UK pharma must do more to support its field force, study shows

by IainBate 29. February 2012 10:02

Pharma Industry News UK pharma companies are not doing enough to help medical sales professionals succeed in the modern environment, new qualitative research has shown.

The study, designed to understand the real world challenges of field-based executives, indicates that the working practices of UK pharma sales executives have changed dramatically in the past three years.

The combination of a maturing KAM model, the emergence of joint working and an increasing reliance on iPad technology, is driving a radical shift in the NHS/pharma relationship – and is forcing medical representatives to develop new skills to thrive in the new environment.

But many sales professionals claim that they have been given inadequate support to help them prosper in an evolving marketplace, and that some employers remain reliant upon traditional training methodologies to see them through, despite rhetoric to the contrary.

The findings are the result of the first phase of an ongoing research exercise by Pharmaceutical Field, and follow a series of one-to-one interviews and roundtable discussions with existing sales professionals in the first two months of 2012. “Early indications, from what will be a sustained research programme throughout 2012, are that, across the board, the role of the medical sales professional has evolved considerably,” says Chris Ross, Editor of Pharmaceutical Field. “In 2008, when we conducted a similar exercise, whilst the term Key Account Management was beginning to gain traction, the concept of joint working with the NHS barely merited a mention. But it would seem that both aspects are now playing a central role in the day-to-day work of the medical representative. The problem is, too many argue that the training they are given to manage relationships with their local health economies – and indeed the metrics upon which they are judged – mirrors that of the traditional drugs rep. And when it comes to joint working, the majority of respondents are describing confusion on both sides of the NHS/pharma equation. The industry clearly has work to do in this regard.”

The 2010 launch of the iPad, along with the subsequent introduction of similar mobile devices, has revolutionised customer communications for many industries – and it would appear that pharma is also beginning to enjoy the benefits of digital technologies, albeit slowly. It is estimated that around 25% of UK medical sales professionals are now using iPad or equivalent to detail their products to customers – and this is very much in line with Pf’s research. A fifth of those canvassed have been issued with mobile devices and are using them with customers. Feedback suggests that HCPs find multimedia presentations more engaging and memorable. One regional account manager, from a medium-sized UK pharma company, said: “Gaining time with customers remains one of our biggest challenges, and it’s not unusual to be given just a few minutes in a corridor or a hospital canteen. Making the most of that time is imperative. We’re finding that detailing our products via the iPad has a much greater impact than printed leave-pieces, and the customer experience is significantly improved.”

Despite this, representatives from some of the smaller pharmaceutical companies that have taken part in the study still appear to be using traditional detail aids – and believe that it will take some time before the use of tablet devices in the field reaches a critical mass.

The Pf study also indicated an increasing number of medical sales professionals are choosing to work on contract, rather than on headcount at mainstream pharmaceutical companies – with job security cited as one of the key factors.

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