HausCalls: The Future of Pharma Sales and the Role of Social Media

Welcome to HausCalls™ – insights and prescriptions from Ideahaus® on problem topics in communications, hosted by Kevin Popovic, Communications Director for Ideahaus®, and author of Satellite Marketing: Using Social Media for Business.

On today’s call, we have Chauncey Smith, past Brand Manager extraordinaire at GlaxoSmithKline, Chief Sales & Marketing Director at ScienceMedia, and now Chief Marketing Officer at MarketSmith Services. We also have Keith Hall, past Director of Medical Sales Training at GlaxoSmithKline, VP and National Sales Manager for Auxilium, and today the Director at Leadership Advantage.

Click here to listen to the show:


kevin-popovic-ideahaus-150x150Kevin Popovi?: Given the state of sales in the Pharma industry, there’s a lot to talk about. Reports of massive sales force reductions at GSK, Pfizer, Roche – Novartis dropped 1400 sales positions, Sanofi-Aventis had 1700 layoffs. Overall in the Pharma industry, sales took a loss of 50,000 jobs in 2010 (the second largest sector reduction after the US Government). Insiders call it “downsizing”, some call it “rightsizing”, others are just outsourcing.

Chauncey-SmithChauncey Smith: You know, Kevin, I think your point about job reductions in the pharma industry of that 50,000 obviously the lions share of that comes out of the sales force. There is a resultant effect in sales training and sales administration and it even arguable that it effects product and marketing management size and structure. And what you’ve seen here in 2010 are estimated reports where sales representatives have gone from roughly 105,000 in 2007-2008 to somewhere around 90,000 in the end of 2010. Obviously a pretty sizeable reduction and seems to be trending lower.

KeithHall-sq-150Keith Hall: I would agree with you, Chauncey. I think that trending lower is the key point here. As more and more pharmaceutical companies look at the drugs they currently have, look at their tenure on the lifecycle, as well as what’s in the hopper they just cannot support the current size of the sales force they have. So they have to reduce that size down drastically and I would say, Kevin, you were saying 50,000? You may be right as we go into 2011, 2012, there’s definitely going to be a lot of people on the street.

The people that are on the street seem like they’re all doing the same things. We see the traditional sales rep coming a mile away: a big case of samples and materials on wheels trying to get into to see the doctor, just like they have been doing for years. – Kevin Popovic

Chauncey-SmithChauncey Smith: It would be a fair comment to say the model has changed a whole lot in the last 40 years in terms of how drugs are marketed to physicians. Predominantly by personal selling, representatives are in the office trying to establish a relationship and trying to understand the types of patients the doctor is seeing, making the appropriate product presentations as needed. And clearly, the model hasn’t changed greatly. Now, what I think is forcing that change a little bit is the reduction in the sales force. You simply don’t have the amount of reach to reach the absolute number of physicians that you did just three or five years ago. And certainly there’s a fragmentation in the availability top get to the appropriate physician and/or prescriber or pharmacy and therapeutic manager because that access has been severly limited. Some of by which the sales organization has done by putting so many feet on the street and then some out of more practical considerations really being able to spend the time required with the patients on an individual basis as needed.

The reason we’re still seeing this same behavior, this same action, this same model is because these guys are still being taught the same things.

KeithHall-sq-150Keith Hall: I think its because there’s antiquated thinking in upper management, as well as middle management. The idea of reach and frequency are gone. Where you were able to see as many doctors as you can, and see them as often as you can, and has Chauncey had alluded to, the access to these physicians is a lot harder nowadays. But, at the same time, the ability for these reps to actually see their key physicians is crucial and people monitor the frequency and the reach of A Physician, B Physician, C Physician is an antiquated thought process. What they have to do, and what they have to begin to look at how much time and vested time they spend with those key physicians, and looking at what percent of time spent with key people rather than the numbers, and that hasn’t changed within the pharma industry since the early 50’s and early 60’s, and the reaon it hasn’t changed yet is because this industry is very, very conservative and very reluctant to change and very slow if any change at all. However, as the new rep comes on board, and the new way of seeing physicians is going to be different tomorrow than it is today they’re going to have to be forced to change or they’re going to be out of business to be quite honest with you, and you’re staring to see that now. You probably only have five large pharmaceutical companies where in the past you had several. The thought process has to change and it has to start with upper management and get drilled down but I don’t know if they’re that sophisticated to do that yet.

What does the pharma sales rep of the future look like?

Chauncey-SmithChauncey Smith: It would behoove the pharma rep of the future to understand how each and every physician that they call on or want to target wants to be engaged. I think one of the things we’ve seen with the rise of technology, and it causes a little bit of tension between marketing and sales, is when the marketing team makes almost all of the value that the representative can bring by walking into the office available to them online. By that, I mean, being able to get answers to medical information questions. Being able to review credible product information and/or request samples. If that is how that physician wants to be engaged and he is your responsibility then you want to encourage those channels and methods that will allow that, and I think to Keith’s earlier thought that antiquated thinking is, “we’re just going to continue to push on the model and we’re gonna do it a little better than we have in the past but we’re not going to make a fundamental change. That is one fundamental change that can fairly easily adopted and allow you to connect a bit more fully with your target audience.

kevin-popovic-ideahaus-150x150Kevin Popovi?: The advent of all this new technology makes all of this even easier. Who doesn’t have a smart phone anymore? How dependent are sales people becoming on text messaging, if not all of us? In that smaller channel of communication that convenience of asynchronous messaging is appealing to a lot of people. And of course, all the apps that come with the smart phone that allow you to get to that marketing information, or get to the web and do your search, or to find really anything that you want –we see some reps using that. Do you think that will be prescribed for the sales rep of the future?

It would behoove the pharma rep of the future to understand how each and every physician that they call on or want to target wants to be engaged. – Chauncey Smith

KeithHall-sq-150Keith Hall: Yeah, I totally do because here’s the deal. Doctors don’t need to see sales reps at all anymore. They really don’t. The only reason they were in existence early on in the Golden Age of the 70’s, 80’s was to gain information. They needed to get information and they didn’t have as much access as the sales rep did on their specific product for their specific disease-entity. Nowadays, all you have to do is, as you said, Kevin, is to go onto some sort of app on your smart phone and you can pull up all the information you need. So the idea of the rep knocking on the door of the doctor which you saw in the example you set up earlier is going to go away, and its going to go away a lot fast than people think because this technology of using text messaging or using the smart phones or using the Tweeters or using social networks – all of this is going to come into play, and I don’t even know what’s down in the future in the next step. I’m not that well-versed on the technology but there is some other technology that’s going to be there where these guys put their finger on it and push a button and Bingo! They get everything they need.

kevin-popovic-ideahaus-150x150Kevin Popovi?: I think a lot of people are getting that thru social media, in sales, in general, and I think we’re seeing more of that in LinkedIn profiles the reps are using. I’m seeing people use their profiles to connect to doctors, nurses, practice managers, hospital admins – all those types of people. I’m seeing pharma reps using LinkedIn groups to join those conversations that their prospects and customers are already having. I’m seeing reps use Google Alerts to monitor what’s going on in that big picture because you just can’t be everywhere. Like Keith said, I see everyone using Twitter to share information, we’re seeing pharma companies share information, we’re seeing the reps share information – I saw an article about a doctor using Twitter to send tweets during an operation to share information out. I think everyone is getting comfortable with social media but of course there is that big question about where do regulations come in?

KeithHall-sq-150Keith Hall: I don’t know if they have even thought about this technology that’s going on out there. Another point, too – if you take the doctors that are coming out of medical school today, and doing their residency and doing their fellowship – they’re just as connected as the normal population. They’re used to this type of stuff. They’re walking around with iPads, and pulling up information on their smart phones, and all this stuff. I don’t even know if the FDA has even begun to crack this control or this regulation on this type of device, and it will be interesting to see how these things progress.

Chauncey Smith: The FDA seems to be doing a lot of thinking here at the moment and not a lot of acting in terms of providing some guidance. Certainly, they were originally supposed to provide some guidance on the use of social media and how you engage with your either physicians or patients or payors – whatever the case may be, but they’ve delayed that. It’s obviously a pretty big hindrance within our market place, and I’ll only disagree with Kevin slightly that depending on the organization you work for that level of “gray: may apply to all social media.

Sales reps know what they’re allowed to say, and what they’re not allowed to say. They’ve been educated ad nauseum about the implications with a lot of that. I would assume that as much as there are these new channels that are coming all these channels allow you to do is to deliver a message. I would think as long as you’re minding your P’s and Q’s about I know what I’m allowed to say and what I’m not allowed to say, is there a real issue? – Kevin Popovic

Chauncey-SmithChauncey Smith: I think your point is a good one, Kevin. Just in the last week or so I just read where they were sharing the Pfizer “playbook” for how to use social media appropriately, and to give their business unit directors some guidance on ways in which to use it because I think from a risk perspective there was a fairly high-level of risk and obviously, with the representatives being the lowest common denominator if you will, or the most points of contact that there is obviously an expansion of risk there, but I think Pfizer took a pretty proactive approach in providing them guidance as to when and how to respond appropriately through the social media channels that they have available to them. So that gives me encouragement that we’re moving in the right direction.

KeithHall-sq-150Keith Hall: That’s a good point, and I’m glad that you shared that. As you all know, anytime you put something on an electronic device it lasts forever, it just doesn’t go away. Somewhere there’s a recoding of this, somewhere there’s a tracability so you have to be careful when you use these social medias or any other technology that what you’re saying, or what you’re typing in is in line with what DDMAC and the FDA wants you to say because if you put something in as error and – boom! – you send it out and you have the potential of getting yourself, as well as the organization, in a lot of trouble.

kevin-popovic-ideahaus-150x150Kevin Popovi?: And when we’re taking a look at the multiplier that is a sales team – its one thing when you have one sales rep trying to explore some new territory but what happens when you have your whole sales force doing this? Is there any immediate with 60, 200, 500 people using social media for their pharma company?


KeithHall-sq-150Keith Hall: For me, I think the biggest challenge is making sure that everybody is playing the game the right way because the more and more you get people on these social media things the more and more people can begin to individualize and try to waiver away from what the message may be or try to customize it to fit them a little bit better. And therein lies the problem. That can really get you in trouble with the government and what you begin to say for your particular products. Chauncey, you know this as well as I, when we used to sit down and go through a marketing message and we were pulling out the sales aids, boy, you had to be real careful when Regulatory and Legal got there. You had to be careful about the claims you were making, and the words that you used and I think that same issues is going to become more prevalent with these new technologies that are out there that the reps are using.

kevin-popovic-ideahaus-150x150Kevin Popovi?: We’re seeing that with our clients, across the board, with the use of an internal social media policies and guidelines. When they’re is going to be multiple people speaking for the company, Keith, to your point, you’ve got to have some guides that want to go rogue and that they’re going to know better. By having that internal document it at least says, “these people are authorized and allowed to speak on behalf of the company, meaning these other people are not. These are the things you are allowed to say, these are the things you are not. And at least having an internal document that everybody gets a head of time, and knows t hose rule, I think will help minimize some of those instances which could pull DDMAC in quite quickly.

KeithHall-sq-150Keith Hall: On the positive side of this, the real positive side is that I go back to a gal that’s out of the Harvard Business School – her name is Rosabeth Moss Kanter, and one of the things she looks at is five things to look at an organization to see if they are moving as fast as they can and are they efficient and effective? The “5 F’s”; are they fast, are they flexible, are they forward-thinking, are they focused and are they friendly? And if you take a look at those five “F’s” being able to use these new technical devices it encompasses all five of those things. You can be fast, you can be flexible, you can be focused, you can be forward-thinking, and you can really, really be friendly with the physicians, like it used to be in the old days where you’re knocking on the door and the guy would have you sit down in the office, and maybe even share a cup of coffee or a cup of tea with him, but now with this new social media and the new technology you can incorporate those five things with this technology.

kevin-popovic-ideahaus-150x150Kevin Popovi?: I know we’ve been talking a lot about the downsides and challenges, now lets talk about up sides, and in particular, the sales force. What could a sales force accomplish that they couldn’t accomplish before with these new technologies and with social media?


Chauncey-SmithChauncey Smith: Conceptually, one of the immediate wins that you could see, obviously in the context of big pharma, with the reduction of your ability to different geographies or absolute number of prospects, you clearly give yourself a way of leveling the field to be able to very cost-effectively, and manpower-efficiently be able to reach a big-big number of your target audience with a virtual or contract type of service being able to provide that activity for you – just a great ability to make that initial engagement.

KeithHall-sq-150Keith Hall: Chauncey hit the nail on the head. The access is the greatest advantage I see. Plus the fact, if you take a look at the world we live in, today with a lot of security concerns, and you’re looking at people that need to get into hospitals and other medical institutions where it used to be real easy to do that, these things have really clamped down quite a bit, as qwell as the managed care, brick-and-mortar type places. They really limit the access these guys have, and for me I’m right where Chauncey is – it’s a matter of getting access. If you don’t get access with the individual, you don’t get an audience. If you don’t get an audience you can’t deliver your message to them.

kevin-popovic-ideahaus-150x150Kevin Popovi?: Social Media allows you to first present yourself as a professional. A lot of people are using LinkedIn profiles for that, and they’re using them to connect with people they’ve had a hard time connecting with before. Again, this will go to strategy, but how ill you connect? I think if its just the rep saying, “hey, I’m trying to get to the doctors in your practice”, I don’t think that’s nearly as appealing as, “hey, I rep for this company, I have a lot of information and I’m an expert as you’ll see on my profile. I’m a member of these different groups where I contribute. I’d like to add you to my network as a connection, and please consider me a resource.” I think that’s a whole different proposition for that connection.

Chauncey-SmithChauncey Smith: When I listen to my initial response, I wasn’t necessarily suggesting that it is a replacement – it very well could be in addition. So, on your front-end acquisition and qualification of your initial prospects, and there are going to be some components that are not available or accessible through the social network. However, those who are available to create a dialogue and relationship that, when appropriate, or if needed, you’re able to send a live representative in to make a high-level presentation, or whatever that is. They could very well work synergistically, hand and hand, and not necessarily a replacement technology.

kevin-popovic-ideahaus-150x150Kevin Popovi?: There is still that need for that customer relationship, and it remains to be seen if you can do it all remotely. But up and to that point, you surely can cover a lot more ground as a sales force. You can learn quite a bit more using tools like Google Alerts, and Twitter and TweetDeck and those types of things. And it gives you a lot more to work with than can get from just throwing the guys out in the field every day.

KeithHall-sq-150Keith Hall: I think the days of the rep working 9-5, 8-4, 7 to whatever are gone too. With these new devices, they can really build that relationship and get access to that physician on a24/7 basis: all doctors don’t work the same hours. Figure that you’re an oncology rep calling on Oncologists, well, they may need to chat with you at 11 o’clock at night, or they may need to chat with you at one in the morning, and that provides you with that flexibility, but I also think that we, as managers of these type of people, have to realize that its not a 9-5 type of job anymore. You’re going to be more of an external consultant to an internal customer.

Chauncey-SmithChauncey Smith: I’m in absolute agreement. Basically, how are we going to communicate differently to our target than 3-5 years ago? And how do we make ourselves available in the channel and in the format they want, when they want? I had run an E.D. test, Keith, to confirm your point, making that information available to them when they want it. The greatest utilization of the program occurred between 6:30am and 8am in the morning, and between 5:30 and 8pm at night. And basically, those are the outside of those care hours where, obviously, their increased workloads and dynamics are going on for the physician that are obviously shaping to change the relationship with the sales process, but certainly there was a lot of activity outside of the “core business hours.”

KeithHall-sq-150Keith Hall: If sales managers don’t get in tune with the way that the customer is working, as well as the new people that are coming out of college who are well-versed in this type of technology and type of media, understand the power of it they don’t understand that and are still trying to force them into that square peg of 9-5, 8-4, whatever it is, they’re not going to be able to recruit the best and the brightest, thus you won’t have the people that you need in order to make you more effective, more efficient in the market place.

kevin-popovic-ideahaus-150x150Kevin Popovi?: Keith, you bring up a really good point about what we’ll call the “old” and the “new”. The older guys know how to do customer relationships, but aren’t very strong in the social media because they didn’t grow up in it, but then you have the younger guys who are great in social media but don’t understand the relationship portion of that. What’s a sales manager to do with that?

KeithHall-sq-150Keith Hall: I think I’m going to go back to what Chauncey said, you’re going to see this as an additive piece to the actual knocking on the door, but if a sales manager looks at this stuff, he has to be more flexible and understanding because if he’s not its going to drive him nuts, or her nuts, as well as the representative because as you have that new person coming out of school with maybe 2-3 years of experience, you have that new doc that is used to all this stuff, you have to manage this guy a heck of a lot different than you have to manage a guy that’s been around 10-15 years. You have to have that flexibility in your management style, and if not you’re going to lose. You’re not going to be productive.

kevin-popovic-ideahaus-150x150Kevin Popovi?: I’m wondering how these guys are managing and coordinating this? Part of this discussion started with an earlier discussion about what could a sales manager do with 100 reps using social media in a coordinated effort? My mind started spinning thinking about individual reps being able to contribute to a greater knowledge base, sharing that out through a blog or a master Twitter feed, and those Twitter feeds updating status updates on LinkedIn profiles across the board so that when we’re ready to do a launch on a Monday morning of a new product all of my reps LinkedIn status updates are all updated with that same messaging. Now I have 100 of my sales representatives that are already well-connected on LinkedIn… From a sales standpoint, I get a little giggly on what kind of audience I can take control of with some kind of coordination like that. Do you see that as feasible for these sales teams? Do sales teams really work as teams or is it really every guy out for themselves?

KeithHall-sq-150Keith Hall: In sales, I don’t believe in teams. You have a goal, and I think what the managers are going to look at nowadays is, here’s your goal, figure it out. You go figure out how you’re going to make that, and as long as you stay within the ethics, and you don’t violate the policies and procedures that are laid out in front of you. For me, where you have to get that change is in the manager’s head – I don’t care when you work. If you want to work, like Chauncey said, those hours between 6:30am and 8am, or between 5:30 and 9 or whatever it is, I really don’t care as long as you are producing the numbers I need you to make. And as long as you are doing it in an ethical way, and you’re not violating corporate policy or violating any policies within the FDA I’m comfortable with that, but that is a totally different mindset for the managers because a lot of managers still think, “if I don’t see you out there, and if I’m not counting the number of calls that you’re making you’re not working.” For me, it has to be, “here’s the number you have to make – go figure it out, and how you get it, as long as you’re on top of the table with it I’m okay with it.” That’s where the change has to come.


HausCalls™ is hosted by Kevin Popovic, Communications Director for Ideahaus®, and Author of Satellite Marketing: Using Social Media for Business. HausCalls™ is produced by Ideahaus® for its member community, and is a trademark of Ideahaus, LLC. Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

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