Pharma selling is headed for a major disruption. Factors such as the proliferation of technology and artificial intelligence, the ongoing debate over the Affordable Care Act in the U.S. and decreased access to physicians are all making the traditional approaches to pharma selling obsolete. Like a cassette tape making way for the CD, traditional sales roles are being replaced with more specialized roles. These shifts in the marketplace predict a looming talent gap that pharma executives must begin to address now before it cripples their ability to compete for market share.

Pharma sales leaders can no longer just think about how many reps they need and how to structure their sales forces by product and franchise. Instead, they need to reconsider not only how to evolve the role of the rep, but how to define work, how teams work together, and how to manage, which will, in aggregate, redefine the future of selling. To effectively drive value for their customers, pharmaceutical sales professionals in the near future must be able to:

  • Provide high-quality, tailored engagements, creating the best experience for each individual customer
  • Demonstrate agility and adaptability, using strategic problem-solving to address complexity of customer and patient types, decision-making and local market needs
  • Use an integrated team approach, working cross-functionally to deliver a cohesive customer experience
  • Think holistically about the customer, and adapt a mindset that starts from the customer and their needs
  • Use technology and data-driven insights to create the most value

In place of the traditional sales rep, organizations will move toward multiple roles supporting different organizational needs and strategies. These emerging roles, focused on collaborative problem-solving rather than data- and information-sharing, may include:

  • Account management professionals who support and shape healthcare institutional policy and profitability
  • Patient and caregiver support professionals who ease the burden of healthcare institutions for navigating payment, reimbursement, and treatment education
  • Technical specialists who provide advocacy, education and thought leadership
  • Payer-oriented consultants who facilitate partnerships between pharma and payer organizations
  • Medical liaisons, already a critical part of every pharma team but whose role will grow in scope and impact

With the role of the traditional rep shrinking in favor of more specialized roles, envisioning the future means envisioning an entirely transformed talent pool. If we’re currently hiring the wrong people for the wrong jobs, then much of the current talent pool was hired and developed for a completely different set of capabilities than the emerging roles demand, and hiring for profiles better aligned to the new roles than the current talent pool will quickly emerge as a pressing strategic priority.  By staying ahead of these shifts in the marketplace and taking the time to adapt, patients, healthcare providers, and pharma companies’ own bottom lines will benefit.