Did pharma overshoot digital sales rep calls? Study charts decline in effectiveness

A year after the pandemic forced pharma reps to switch from in-person to digital sales calls, most visits are still virtual—and the industry is seeing mixed results.

The good news is that in-person pharma sales calls are now in demand by physicians. Last month, 44% of healthcare professionals said face-to-face sales visits are their preferred option for pharma promotions, according to the latest study from healthcare consultancy ZoomRx.

Even more encouraging for reps is that the face-to-face visits are garnering positive prescription intent—17% higher than before the pandemic began.

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However, the bad news is that the opposite is true for digital interactions. Only 24% of doctors now prefer a virtual sales detail. Effectiveness, measured by Zoom Rx as physician likelihood to prescribe after a sales rep encounter, is also waning. It dipped to 50% in March, which is even lower than the pre-pandemic level, when six in 10 HCPs said sales rep meetings had a positive impact on prescribing the detailed product.

“We don’t see any signs of rebound or recovery (in digital visit impact) over time. There was a dramatic decline in impact from March to June last year and then pretty much a steady state over the past eight months,” Ty Harkness, manager at ZoomRx, said.

While the pharma industry should be commended for its quick response last year, he said, companies should now look to re-evaluate the mix of digital and in-person interactions. Around 80% of pharma sales rep visits are still digital, Zoom Rx found in its study analyzing more than 20,000 in-person and virtual sales rep interactions.

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The silver lining is higher-value in-person interactions—and potentially a reversal of the pre-pandemic stigma around face-to-face sales calls.

“It’s a matter of meeting the needs of each situation,” Harness said. “If you can do that well—like companies have done in selectively deploying in-person reps—it really enhances the impact. The need is in better understanding each channel as needed for your customer and then deploying that purposefully.”