of eSample orders were hand-delivered by Pfizer reps who beat the 48-hour deadline. Pfizer’s SamplesDirect service launched in August, so they must have some data. But I don’t suppose they’ll share it with us.
Whether or not eSampling assuages the fears of current reps, it does not bode well for the sales force in general and for hiring new reps to replace the old. You cannot argue with the business imperative of reducing costs. If “sample calls are a huge part of getting in to see the Drs” and most doctors can get product information from sources other than reps (eg, the Internet), then most docs will only want to see reps who have samples. If they can order those samples online, then there is even less reason to see reps. They’ll just wait out the 48 hours and get their samples by UPS while blocking all Pfizer reps from visiting. Pfizer also has an economic incentive to make sure eSamples are delivered without reps — ie, $20 for eSampling vs. $300 for a rep “sample drop.” Plus, doctors are going to be pissed off that the delivery is delayed and that their online orders may actually cause a rep to visit!
The temptation to push that “easy” button BEFORE 48 hours is up is great!