4 Challenges In Pharma Sales

4 Challenges In Pharma Sales

Pharmaceutical sales representatives (pharma sales reps) are salespeople employed by pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors to educate physicians, doctors and chemists about their new products, in hopes that they will adopt and administer them to their patients if applicable. They also offer information regarding advancements made within the medical sphere.

Pharma sales reps are well-versed in the science behind the medications they’re promoting, as well as their health benefits and potential side effects. Some also choose to specialize within a specific pharmaceutical field in order to gain an edge with certain healthcare providers. 

Regardless of the seemingly straightforward nature of pharma sales—visiting and promoting employer’s products to physicians (physically or digitally)—sales professionals face several challenges within the industry, as will be explored below. 

  1. Outdated traditional marketing

Effective marketing strategies remain at the forefront of most businesses’ priorities. The sector of pharma sales, however, has had a track record of lagging behind other industries when it comes to utilizing newer methods of marketing such as digital advertising. The traditional face-to-face nature of sales has somewhat suffocated other popular and, some may argue more effective, tactics of turning leads into prospects.

There is a level of pressure on salespeople to seek out new channels of communication with potential clients and ensure that they’re practicing with the correct tools and software, as to provide updated and fresh information rather than recycled material.

According to a 2017 survey from DRG Digital’s Manhattan Research, doctors revealed that over 50% of the time, the content that reps presented them with was redundant and ‘stale’. 74% of physicians stated that they regularly use search engines to stay up to date with the medical field—holding the information they source themselves in a higher regard than that provided by sales professionals. (1) 

It’s suggested that pharma marketing experts are key to successful campaigns. As a result of investing in said digital marketing experts, sales reps may be more likely to achieve enhanced brand awareness, increased traffic and meaningful content engagement, rather than being stuck when it comes to finding new and improved promotional tactics that aren’t “stale.” 

  1. Recent pandemic

The recent pandemic (COVID-19) has placed a strain on many industries, including pharma sales. Face-to-face interactions between reps and doctors obviously became rare or impossible during periods of lockdown. Many salespeople were forced to work remotely and unsurprisingly struggled to communicate with their prospects.

One upside to this situation was the forced familiarity with the virtual world and its advantages, including online meetings/consultations. Deloitte, however, did reveal that many clinicians found virtual meetings less engaging and often became distracted during the pitch. Learning how to fully embrace the digital and hold customer’s attention, as will be explored below, may be necessary. (2) (3)

  1. Adopting a digital mindset 
DIgital marketing technology concept. Internet. Online. Search Engine Optimisation SEO SMM. Advertising

While some pharma sales companies have adopted several digital marketing techniques, they still struggle to let go of their conventional methods. Holding onto those techniques may only hinder them, especially when participating within the online sphere. Focusing solely on the product, for example, may no longer fly, as to succeed digitally, many suggest a customer-focus to be more valuable and effective. (4) 

The same can be said about the content shared. Sales reps will have to work to strategically deliver their content in a way that appeals to their clientele, rather than physically waving it in front of their faces and hoping they bite. Focusing on value-added content may be wise in achieving this goal. (4) 

There is also the struggle of finding a balance between sparking doctor’s interest online and flat-out bombarding them with emails, invitations to webinars and other promotional methods. Although utilizing several online channels (including social media) is recommended, it’s wise not to overdo it, but instead hone in on the channels proving most effective and kind to your brand. (4) 

Adopting the digital mindset is understandably a challenge for some sales reps as their previous communication channel was limited to one form—physical interactions. Branching out into not only one new channel but several may be daunting, but it’s definitely worth it if you want to stay relevant.

  1. Product differentiation 

Drug companies tend to produce and sell very similar products to others on the market. Therefore, it’s a vital part of a pharma rep’s job to set their products apart from the crowd. Proving their employer’s credibility and innovation against its competitors can, however, prove challenging if products fail to provide patients with something new or better than what’s already available. 

If working predominately within the digital realm, holding people’s attention long enough for them to see the uniqueness of your product may be difficult. It’s important, therefore, to display and market your products in a way that stands out. Ensuring your content is professionally constructed as well as having some sort of edge, will most likely help you differentiate what’s offered. 

Final thoughts

Pharma reps have faced, and continue to face, several challenges when it comes to educating physicians on the perks of their employers’ products. Turning leads into prospects is a crucial step that may only be achieved through effective marketing, product differentiation and sufficient client-time. 

  1. “Doctors say pharma rep details are stale, need updating for digital age”, Source: https://decisionresourcesgroup.com/blog/doctors-say-pharma-rep-details-stale-need-updating-digital-age/
  2. “The pandemic didn’t hinder drug launches, but it has altered sales tactics”, Source: https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/blog/health-care-blog/2021/the-pandemic-did-not-hinder-drug-launches-but-it-has-altered-sales-tactics.html 
  3. “Bad For Pharma: Sales Reps And Patients Are Staying Home”, Source: https://pharmaintelligence.informa.com/resources/product-content/bad-for-pharma-sales-reps-and-patients-are-staying-home 
  4. “Current Pharmaceutical Marketing Challenges”, Source: https://www.pharmadigicoach.com/pharmaceutical-marketing-challenges/#:~:text=%20Current%20Pharmaceutical%20Marketing%20Challenges%20%201%20Bringing,for%20%E2%80%93%20that%20is%20to%20drive…%20More%20