How can pharma reps score face time with doctors?

If good fences make good neighbors, then doctors' offices and pharma reps are getting more neighborly all the time. Some 45% of prescribers restrict sales reps' access these days, according to an annual report from ZS Associates. And that's almost twice as large a share as the 23% who fenced off their practices in 2008.

Some specialties are even worse. Sales reps practically need grappling hooks to get in to see oncologists, the survey found. Almost two-thirds of oncologists have "moderate to severe" rules governing rep visits. "[E]ven the best reps visit oncologists just once per month," ZS principal Ganesh Vedarajan said in a statement, with average reps managing to get in the door 7-8 times a year.

That could be a problem for drugmakers increasingly dependent on cancer drugs for growth. A high-profile group of targeted cancer drugs has hit the market over the past couple of years, along with a larger batch of more generalized biologic treatments. Some highly anticipated treatments have taken off quickly, despite any sales-rep clampdown, including the brand-new breast cancer treatments from Roche ($RHHBY), Perjeta and Kadcyla; and prostate cancer drugs from Johnson & Johnson (Zytiga) and Medivation (Xtandi).

Others might need more sales support, like Sanofi's ($SNY) colon cancer drug Zaltrap, which hit an uptake snag when doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering decided it was too expensive to use. The company offered a big discount soon after. Getting reps in the door to talk up the offer would be a natural follow-up.

Fortunately, oncologists are more likely to open their gates for reps with new drugs on offer. But that entrée closes down quickly--after about 6 months. So, companies have to act fast. New information on existing drugs, such as new clinical trial data, helps as well. Which means companies might want to consider their publication schedules accordingly, ZS says.

In fact, companies need to rethink their sales strategies overall, not just in oncology. Sales reps should tightly focus on what doctors need, whether knowledge or reimbursement support or clinical trial enrollment assistance.

"The traditional way of physicians interacting with the sales force is not working--it's not as effective as in prior years," ZS Managing Principal Pratap Khedkar says in the AccessMonitor report. "When half of your customers don't want to interact with you the way you want to interact with them, it's a problem."

- see the ZS Associates release
- get the AccessMonitor report

Special Reports: Top 10 Best-Selling Cancer Drugs | Top 10 Experimental Cancer Drugs - 2013