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Drug Makers Try Cures for Physician ‘Cold Shoulders'

ZS Associates Report Shows 8 Million Planned Sales Visits Still Impossible To Complete

– Industry must deploy alternative means to gain physician attention; Avoid repeat of sales force arms race in oncology –

EVANSTON, IL – July 28, 2011 – Despite pharmaceutical company efforts to streamline sales forces and target busy physicians more effectively, as many as 8 million of the 115 million headquarters-planned sales calls were impossible to complete in 2010.

According to the spring 2011 AccessMonitor™, a report from global consulting firm ZS Associates that examines how often physicians and other prescribers will meet with pharmaceutical sales representatives, these 8 million sales calls comprise at least 7 percent of planned sales activity and continue to be directed at physicians who will not meet reps.  Further, some drug makers cannot make as many as 15-20 percent of their planned sales calls.

Though the number of prescribers willing to see reps decreased only slightly between 2009 and 2010, this dip comes on the heels of a 20 percent drop in the number of “rep-accessible” doctors between 2008 and 2009.

AccessMonitor™, now in its fourth year, monitors the sales rep-related interactions of more than 308,000 physicians, nurse practitioners and other pharmaceutical prescribers nationwide.  It also tracks both the planned and completed sales calls of about 43,000 pharmaceutical representatives – more than half of all representatives in the United States.  After analyzing the frequency with which prescribers meet with drug reps, AccessMonitor™ divides physicians into three groups: those who are generally willing to meet with sales reps, those who refuse to see reps under almost any circumstance and those who occasionally meet with pharmaceutical sales reps.

According to the spring 2011 Access Monitor™ report, only 54 percent of prescribers in 2010 were “rep-accessible”; that is, they met with at least 70 percent of the sales representatives who called on them.  This is down 7 percent from the spring 2010 study.  At the same time, the number of “rep-inaccessible” prescribers – those who saw fewer than 30 percent of the reps who called on them – increased to 11 percent from 9 percent. 

The report classified 34 percent of physicians as “rep-neutral.” They’ll see 31 percent to 69 percent of the pharmaceutical salesmen who call on them.

“It’s clear that the number of physicians willing to meet with drug reps is declining – and we expect that decline to continue,” said Aaron Barzilai, manager at ZS Associates and a leader of the AccessMonitor™ 2011 report. “Interestingly, while some regions have more ‘rep-inaccessible’ prescribers than others, AccessMonitor™ shows a steady increase in the rate at which physicians are becoming hard-to-reach all over the country.”

‘Plenty of Room for Advancement’

In response to “cold shoulders” from an increasing number of prescribers, many pharmaceutical companies have reshaped their sales organizations.  Besides reducing sales forces or replacing employee-reps with contract sales organizations, many leading drug makers have also modified the conventional, “one-size-fits-all” selling strategy.  They replaced it with a more customized, local approach, often called “differential resourcing.”

Developed by ZS Associates, differential resourcing differs from traditional, national sales team-based models by allowing company sales forces to adapt to subtle market changes.  Such changes may include changes to a group practice’s sales rep policy, or increases in insurer-required “co-pays” that discourage patients from filling a doctor’s prescription at the local pharmacy.  Differential resourcing trains, equips and deploys sales reps in a manner that reduces sales force expenditures and unproductive time without compromising physician relations or sales.

ZS estimates that differential resourcing has helped drug makers eliminate more than $2 billion annually in unproductive sales efforts.  That still leaves, however, another $1 billion in opportunity to redirect sales efforts, according to Chris Wright, Managing Principal for ZS Associates’ Global Pharmaceuticals Practice.

“Companies have dramatically improved sales force efficiency through more thoughtful deployment, but there is still plenty of room for advancement when it comes to adopting more effective ways of engaging the doctor,” Wright said. “We continue to help companies equip the rep with alternative techniques that help him maximize his time with the doctor and deliver his messages.”

Threat of a New ‘Sales Force Arms Race’ in Oncology

Curiously, new oncology drugs – the bright spots in a Big Pharma future that otherwise include patent expirations and thinning pipelines – may also present a trap for drug makers.  The number of “rep-inaccessible” oncologists is growing at a faster rate than in any other specialty.

“Because there are so many promising oncology therapies in the pipeline and pharmaceutical companies will be eager to bring these to market, the conditions are ripe for a new pharmaceutical rep ‘arms race,’” said ZS Associates’ Managing Principal Craig Stinebaugh.  “Yet, as manufacturers release their new drugs, they’ll need to be careful not to inundate prescribers with sales calls.  This happened with primary care physicians several years ago.  What followed was a sharp increase in the number of docs who limited access.”

Already the number of “rep-accessible” oncologists has declined significantly in the past few years. In 2008, 76 percent of oncologists were described as “rep-accessible.” By the beginning of 2011, this number dropped to 47 percent – about a 39 percent decline in accessibility.

Stinebaugh says many doctors can feel overwhelmed by sales reps very quickly.  As a result, pharmaceutical company representatives must be careful to avoid putting off doctors – even if they feel they’re providing valuable and necessary support for a breakthrough therapy.

Reach ‘Inaccessible’ Docs with On-Demand New Media

To support doctors who either don’t have the time to see reps during their normal work hours or who have a policy that restricts frequent rep access, Stinebaugh suggests pharmaceutical companies use alternative means of communication, such as live video-detailing with reps, podcasts with industry experts and a prominent digital presence through professional sites and online communities.

“Changes in practice economics and rising patient volumes are just a couple of reasons that have led to restricted access in oncology.  But physicians are independent, free-thinking individuals who want unbiased, customized information at their fingertips,” he said. “Pharmaceutical sales reps must understand ways to increase value in their interactions by providing extensive knowledge about their drugs – including feedback from other physicians – that will merit the physician’s attention.”

As physicians become busier during the day, they may be more open to connect with pharmaceutical companies with on-demand media during off-hours. These alternate channels of communication may hold the keys to maintaining a connection with this increasing percentage of “rep-inaccessible” doctors.  

About AccessMonitor™

AccessMonitor™ is a proprietary tool that incorporates the call reports from more than 200 different U.S. pharmaceutical sales teams representing more than 175 different products. The report equips companies with data to make the best use of sales and marketing resources in a systematic way and includes sales operations, field management and marketing strategies.  This could involve making meaningful changes to sales force structure and deployment, improving territory and compensation plan design, and analyzing marketing effectiveness and use of alternative media. The data supplied by the AccessMonitor™ report enables each pharmaceutical company to determine its own response to the current environment based on its unique needs.

In addition to the bi-annual national industry reports, participating companies also receive a company-specific AccessMonitor™ report that provides customer insights based on industry data that is processed, cleaned and anonymized according to a rigorous set of rules.

To learn more or to participate in the next round of reporting, contact ZS Associates at (847) 492-3602 or visit www.zs.com

About ZS Associates

ZS Associates is one of the largest global firms focused on sales and marketing effectiveness. ZS combines deep expertise with rigorous, fact-based analysis to deliver management, business operations and technology consulting to help companies improve performance and results.

With 19 offices around the world, ZS Associates has worked with more than 700 companies in 70 countries across consumer products, energy, high-tech, insurance, medical products and services, pharmaceuticals and other industries. Founded in 1983, ZS comprises multiple affiliated legal entities. Find more at http://www.zs.com.

Greg Austin
Director, Marketing & Communication, ZS

Anahita Wadia Khan / Kyle Adams
Sikich Marketing & Public Relations