Pharmaceutical Professional Marketing to Move Online

Pharmaceutical companies have ramped up their direct to consumer advertising over the past few decades. But they also need efficient ways to connect with the customers who control prescriptions, physicians. The traditional way to reach physicians, office visits by pharmaceutical reps, may be fading away in favor of online marketing.

A recent report in the Wall Street Journal notes that pharmaceutical firms have been forced to change their strategy because up to 25% of doctors refuse to meet with drug reps who stop by their offices. The practice of sending sales reps out in the field with drug samples is now seen as an expensive and inefficient way to handle marketing.

This may explain why drug companies have cut back on pharmaceutical jobs. For example, AstraZeneca is in the process of cutting thousands of sales jobs between now and 2014. Other industry giants such as Sanofi-​Aventis and Merck have also reduced workforces.

At the same time, these companies are establishing improved outreach with online solutions. These solutions range from websites and downloaded apps to live call centers.  Drug companies may be on the right track as new research shows that a big majority, 72%, of physicians, own smartphones. Wa'el Hashad, vice president of cardiovascular and metabolic marketing for Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH says, "No doubt digital marketing does have an impact…I don't believe, however, the shift happens overnight. I think it's a gradual shift.”

While drug makers may be moving in the direction of more interactive marketing, the drug detail rep, will still play a role for now. PhRMA-​sponsored research indicates that many physicians still find their sales reps to be valuable information sources. Over 90% of surveyed physicians indicate that their reps inform them of “new indications, side effects and emerging risks and benefits” of medications. And the personal interaction also allows them to give feedback about their experiences with new medications.

Changes to seem to be afoot in the industry but it may take several years before the detail rep goes the way of the horse and buggy.

[Source: Whalen, Jeanne. Drug Makers Replace Reps with Digital Tools. Online wsj​.com. 10 May 2011. Web. 20 May 2011; Arnold, Matthew. Doctors value details. MMM-​online. 15 Apr. 2011. Web. 20 May 2011] 
Kathy Crosett
Kathy is the Vice President of Research for SalesFuel. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Vermont and oversees a staff of researchers, writers and content providers for SalesFuel. Previously, she was co-​owner of several small businesses in the health care services sector.