Is the pharma sales force still needed?

imagesKEY TAKEAWAY: The percentage of physicians who do not permit access to medical industry salespeople, who include device-maker reps, has grown to 36.5% in 2016, up from 22.9% in 2010, according to a new survey by the research firm SK&A. And, significantly, among the increasing number of physicians employed by hospitals and health systems, the no-access rate tops 50%. So does pharma really need sales reps?

Sales reps continue to be a huge cost to pharma companies.  Salaries, expenses and cars all are big hits to the budget not to mention the number of Fed-X’s they get from the home office will sales materials.

I’m sure you have been in a doctor’s office and observed a sales rep leaving  samples and walking out.  Can pharma really afford expensive delivery people?  With changing business models the answer would be “no”.


Why are so many doctors refusing to see sales reps?  The answer is simple, really: value.  You can’t expect to take people, fresh out of school, train them to give a “canned” presentation and have a peer-to-peer relationship with doctors.  In addition, there are too many “me too” drugs that don’t require a detailed explanation to HCP’s.

Can you launch a prescription drug, today, without a sales force?  That depends.  In some cases the answer would be probably.  If your drug is aiming for another slice of the pie and works much the same way as other drugs the answer is no.  You can use an online detailing service to send samples to doctors and launch a program on Medscape to reach doctors with your positioning.


There are some pharma companies who understand that reps have to add more value and as thus they are hiring people who have medical backgrounds like PharmD’s or non practicing people with medical degrees.  However, too many big pharma companies still employ thousands of reps whose value should be questioned.

Last year a client of ours tested the value of sales reps vs. an online detailing service that sent out samples to HCP’s.  One market had sales reps, the other an online detail.  The result was that the market with sales reps did not have a significant lift vs the market without sales reps. Now keep in mind this was for a women’s health product that didn’t need a “detailed” explanation of efficacy.  In other categories the result might not be the same, but it should cause you to ask a couple of basic questions:

1ne: Does our product really differ from the competition in the way it works and how it’s administered?

2wo: What is our USP and how can this best be communicated to HCP’s?

3hree: Is our product widely covered by insurers?

4our: Do we have data that shows better patient outcomes with our product?

With the pharma business models under intense pressure executives need to examine all the aspects of their business to reduce wasteful spending.  Reps could be hard hit again/