Friday, April 12, 2013

Pharma Sales Jobs Take A(nother) Tumble! Digital's Slow But Relentless Impact.

Two stories in today's Wall Street Journal caught my attention. The first article reported that Eli Lilly will lay off 30% of its U.S. salesforce (see here). Why? Generics, of course, was mentioned first. But if you read on, you will find this tidbit:
"Also, the influence of sales representatives has shrunk, as many physicians no longer have the time to take the calls and some doctors refuse to see pharmaceutical representatives out of concern about improper promotions. Growing numbers of doctors prefer digital marketing. Lilly's U.S. sales force "will move to a smaller structure that is more directly aligned with our business realities—along with the realities our customers face, and the way they want to interact with us," a spokesman said."
Here's the trend in pharma sales rep jobs that I was able to piece together from this and previous articles (the data come from ZS Associates - other sources might have somewhat different numbers, but the trend is the same):

(Keep reading for more about "Jack & Jill Rep"; see end of post for notes about data sources)

I have previously noted that visits by sales reps that include free drug samples are also in a downward plunge (see "Will Drug Samples Soon Be a Thing of the Past?").

The second article reported that Pfizer and GSK (#1 and #2) are cutting back on payments to physicians related to marketing (see here). Again, if you read past the first few paragraphs of this article, you will find that digital is having an impact on this as well:
"Pfizer reduced spending on meals for doctors because the company's sales force is smaller and is conducting more 'virtual' meetings between doctors and company representatives, said spokeswoman Sharon Castillo."
Yesterday, I predicted that future pharma C-suite executives will come from digital pioneers who have personally "done digital" rather than "carried the bag" as do sales reps of yore (see "Fifty Ways to Do the Digital: Pharma CEOs Must Start 'Carrying the [Digital] Bag'").

Now, back to Jack and Jill:

Jack vs. Jill, Two Different Kinds of Pharma Sales Reps

Jack, the traditional pharma sales rep, drove his Ford Taurus all around town,
To detail and distribute free samples to his physician clients.
Jack banged his head against a doc’s door and broke his crown,
Because physicians would not let him in to see and feed them.

Meanwhile, Jill the virtual pharma sales rep, opened her iPad,
To Skype & email her physician clients and offer them free sample coupons.
She “visited” many docs this way, made a bundle, and was glad,
Because busy physicians prefer to get drug info & samples "virtually."

Source of data: 2006 - 2012 data come from ZS Associates as shown in the chart here. The 2012 number is an estimate through Q3 of that year. The 2013 datum comes from the WSJ article cited above regarding Lilly Layoffs. The 2003 datum comes from this Deolitte white paper.


  1. The traditional pharma rep is not quite dead but they are on life support. Research has shown that reps can add value depending on the nature of the product but do you really need a rep to detail Cialis ? More importantly this raises the question about attracting talented people to the industry. Why would anyone want to work in pharma when there is a good chance that within period of time you could be out of work even if you did an outstanding job ? You cannot treat people like expendable assets to be tossed away when they are not needed.

    1. Rich,

      Thanks for your comment. A dispensable labor force is indispensable to any capitalist enterprise, not just pharma. What's next? Migrant pharma workers?


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