Sales reps face rising tide of inaccessible docs

Pharma sales reps are finding an increasingly hostile world out there. The fraction of doctors willing to meet reps regularly has dropped significantly. And the group unwilling to see reps at all has grown even faster.

According to a new report from marketing consultants ZS Associates, only 58 percent of doctors can be described as "rep accessible"--i.e., they meet with at least 70 percent of sales folk who drop by. That's down from 71 percent last year, a drop of almost 13 percentage points, or an 18 percent decline. Meanwhile, inaccessible doctors now account for 9 percent of the total, up from 6 percent last year. That's a 50 percent increase.

What's more, even the doctors classified as "rep accessible" are a bit more choosy than they used to be. Almost all these doctors wouldn't see even their favorite reps more than once a month.

According to ZS Associates' calculations, these trends make some 8 million planned sales calls a bust. Companies are assigning reps to call on doctors who either refuse to see reps at all, or refuse to see reps as often as management wants them to. A waste of time and money. More than $1 billion a year, in fact, or so ZS estimates.

What does this mean for pharma marketing? Well, it offers reps something of a vindication, for one thing. ("Sales management should accept that you can't reach these doctors simply by telling the reps to 'try harder,'" ZS Principal Chris Wright says in a statement.)

For another, it points the way to a more efficient sales model, in which marketing efforts are tailored to local conditions. In regions where doctors are most standoffish, new strategies such as online detailing might be most helpful. Docs who only want to see reps once a month or so would only be called upon that often. And so on.

- read the ZS release
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