In reality, this is not yet a big problem. New Hampshire, which passed a law to ban the use of prescribing data, represents less than one percent of the nation's market for prescription drugs. And, so far at least, physicians enrolled in the American Medical Association's PDRP program are but one half of one percent of the AMA's 800,000 members. But the danger signs are out there, and it might be time to think about future—and past—selling strategies.
If access to physician prescribing data continues to decrease, the just-look-it-up mentality of too many sales reps will, by necessity, become a thing of the past. But as someone who has worked 15 years in the industry, I'm here to tell you that the way of the past—developing sources in a community and crafting a sales strategy with the information they disclose, helped make me more efficient and enabled me to respect my customer's time. Back in the day, when I carried the bag, I started out with little information about a new territory besides zip-code sales data. I did fine. And if data granularity disappears, the sales representative of the future can still succeed.
But as wonderful as this data is, pharma can relearn how to live without it. Sales managers should still be able to adjust business practices, run departments, and train sales representatives—even if we have to work the way I did, when I first became a rep.
When I was a sales representative for McNeil Pharmaceutical in 1991, I received zip-code data every month. The data broke down product sales for my medications and competitors by zip code throughout my territory. My first step in analyzing the data was to compare the new numbers to the previous period, to gauge any changes. I then calculated my net-to-market (my product's percent growth or decrease minus the market's percent growth or decrease for the period) to assess overall progress. The net-to-market gave me a context for my product's growth or decline. Then I had to rely on my business acumen and local-market knowledge to help identify the key high prescribers or the ones who gained or lost market share. It was at this point that I was able to assess the effect of my targeting.