Challenges in the Pharmaceutical and Medical Sales Industry
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Challenges in the Medical Sales Industry

There’s no shortage of challenges for those new to pharma, medical sales and even veterans. Often we’re lucky if we even get to see our physicians, let alone overcome their objections regarding insurance coverage and competitive claims. Then, there are internal hurdles like compliance standards and ever-increasing goals. As a result, a job known for its high compensation and prestige can appear much more gritty and taxing.

In case you weren’t aware, nothing in medical sales comes easy – at least not for long. Below are seven common challenges that pharmaceutical and other medical sales reps face. For discussion purposes, we’ve divided them into external and internal challenges. 

External Medical Sales Challenges in the Medical Sales Industry

Physician Access

To experienced reps, the challenge is nothing new. Every year, another physician’s office or hospital system eliminates representative visits and lunches. Still, thanks to COVID, innovative avenues of communication have opened up, such as Zoom conferences. If a rep takes a more practical view of how to sell their product, they can find accessible staff members play a vital role in the doctor’s decision-making process. 

Insurance Coverage

Another enduring wall for medical sales reps to climb is making their products affordable to patients. Companies have fought poor coverage with co-pay cards and other programs for years. However, medical sales reps must remember that most other companies have them, so a co-pay card or prior authorization assistance service is not unique.

What can be impressive, however, is how simple and smooth it can be to use your company’s program. Therefore, it’s essential to know your company’s discount programs and understand how to explain them in the most straightforward manner possible. 

Physician Apathy

Yes, all physicians take an oath to best treat their patients, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to think your product is worth the effort. If you’re selling something unique from current therapy (like a new class of drug or newly approved type of device), expect two reactions from physicians.

First, they’ll likely have more interest in learning about what you sell and second, they’ll be more hesitant to try it because of concerns about insurance coverage, efficacy and safety. On the other hand, if your product is similar to the competition, get your physician’s attention with your product’s affordability and ease of use.

Competitors and Generic Medications

As we all know, patents only last so long. Therefore, chances are your next job in pharma or medical sales will involve launching something new. You’ll need to prove what you offer is better than its generic equivalents.

Just to make things more challenging, even when physicians like your products, they still won’t be able to use them in every patient because certain insurance payors require physicians to use a certain percentage of generics. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet solution to these dilemmas. Instead, you’ll need to sell your product’s value and clarify where and when it’s covered by insurance.

Internal Challenges in the Pharmaceutical and Medical Sales Industry

However, not all of a rep’s challenges stem from outside of a medical sale rep’s company. Here are some of the most pertinent examples:


Thanks to the mistakes of other companies, the landscape of rules and laws that govern how medical sales reps sell are constantly changing. Of course, the FDA and other government agencies have the final say, but in-between organizations like PHRMA are continually changing their rules. Then there are the companies’ legal teams.

For sales reps, this amounts to adhering to a changing list of rules which can even dictate who they’re allowed to bring lunch to and when and which and how many people can or must attend a dinner program. Our advice? Again, no easy solutions exist. So medical sales reps should seek clarity regularly from their legal teams and do their best to sell within the rules.

Sales Goals

Whether public or privately traded, all medical companies have investors who expect a return on their money. As a result, medical sales teams will likely always have goals. Unfortunately, there’s no surefire way to determine precisely what anyone’s sales target should be.

Instead, there are only educated guesses, ambition and ego. As a medical rep, it doesn’t matter whether or not you feel your sales goal is unrealistic, but what you choose to do to accomplish it. Often that may mean going over and above what your company asks regarding activity or effort.

On the other hand, if after giving all you’ve got day after day, you may still think you’re fighting an uphill and un-winnable battle, seek a role with another company. The most considerable trouble comes for sales reps who neither accept responsibility for their sales targets nor move on to a new company. Instead, they choose to waste their precious career in limbo, waiting for something good to happen instead of taking action.

Company Culture

You’d be hard-pressed to find a medical salesforce that doesn’t want to win, but how they go about it can be different. When examining the culture of an organization, consider the following:

  • Are successes celebrated? 
  • How is success defined? Only by numbers or can other achievements qualify? 
  • Are team members encouraged to collaborate or are they constantly pitted against each other? 
  • Can the salespeople ask honest questions during meetings or do they risk being reprimanded?

The answers to these questions will define your day-to-day life in medical sales. Therefore, don’t let the money overshadow them.

How to Address Your Medical Sales Challenges

Consider this when assessing a potential medical sales position or one you currently have. You’re better off being in a role with fewer internal challenges than external ones. In other words, you can face a harsh competitive environment if you work with an ethical company with a supportive culture. Therefore, if you’re interviewing for a medical sales job, don’t hesitate to ask the interviewer about the above challenges. 

If you’re already in a sales role, ask yourself (and honestly answer) the pros and cons of your current situation. If challenges didn’t exist, companies wouldn’t need salespeople. That said, you can still set yourself up for the most success by choosing your battles wisely and considering a job’s challenges before and after you accept the role.