Even traditionally rep-friendly specialists will see fewer pharmaceutical sales reps this year, according to ZS Associates

Even traditionally rep-friendly specialists will see fewer pharmaceutical sales reps this year, according to ZS Associates

With dermatologists, gastroenterologists and pediatric specialists losing interest in visits, pharmacos turn to new forms of marketing for better results

EVANSTON, Ill. — July 22, 2014 — The steady decline of pharmaceutical sales representative access to physicians is spreading to previously rep-friendly specialties, according to the spring 2014 AccessMonitor™ report from global sales and marketing consulting firm ZS Associates.         

AccessMonitor™ aggregates sales-call summaries from more than 200 U.S. pharmaceutical sales teams. The report examines how often approximately 325,000 physicians and other prescribers meet with the pharmaceutical sales reps who visit their offices.

Overall access to physicians has declined steadily since the first report in 2008, with about half (49 percent) of physicians in the U.S. placing moderate-to-severe restrictions on visits from pharma sales reps in 2014. This compares to 45 percent of prescribers who restricted rep access in 2013, 35 percent in 2012 and 23 percent in 2008.

"While it's discouraging that doctors may not meet as often with pharma reps, most physicians still view these reps as valuable sources of information," said Pratap Khedkar, principal and leader of the pharmaceuticals practice at ZS Associates. "Pharmacos just need to find new ways to reach these customers."

In terms of specialty physicians, ZS reported a decline in rep access among a host of previously rep-friendly specialties – such as dermatology, gastroenterology and pediatrics. For example, about 84 percent of dermatologists and 63 percent of gastroenterologists were fairly accessible to reps in the 2013 AccessMonitor™ report. Those numbers dropped to 67 percent and 47 percent, respectively, in this year's report.

ZS concluded this decrease in physician access is driven by a number of factors: greater demands on doctors' time, growing payer/provider consolidations and an increasing number of younger doctors who would rather receive the latest news and communicate with pharmacos via digital channels and their mobile devices.

"It's not that these doctors object to receiving information from pharmaceutical companies," said Khedkar. "These doctors merely prefer using mobile and other alternative channels of communication to engage with reps. To take advantage of this change, companies must adopt an integrated 'surround sound' approach that uses several alternative methods to capture and keep a doctor's attention. The trend is moving toward a mix of face-to-face communication with a handful of digital communication channels orchestrated by the rep."

Minneapolis, Milwaukee home to least accessible physicians

Pharmaceutical reps across many geographic areas continue to see a gradual decline in access to physicians. According to ZS, eight of the 10 most restrictive metropolitan areas of 2013 – in particular, Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Seattle – are even less rep-friendly this year due to an increase in payer and provider consolidations.

In Minneapolis, for example, HealthPartners and Park Nicollet Health Services merged last year to create the largest health system in the Twin Cities metro area. These types of consolidations, which often result in blanket policies limiting access to all participating providers, contributed to the larger trend of a decline in physician access throughout the country.

"Though the number of sales reps in the U.S. is down 38 percent from its peak in 2005, this hasn't stopped the decline in physician access," said Malcolm Sturgis, a manager and an expert in marketing channel preferences at ZS Associates. "Indeed, access has fallen 33 percent since our first AccessMonitor™ report in 2008 and continues to worsen.  We expect payer/provider consolidations to accelerate in metropolitan areas and for access to physicians to become even more restrictive."

Still, some markets remain more access-friendly for sales reps – for now, at least.

"Payers and providers in some fragmented markets – such as Texas – remain more traditional and independent.  Consolidation hasn't gained popularity there yet, and these markets are similar to the way they were 15 years ago — though it's not clear how long that will continue," said Sturgis. "Pharmaceutical companies would do well to remain ahead of the curve and embrace customer-centric marketing strategies that could help increase access to physicians."

Customer-centric marketing gains physician attention

Traditionally, the pharmaceutical industry has been fairly brand-centric in its marketing efforts, but current market dynamics demonstrate a need to be more customer-centric and focus on the value of rep/physician interactions across all the brands.

"Though the pipe won't close completely for sales reps, it will continue to constrict," said Khedkar. "This is the time for companies to focus on customer relationships and make the right investments in customer-centric marketing. Companies who communicate via a physician's preferred channel will be rewarded with his/her attention."

As many as 50 channels exist today — including e-detailing, in-office promotions, virtual speaker programs and webinars, and social media communities — and this number will grow as these channels provide more measureable results and companies design ways to work in concert with the sales rep. 

According to Khedkar, "It will become increasingly important for pharma companies to understand how physicians would like to be reached and coordinate their marketing messages across all communication channels. The rep must play a critical role to help companies successfully orchestrate these channels and meet the specific needs of their customers."

For more information on ZS's AccessMonitor™, including an executive summary of the spring 2014 report, please visit http://bit.ly/ZS-AccessMonitor2014.

About ZS Associates

ZS Associates is a global leader in sales and marketing consulting, outsourcing, technology and software. For more than 30 years, ZS has helped companies across a range of industries get the most out of their sales and marketing organizations. From 21 offices around the world, ZS experts use analytics and deep expertise to help companies make smart decisions quickly and cost effectively. ZS comprises multiple affiliated legal entities. Learn more at: www.zsassociates.com.

About AccessMonitor™
AccessMonitor™ is a proprietary tool that incorporates the call reports from more than 200 different U.S. pharmaceutical sales teams and more than 35,000 sales reps. It examines how often approximately 325,000 physicians and other prescribers meet with pharmaceutical sales representatives who visit them and then classifies those doctors into one of three groups: 1) "accessible" (physicians who met with more than 70 percent of reps who call on them); 2) "access restricted" (between 31 and 70 percent); and 3) "severely access restricted" (30 percent or less).The report equips companies with data to make the best use of sales and marketing resources in a systematic way and includes sales operations, field management and marketing strategies. In addition to the bi-annual national industry reports, participating companies also receive a prescriber-level, company-specific AccessMonitor™ report that provides customer insights based on industry data that is processed, cleaned and anonymized according to a rigorous set of rules. To learn more or to participate in the next round of reporting, visit http://bit.ly/ZS-AccessMonitor.