Even for busy doctors, 'nothing is as good as a rep' for getting pharma info

If you're a pharma sales rep, chances are, you're walking through a fog of existential angst. If you're not questioning your existence, worrying that you'll be laid off, or wondering whether the doctors in your territory will stop seeing reps, you know other reps who are.

All the surveys and studies--doctors like seeing reps, doctors prefer to read, doctors are unduly influenced, doctors aren't, e-detailing will or won't replace reps--probably don't help, either. But you've probably been around long enough to have heard "the sales-rep model is dead" before.

The sales rep isn't dead, just different in some ways--and in others, not different at all. At least that's what former rep and current doctor-scheduling software guy Dan Gilman says. As founder and president of RxVantage, which markets software that allows pharma reps to schedule doctor appointments online, he sees doctors who want the information reps can provide. They and their office staffs just don't want to deal with the logistical hassles.

"With technology, there are a lot of different ways for doctors to get training and information from pharma," Gilman told FiercePharmaMarketing. "But all the companies we work with and all the conversations we've had with doctors show that, despite the millions of dollars invested in other channels, nothing is as good as a rep for getting the message across."

With RxVantage's software, physician practices set their preferences--when they want to see reps and how often, among other things--and reps can sign up online for appointments at the office. The system allows staff to search for reps who can deliver samples of a particular drug, or who can provide info on copay discounts or assistance. If doctors decide a particular rep isn't trustworthy, or simply isn't bringing much new information or assistance along, then that rep can be blocked. On the flip side, if a doctor decides a particular rep is particularly helpful, then that rep can be allowed to come in more often than others are.

Which brings Gilman to his basic point: Relationships with reps are valuable, but some rep relationships are more valuable than others. And the things that make a rep valuable aren't different now than they were a decade ago. "What works now is the same as what always worked--a rep who's really knowledgeable about their products and about competitors' products," Gilman says.

One of Gilman's selling points with doctors is that it's worthwhile to keep practices open to rep visits. He cites a Journal of Clinical Hypertension article that found that doctors who don't see reps were slower to respond to significant changes in treatment. And that didn't just apply to new products or treatment protocols but to safety warnings as well. "A practice that closes down because it can't handle the burden of reps is a loss for everybody," he says.

Reps have been known to recommend RxVantage to doctors who aren't already using it. Drugmakers might want to take note. If doctors can weed out less-helpful reps, then it pays to make sure your reps aren't among them. And if in-depth knowledge is the real currency, then focusing on in-depth training--and retaining knowledgeable reps--is more important than "share of voice," which is mostly passé anyway.