Pharma reps between rock and hard place

Pharma sales reps can't win these days. In the office, they're worried about their managers handing out pink slips. Out in the field, they're worried about docs shutting doors in their faces--or never opening them at all.

A handful of surveys and studies are quantifying these trends. To wit: Drugmakers have cut their sales forces to 92,000 from 102,000 in 2007, and the number is expected to continue its freefall to 75,000 by 2012, according to ZS Associates. The reason: Pharma will save $3.6 billion in the process.

Meanwhile, drugmakers have seen their ROI on their sales forces drop precipitously. For every 100 reps who visit a medical practice, 37 get products into the sample cabinet and only 20 talk to a doc face-to-face, TNS Healthcare has found. Profit per rep visit dropped by 23 percent over 2004-2005.

Now, more than a third of med schools require reps to have an appointment before calling on physicians or residents, and about one in four docs works in a practice that refuses to admit reps. Of the 75 percent who do see reps, about 40 percent require appointments--a figure that leapt by 23 percent over the last half of 2008. So not only are doors closing--but they're closing at an increasing pace.

Apparently, the press about conflicts of interest has inspired some docs to pull back. "Doctors are increasingly concerned that the sales pitches from drug reps are not giving them the full story," Dr. Jerome Avorn of Harvard Med School told American Medical News. Other docs simply say they're too busy, and are opting to get detailing info online. Either way, drug reps still have to worry.

- read the AMNews story