Physician access for pharmaceutical sales reps continues to erode. According to the 2014 edition of ZS’s AccessMonitorTM report, access is in some way restricted for almost half of U.S. physicians, compared with 23% in 2009. More interesting are the changes in rep access by specialty: While oncologists and cardiologists have always imposed severe access restrictions, physicians in formerly “rep-friendly” specialties such as dermatology and gastroenterology are now becoming more difficult to see.
MD access will not likely improve anytime soon as physicians rapidly continue to adopt digital technologies. Physicians access clinical information at different times of day, such as during patient consultation or between patient visits. Additionally, with continued provider consolidation, practices will grow in size and become part of bigger health systems that tend to restrict sales rep visits.
The fact remains, however, that the sales force is a pharmaceutical company’s most expensive and most important promotional resource and hence must evolve to remain relevant and valuable to its customers. As physicians adopt new channels of engagement with pharma, the most successful rep will be the “orchestrator rep.” This rep harmonizes both personal and nonpersonal interactions to deliver an integrated customer experience.
Introducing the orchestrator rep
Neither a new role in the sales organization nor a key account manager (KAM), the orchestrator rep is a traditional rep who is empowered with deeper customer insights across all customer touch points. He or she is trained to make decisions that ultimately drive stronger customer engagement.
For example, if the orchestrator rep is aware that the MD has been invited to a company-sponsored symposium, he has an opportunity to reinforce the invitation, even though delivering product details and discussing clinical benefits of the product remain his primary priority during the call. In this scenario, if the rep understands that the doctor has a high affinity toward peer-to-peer content and the symposium topic aligns with the doctor’s offer preferences, then perhaps it is a good opportunity to reiterate the invitation to strengthen the quality of the call. This behavior, though it may look very basic, can enable the rep to deliver an experience that is more aligned with the doctor’s preferences. With consistent attention to physician preferences over time, the MD’s engagement with the rep and the pharmaceutical company will very likely deepen.
Another example is when, during a particular week and for a particular MD, the rep chooses to optimize his time by sending a preapproved e-mail about a new clinical study rather than visiting the physician at the clinic. The rep may choose the e-mail promotion because the territory is mirrored and the rep’s peer is visiting the doctor in a few days. The MD may have a strong affinity toward digital channels and weaker preference for face-to-face interactions. In this case, the rep chooses a digital engagement approach instead of a personal visit to achieve the desired level of impact.
The rep who orchestrates is expected to make tradeoffs and decisions about visit planning, call route planning and customer engagement approaches. To feel confident with the rep’s choices, sales operations needs to provide the right granularity of insight in an easy-to-understand format that is integrated seamlessly into the rep’s daily life. In addition, the rep must be trained to use those insights to make good business decisions, and the company culture must genuinely support customer-centric engagements.
View from the box seats
The orchestrator rep model is not something one can expect to institute overnight, but it’s time for the pharmaceutical industry to embrace changes that come with rapidly evolving customers.
Customers will continue to gravitate toward channels that allow them to get information when they want it, and how they want it. However, commercial models that turn traditional reps into orchestrators will continue to deliver superior customer-centric engagements and business performance.