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The Evolving Role of the Sales Rep

The COVID-19 pandemic sparked an evolution in physician engagement. Jill Padgett, EdD, Head of Training, explores what this means for the sales force and shares her advice for succeeding in a digital world.

Traditionally, the foundation of pharmaceutical sales has been in-person visits between sales representatives and healthcare professionals (HCPs), which include events, conferences, dinners, and in-office visits. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, this came to a grounding halt—all face-to-face visits were canceled, and reps had to find new ways to engage HCPs.

As a result, meetings took place online, through Teams and Zoom, and engagements became more digital. Two years since the start of the pandemic, HCPs have shown a preference for digital communications, and now, biopharma companies are re-evaluating the role of the sales representative altogether. According to a trends report by MM+M, 29% of biopharma companies are cutting back on rep spending while almost 50% are increasing their spend on engaging HCPs.

What does this shift look like for the role of the sales rep moving forward? Is there still a need for sales reps to pound the pavement with HCPs and focus on getting out more product? Or is it better to have a smaller, centralized sales team that focuses on fostering strong relationships and improving education and patient care?

How the Role of the Sales Rep Has Changed in the New COVID Era

In a recent conversation with Jill Padgett, EdD, Head of Training, she explains how today, “sales representatives are engaging with more customers who do not have an MD behind their name such as the Reimbursement Specialist, Practice Manager, Nurse and Patient Educators, etc., as they do with HCPs.”

This means that a sales force must be just as well-versed in building relationships with payers and other nonphysician customers as they are with traditional doctors. Sales representatives still have immense value for biopharmaceutical companies, but in a new COVID era, they can play a key role in helping HCPs navigate the complex and evolving pharmaceutical landscape by being better armed with digital communications, tools, and analytics that can provide an extra layer of support and personalization.

“The impact of the pandemic has made significant changes,” says Jill. “For example, it has been said that as a result of the pandemic, the use of digital technology has been accelerated by 6 years. Biopharma industries feel that acceleration in the way HCP engagement has changed. Some HCPs realize that they like fewer interruptions from sales representatives and they limit their contacts. In fact, research by Veeva shows that access to HCPs dropped by 57% in 2021. Others predict that a new HCP engagement norm may shift from in-person to digital by as much as 80% digital vs 20% in-person.”

Jill believes that this change brings about the need for biopharma reps to reskill in 2 critical areas.

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29th June 2022

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