The Next Generation of Sales Reps

Jose Ferriera, SVP, Product and Innovation

February 23, 2021

Due to the pandemic, the pharma sales force may never be the same.  In our annual Media Vitals survey, we learned that only 41% of MD/DOs see pharmaceutical sales reps without any restrictions.  That is a 6-percentage point drop from 2019, on top of what was already a YOY slide, and signals an overall decline in healthcare professional openness to unscheduled rep meetings, further exacerbated by the current pandemic.  It seems we have reached an inflection point for the rep-centric marketing model, but probably not in the way many people think.  The rep is not being rendered obsolete in the now digital first (sometimes only) marketing environment.  Instead, their relationships and knowledge of regional healthcare providers and systems will continue to be immensely valuable to pharmaceutical marketers, just in a variety of new ways.  We can already see that reps have adopted video conferencing and other digital technologies to stay in close touch with the healthcare professionals they serve.  That is a trend, sped up by the pandemic, that will continue to grow.  In addition, there is a world of opportunity to use the rep’s knowledge as a key input into the multi-channel media mix; to empower them with a suite of tools that enhance their ability to market to customers through new channels.   

The world of marketing and media automation has grown substantially over the last few years as many companies, pharmaceuticals included, have evolved to what I call ‘post-data.’  They have moved beyond data collection and aggregation as a goal unto itself, to applying those data in meaningful ways, mostly using automated technologies.  Essentially using select data to inform actions that yield positive business results.  At CMI/Compas we have made substantial strides in this area with the launch of PROACT™ – enabling multi-channel next-best action decisioning and execution in real-time.  These innovations that employ data in the service of valuable action, by virtue of being automated, have introduced a level of scalability that enables disparate silos of marketing to be optimized and aligned.  We are now at a stage where reps directly and seamlessly influence the media mix in one of two ways – providing qualitative insights on individual customers and/or influencing messaging strategy or frequency.   

This new function and capability introduces a new paradigm into the pharmaceutical marketing landscape.  We’ve previously been able to provide reps with insight into how and what customers are engaging with in non-personal media, and media could act on rep visit information, but now reps can directly impact media, albeit with appropriate guardrails in place.  For example, a rep could log into their media interface and select a series of actions or insights related to a specific HCP.  They could advocate for a higher volume of a specific message, or drive sign-ups for an upcoming virtual media, or simply inform the home office of a qualitative preference learned through personal interaction.  All of the possible selections are then evaluated in light of existing campaigns, potentially triggering a specific set of media actions.  The actual budgets and inputs allocated to reps would still be controlled at the home office level, ensuring the rep media input coheres with overarching media strategies for individual customer and segments.  

There is a lot of ‘on-the-ground’ knowledge sales reps develop that is not currently being used at enterprise scale to inform other marketing channels.  A lot of it is qualitative and not easily ingested into a centralized marketing database.  One clear solution to this problem is to empower those front-line resources with the necessary tools to make an impact beyond face to face interactions.  Omni-channel has long been a goal of many pharmaceutical companies, shedding the siloes of disparate marketing channels and stakeholders, and this is one approach that can significantly contribute to the end goal.