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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 12105

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: news

Perrone M.
Drug Salespeople See Doctors Less
Associated Press 2007 Dec 5,0,364785.story

Full text:

The Pitch Relies More On Technology

WASHINGTON – - Patients today are less likely to bump into drug sales representatives at a doctor’s office as pharmaceutical companies adopt less expensive technologies and more discreet ways to pitch drugs.

The changes are partly in response to a backlash against overly aggressive marketing of the past decade, when many executives believed the company with the biggest sales force would have the highest sales. From 1999 to 2001, U.S. drug companies expanded their sales staffs, on average, by 42 percent, according to the most recent research available from Datamonitor.

Back then, many physicians dealt with half a dozen or more people from each major drug company as ever-larger armies of sample-toting salespeople were mobilized. But the marketing blitz took a toll on doctors.

“A lot of practices across the U.S. basically said ‘we don’t want to see you anymore because it’s too much of an interruption,’” said Dr. Dave Switzer, a family doctor based in northern Virginia who gives unannounced salespeople a minute of his time.

He may be on the generous side. These days, 75 percent of sales calls don’t involve a face-to-face meeting with a doctor, according to research by Leerink Swann & Co. Industry executives acknowledge increased demands on physician’s time, including paperwork required by health insurers.

But the marketing shift goes beyond a time crunch. Media companies have increasingly scrutinized how drug companies court physicians, from handing out branded pens to funding lavish conferences.

Perhaps the most important driver in the effort to improve selling techniques is the bottom line. Revenues are shrinking industrywide as many blockbuster drugs from the past decade lose patent protection. Dwindling sales recently led the industry’s biggest player, Pfizer Inc., to cut its U.S. sales force by 20 percent or about 2,500 salespeople. Rivals such as AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb also have reduced U.S. sales staff in recent years.

AstraZeneca and other companies are focusing on Web-based visits between doctors and salespeople. The appointments are made for the evening or weekends, and a sales representative gives a presentation through an online video link or over the telephone while directing the physician to Web pages.

Representatives used to carry pages of company studies and medical journal articles. Using tablet PCs, sales people can present their information faster and direct the doctor to company Web pages.


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As an advertising man, I can assure you that advertising which does not work does not continue to run. If experience did not show beyond doubt that the great majority of doctors are splendidly responsive to current [prescription drug] advertising, new techniques would be devised in short order. And if, indeed, candor, accuracy, scientific completeness, and a permanent ban on cartoons came to be essential for the successful promotion of [prescription] drugs, advertising would have no choice but to comply.
- Pierre R. Garai (advertising executive) 1963