Rep as Consultant: Can It Really Happen?
Six months into the beginning of the end of the arms race, the next sales model clearly remains a work in progress—a dose
of specialty, a dash of regional, smaller, smarter, tiered to taste. But being evolutionary, rather than finished and fixed,
may be its greatest strength. Pharma faces such a slew of new pressures, conflicting needs, and shifting market dynamics that
the days of a one-size-fits-all model may be gone for good.
In the meantime, pilots are in play to make commercialization more productive, such as Wyeth's new move to hire reps in flex-time
territories, says PDI's Marquard. That service has been popular at the contract sales organization (CSO) for years, and now
Big Pharma is taking the hint.
Companies are also experimenting with using CSOs to quickly maximize managed care wins. "It's like flipping the switch from
off to on," says Tenaglia. "It lets you take ramp-up very, very quickly in a short amount of time."
But many of these projects are conducted by trial and error, according to Mike Luby, and they haven't resulted in any real
reduction in costs. "There hasn't been a disciplined level of assessment, so companies are not really learning as much as
they could from the things they're trying. As a result you have lots of companies reinventing the wheel or trying different
flavors of the same thing that might not have worked."
Where the sales model works, there's no imperative from stockholders to build a new model. Instead, sales forces are following
the pattern of patent expirations, with companies pulling back reps when they have fewer drugs to promote.
"We're not quite yet at the tipping point," says Numerof's Nightingale. "The evidence is accumulating that it's becoming higher
risk to hold on for too long and that companies need to be investing in the next-generation models. Like most situations,
you reach a tipping point where the evidence, the concerns, and the alternative solutions start to take over."
And with much of the change in sales structures happening on a brand-team basis, if big change is coming, it likely requires
leadership at the very top to bring it home. "You have a lot of inertia," says Kent Stephan, CEO of Princeton Brand Econometrics.
"You could almost never go wrong if you did the same thing you did last year. That's why this change won't take place in a
major way until top management acts more like consumer packaged goods, demanding efficiencies in terms of the choices and
decisions they make. Things on a wide scale won't percolate up from the bottom."
Still, there is one feature that everyone seems to agree on: the role of the rep. "If reps can become disease-state specialists,
they can partner with the physician, so when they talk about the patient population, the rep brings cutting-edge knowledge
amongst all the products," says Peter Claude, partner for PricewaterhouseCoopers's pharmaceutical-advisory-services group.
"That little world of what's created by virtue of the nonbiased consultation could have a halo effect on the company's other
In some ways, Claude says, the industry is very far off from this idea. But he argues that the increasing focus on outcomes
and pay-for-performance can have a transformational effect in changing reps. "That's what's needed to move from being the
doc's friend to the doc's partner or advisor," he says. This is surely what Kindler had in mind when he realigned Pfizer's
sales force. Call it specialty or back to the future, it's the start of something new between Big Pharma and its partners.