Reimagining the Role of the Pharma Sales Rep

Stephen Ross
MNG Health

For as long as any of us can remember, the role of the drug rep has been the same—get in front of a doctor and tell them why they ought to prescribe your drug. This model relies on a very simple calculus: every friendly, positive interaction a rep can get with an HCP jogs their prescribing pen fractionally closer to the prescription pad in favor of their promoted drug. Of course, all of your competitors are doing the same thing, so it’s an arms race—maximize your share of voice and drive your prescription volumes.

To use a historical military analogy, traditional drug reps are like Revolutionary War soldiers. They stand in straight lines, load their muskets with product information, and fire! Again, and again and again… Whoever can bring the most fire to bear on the target typically comes out on top in the war for prescription share.

But what happens in a world in which all the soldiers are suddenly on the sidelines? What if they can’t get close enough to their target HCPs to fire off their messages?

The rules of promotional engagement changed dramatically and suddenly this past March, when COVID-19 shut down doctors’ offices across the country. In the face of an impossible access problem, most pharma companies told their reps to stand down and to try and engage HCPs as much as possible via virtual means. How effective has that been? Not very. The number of rep interactions per week has fallen from an average of ~30 at the start of the year, to ~7 in the immediate post-COVID crisis. Although this has recovered marginally, it is still hovering around 10 calls per week as of late July. Efforts to convert live calls to virtual have been minimally effective, with less than 20% of HCPs engaging virtually more than one time this year, according to ZS Associates.

Source: ZS Associates, Affinity Monitor, September 2020

COVID-19 has made it painfully clear that the old sales model which depends fundamentally on live, in-person access to HCP offices is irredeemably broken and needs to be reinvented. So, what should that role be?

In 2020, a drug rep should no longer be the physical mouthpiece of drug promotion. Instead, they should be the orchestrator of a whole host of promotional tools and tactics they can seamlessly deploy based on established business rules coupled with their detailed knowledge of the customer. Promotional product information, reimbursement coverage data, access to samples, access to KOL commentaries, and links to archived digital content can all be provided digitally to HCPs, either in person or remotely.

Recently published data from ZS Associates shows doctors are reading more email today than they did prior to COVID-19. At MNG Health we have seen increases in our open and click-through rates, as well as an incredible surge in the number of HCPs participating in virtual meetings, particularly speaker events and advisory boards. In addition, we developed new platforms allowing sales reps to deploy custom email and direct mail pieces, register HCPs for live and on-demand speaker events, and curate digital assets for sharing with target customers. These tools make it possible for today’s pharmaceutical rep to be not just a mouthpiece, but a true territory manager, deploying the full range of promotional and educational tools to influence HCP behavior.

For more information on how to equip your salesforce with all the non-personal and digital tools it needs to succeed in today’s pharma marketplace, please contact

MNG Health is a multichannel marketing company with over twenty years of experience that specializes in data-driven tactics designed to reach and engage target HCPs throughout the customer journey – spanning non-personal promotion, peer-to-peer interactions, and advisory platforms.