PharmExec Blog

Lives of Patients Keep Sales Reps off Life Support

Pharm Exec’s sister conferencing unit explores the future of the US sales rep, including the implications of GSK’s new value-based compensation model

Last week brought a small but dedicated group of sales professionals to a CBI conference in San Diego with a clear mandate: to rate the future of the “detail man” — dead or alive?

Surprisingly, the consensus was that the function still retains its value, even as e-detailing and other online technologies are transforming the traditional way the industry interacts with healthcare professionals. One interesting data point is how provider attitudes toward working with sales representatives vary with the nature of the practice: survey research presented at the conference showed that while roughly a quarter of all physicians in the US now ban rep calls, including the bulk of all primary care professionals, 74 percent of specialist physicians still prefer that face-to-face contact.

What matters today is the relevance and quality of the interchange, and what physicians want most is the most current information available on the progress of clinical trial studies. This is no doubt a consequence of pressures from patients, which is why a key element in the curriculum of the new sales rep should be how to  build ties to disease groups and patient advocacy organizations. Another trend is making the rep more engaged in market access support through better awareness of the reimbursement policies and options set forth by payers. As this task of “fighting the insurance companies” takes a good deal of a physician’s time, the ability of the rep to synthesize and explain the rules on P&R can free the physician for the clinical interventions that save or extend lives.

The other topic for debate was the merits of GSK’s new formula for calculating performance bonuses among its US sales teams. It focuses heavily on informal feedback from healthcare professionals as to the quality and breadth of information received from the individual rep, rather than the traditional approach based on hard targets like scrip volume within each rep’s territory. GSK says its compensation plan will significantly reduce the potential for compliance problems, such as when sales reps skirt illegal behavior by promoting off-label prescribing.

That said, participants at the CBI event asked whether customer feedback is sufficient to ensure that the process of awarding bonuses will be objective and transparent. What happens when this subjective assessment of performance is at odds with the sales and revenue numbers? And does any of this really matter when payers are driving the agenda so completely in managing pricing and access?  There were no hard and fast answers, except for the premise that the safest ground is for the rep to link his own performance to the interests of the patient in getting timely access to the right drug at a reasonable price.

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