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Pharmaceutical Sales Jobs: What does the future hold?


Pharma sales rep at work
sylv1rob1; Bigstock

Big pharma continues to go through some big changes. With new regulations, a growing care team, and aggressive merger and acquisition strategies, the pharmaceutical industry looks radically different than it did a few years ago, and the evolution is set to continue.

What impact will this evolution have on pharmaceutical sales jobs? What do these industry changes mean for pharmaceutical sales reps?

From face-to-face to digital

Perhaps one of the biggest changes to impact pharma sales reps is the implementation of the Physician Payments Sunshine Act. This legislation, passed as part of the Affordable Care Act, requires medical manufacturers to report all financial payments and exchanges of value (over $10) made to physicians. Payments are reported to the CMS and published on a public website, where anyone can see how much money a specific doctor has received from a given company. According to, the first wave of data was published on September 30, 2014.

Since the adoption of the Sunshine Act, individual doctors are increasingly hesitant to spend time with pharma reps. Health systems often dictate the amount and type of interaction their doctors can have with pharmaceutical sales representatives. In fact, in a 2014 survey of 3,000 U.S. physicians conducted by Quantia and Capgemini found about two in five physicians never see a pharma sales rep, and 80 percent said their organizations have policies in place that restrict their contact.

As pharma reps get less and less face time with providers, the pharma sales model will need to transform to a more digital process.

The move to digital in pharma sales is already underway. A 2013 survey of 200 pharma execs conducted by Accenture found that close to one in four direct sales force interactions migrated to digital interactions with doctors, providers, payers, and patients.

In addition, the Quantia survey found that 76 percent of physicians surveyed preferred to receive information about new drugs, products, and indications digitally. As wearable devices and other mobile technology advances, pharma sales reps will need to focus on sending digital resources and the latest product information and updates directly to providers.

From individual physicians to health systems

As healthcare transforms to accommodate the provider shortage and the Affordable Care Act, more and more physicians belong to health systems and accountable care organizations (ACO).

The Quantia survey found that 57 percent of all doctors were employed by a health system. What’s more, 70 percent of newer physicians who had earned their medical degrees in the last 10 years worked for health systems.

As a result of the new health system landscape, physicians have less decision-making power. The Quantia survey found that 70 percent of physicians who belong to a health care system are restricted in their prescribing behaviors. They don’t control the formularies of their organizations and must follow tight guidelines when it comes to prescribing.

This means interactions between pharma reps and physicians carry less weight. To be effective, pharma sales reps will need to find other channels to communicate value.

From sales to education focus

With new patients and new policies, healthcare providers are busier than ever. They don’t have time to listen to a sales pitch, but they will make time for educational opportunities.

The Quantia survey found that, while providers aren’t interested in promotional educational seminars, 83 percent would like to see more pharma-sponsored accredited CME events. In addition, 83 percent want more provider-focused information about disease states, while 77 percent want more detailed product information written for prescribers.

Pharma sales reps will need to provide information and educational resources that are truly helpful to providers, not just promotional.

From large fleet to specialized force

Mergers and acquisitions have become the new norm for big pharma. Deals among biotech and pharma companies this year have reached $59.3 billion, a 94 percent increase over the same period last year, according to Thomson Reuters data from March.

Mergers and acquisitions allow pharma companies to grow their research and development, control patent rights, and access more resources and technologies. However, these advantages often come at a price — a reduced workforce.

From January to July this year, the pharmaceutical industry has cut 6,334 jobs, according to data from Challenger, Gray & Christmas. What’s more, many of these cuts occur in the sales team. A report from Cegedim Strategic Data found that the U.S. pharmaceutical sales force shrunk by 2 percent from 2013 to 2014 to less than 65,000 pharma sales reps.

While the outlook may seem bleak, the best pharma sales reps – those who bring the most value to their employer – will be kept around despite mergers and acquisitions. These reps will quickly adapt to changes in the industry and will approach pharma sales with the attitude of providing information to physicians and building trust, not just relationships.

What do you think? How else are pharma sales jobs changing?