A typical conversation between a mid-aged medical rep at a tea stall with a new joinee medical rep, a very energetic young executive, on changing the role of medical rep in the industry.

Older rep -Those were the golden days when medical representatives used to enjoy rapport as a partner in improving healthcare. We used to send a postcard to the doctor practicing in outstation informing about our visit and doctors used to welcome the rep, often with tea/snacks.

Young rep – You are right sir, but today is the era of intense competition, there is nothing which I must discuss with the doctor which he is not aware of already.

Older rep – Yes young man! Doctors used to look closely at my visual aid during my calls when I used to flip the page of drug comparison, most of the doctors you to ask a lot of questions and I used to need help from my medical director to answer some. These days doctors yawn during the detailing and during those days they used to ask questions.

Young rep – Sir, these days doctors are very much internet savvy and they are aware of all the drug-related information even before my company introduced brands. Many times I try to do visual-aid detailing; doctors ask me to just tell the brand name. More than visual aid, reminder cards are helpful.

Older rep – Yeah, these days companies are not investing that heavily on gifts and sponsorship either. They are asking us to generate sales just by doing some gimmick activities, most of those so-called gimmick activities are laughed at by the doctors. Alas! Those were the days

Young rep – Sir, I am fed-up with medical rep job, I am about to finish my MBA next year and then will aim at joining brand management, I see no future in sales

Older rep – Great! Just manage to grab a PMT job, that would be a brilliant career move.

Young rep – Sir, still a lot of worries on my mind. Even if I manage to get a PMT job, I will not be able to arrange for expensive gifts, no sponsorship beyond a limit allowed. Apart from mandatory analysis and reports submission, what more relevant to market requirements I will be able to do?

Older rep – Hmm! For PMT also things are not the same which used to be in those days…. Indeed, those were the days!

Such conversation in waiting areas outside the clinic, OPD waiting rooms, and tea stalls outside hospitals are quite common these days. Though we can criticize the thought process of two reps having this kind of conversation, it is imperative to analyze what has changed in the last two decades in pharmaceutical sales and marketing. The role of medical rep has evolved from discussing medical literature to just delivering free medicines, if they don’t evolve, these executives will become absolute in the industry.

Earlier reps used to be enablers by providing information relevant to doctors relevant to their practice, which is no more reality in most of the cases. In the last 1-1.5 decades, sponsorship and gifts did make life easier for marketing and sales in pharma industry but due to newer regulation, those do not seem to be feasible in the long-run. Information about drugs is no more space where doctors depend on reps. Reps just need something to talk which the doctor does not know. Doctors also love to listen to reps who talk about those practice relevant things which they did not know. Instead of going along with routine visual aid detailing, if reps start talking about a technology or a digital initiative of their company which can help doctors to further improve their practice, we can bring back those “golden days” for the reps as talked about in conversation above.

Some possible initiatives could be as below: –

Data-driven healthcare – Supporting a doctor association in their aspiration to become a data-driven healthcare organization can be mutually beneficial for both pharma company and doctor association. Healthcare data is of prime importance for both doctor association as well as the pharmaceutical companies to support their strategic goals. An investment on EHR can generate a lot of meaningful data for both pharma company as well as doctor association, provided the data goals for both parties are defined without compromising compliance requirements in India as well as globally

Content partnerships – Provide access to most valued content to doctors without discriminating between prescribers / Non-prescribers. Content access through digital platforms can help not just engaging the target doctors but also generate a lot of meaningful data (e.g. What doctors love to read) for strategic marketing decisions. If the company doesn’t discriminate between prescriber / Non-prescribers while giving access to content through the digital platforms, your reps will be able to interact with Non-prescribers as enablers of content initiatives of the company if the content is indeed relevant to targeted doctors. Also, because you are not discriminating, the sponsored access is ethically not a bribe for prescribing sponsor’s brand.

CME / learning initiatives – After all in a country like India where there is hardly any investment towards professional career development for doctors, it seems quite ethical to provide access to learning / online learning modules through digital platforms like Docmode and Osmosis. Doctors will wait for your rep’s visit to assist them in various steps in program completion.

Just imagine the opportunities for interaction a rep will get while positioning himself as an enabler of content and/or technology supporting medical practice. If rep can get a minimum of 5 minutes during a doctor call, how much value addition to the brand promotion he/she can do. The role of medical rep needs to of an enabler of information and knowledge for doctors.

If along with promoting brands, rep interacts with doctors as an enabler of digital marketing strategy, the conversation between reps at the beginning of the article will be a matter of past and the golden era might get revived.

Article reproduced with permission from the author.

Mr. Rajneesh Sharma

Mr. Rajneesh Sharma, HealthTECH enthusiast, and Pharma marketing expert. Presently heading pan Nigeria pharmaceutical business operations