Market calls for fewer drug reps

April 1, 2009

Specialty drugs bring about the need for a sales force with more clinical knowledge

Today's big pharmaceutical sales forces will be replaced by a smaller, smarter and more effective sales model, according to a new report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), "Pharma 2020: Marketing the Future."

The report says the new trend will also require pharmaceutical companies to recruit and train people who can negotiate with increasingly powerful healthcare payers and pharmacoeconomic assessment agencies. Big Pharma's announcement at the end of 2008 to cut more than 60,000 jobs globally-many in sales and marketing-was seen as one response to market shifts.

The PwC report says that between 1996 and 2005, the number of U.S. sales representatives had increased nearly 50% to 100,000, while the number of practicing physicians only rose by 26%. Now the sales forces are shrinking back.

"The role of the drug company salesforce is migrating from product promotion to healthcare promotion," says Todd Evans, a director in PwC's Pharmaceutical & Life Sciences practice. "This change will require a recasting and retraining of what the sales force is and who it targets. We are moving beyond the narrow role of promoting a product to focusing on value, which we need to recognize instead of price. There are implications to the way we represent pharmaceutical products to payers; they want to see outcomes and the results of comparative effectiveness."

In its report, PwC outlines a variety of changes: