Pharma reps get more respect from doctors in Japan. What's the takeaway for U.S. reps?

doctor patient consult
DRG Digital/Manhattan Research's annual physician survey in Japan found a close relationship between pharma sales reps and doctors. (Rawpixel)

Looking for a place where pharma sales reps are respected and influential? Try Japan. And it’s not just sales reps who have broad reach and influence with doctors; so do pharma company websites, according to recent research from DRG Digital and Manhattan Research.

Three out of four of the doctors surveyed reported having seen a pharma rep in the past month, with another 60% agreeing that sales reps influence their prescribing habits. That’s much higher than in other markets DRG studies. In China, for instance, fewer than one-third of physicians rate reps influential, and in Australia, fewer than 1 in 4 doctors say reps influence their treatment decisions.

But doctors aren't giving the thumbs-up to reps because they're "buddies." Just the opposite, said Jeff Wray, director of Europe and APAC Research at DRG Digital.

In Japan, physicians are definitely the boss and have the upper hand, even more so than in the U.S. However, the more formal and brisk “elevator pitch” type meetings that sales reps have with physicians are also more highly valued by the doctors. Some of the reasons are cultural—remote detailing or digital calls are viewed as rude by Japanese physicians—but there is also a healthy trust between the two parties, Wray said.

RELATED: Who do you trust? For doctors, it's Bristol-Myers Squibb and Biogen

“Outside of the U.S., you can’t market pharmaceutical products direct to consumers, so you don’t see TV ads and constant overload of that type of information. In Japan, in particular, that’s led to this trend where the reps are a more central and critical source of information for physicians,” he said. "Physicians really want face-to-face, in-person interaction with their sales rep because of a greater trust in the one-on-one relationship than you see in some other markets.”

Another finding in the study were high ratings by physicians for in-country pharma company sales reps. Takeda ranked highest in quality rep meetings, according to the Japanese doctors, but Daiichi, Otsuka and Astellas also did well.

While the study findings can’t be translated exactly to U.S. market practices, Wray said that the insights about the strength of local pharma relationships, for instance, could be emulated, albeit differently.

RELATED: Less promo, more info: Annual physician poll finds docs want fewer pharma ads, more education

“It’s more about finding your niche and targeting it. Obviously, with a local presence there is more investment from those players [in Japan] and that’s hard to replicate in the U.S., but the way you could think about replicating it is, find a particular resource or channel—be it the sales person or something else—and focus more heavily on that and getting good in that one area to stand out a bit more,” Wray said.

Another tip? Personalize pitches to physicians. Wray suggested working to deliver targeted emails that are responsive to one or a few physicians’ specific questions or concerns, and work to make sure that the communications aren’t “just another message in an ocean of advertising out there.”