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Too many drug reps, study says
Doctors like efficient reps and free drug samples, but pushy, clueless reps turn them off.
September 14, 2005: 4:30 PM EDT
By Aaron Smith, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - If sales reps for drug companies really want to impress doctors, they'll be generous with free samples and not waste time with rambling pitches, according to a market report released Wednesday.

Also, reps had better have clinical data at their fingertips and be ready to handle some tough questions about their drugs, according to a report from GfK Market Measures, a research firm. Most important, time-harried doctors have little patience for reps who don't respect their tight schedules.

In its survey of 483 physicians in June and July, GfK determined that establishing relationships with physicians is vital, and high turnover among reps is not appreciated. Some 48 percent of doctors said their relationships with sales reps determine access more often than the reputation of the drugmakers or media exposure to the products.

Many of the respondents complained about increasing numbers of sales reps trying to get access to them. Maureen McLaughlin, senior vice president of GfK, said that some doctors "talked about how they were actually embarrassed about the number of reps in the waiting room and the patients seeing them."

"We have begun limiting the amount of time reps spend in the office due to so many reps from some companies," said a urologist, according to the survey. "It was becoming a circus with up to 10 reps visiting the office a day."

When asked how they would change their accessiblity to reps, nearly a quarter of the doctors said they were too busy to meet with them, while 12 percent said they needed more free samples. Eight percent said they would meet them only during lunch.

Two-fifths of physicians said they see sales reps as effective, twice the number who described them as ineffective. More than a third of the doctors said that sensitivity to time constraints was most important, while 24 percent said reps were most effective when they were efficient and concise. Nearly a quarter said good product knowledge was important, while 18 percent identified the free samples as the biggest carrot.

So what makes a sales rep ineffective? Nearly a third said reps were "too aggressive or pushy" and an equal number complained about reps who were "not knowledgeable."

"It's silly that a highly trained sales force does not know what their product is used for and they have to ask me," said a general practitioner, according to the study.

So which company has the most effective sales force? Pfizer (up $0.05 to $26.03, Research), the biggest drugmaker in the world. Which company comes in second? Merck (up $0.03 to $28.70, Research), the second-biggest drugmaker in America. Of the 10 companies listed, Abbott Laboratories (down $0.81 to $43.85, Research) came in last. This line up was identical to the previous year's study.

"I think this speaks volumes for the Merck reps," said McLaughlin. "Despite the negative press [about Vioxx], this tells me the representatives did a tremendous job."

The study did not mention the free tickets, dinners and other gifts sometimes used by reps to entice doctors, possibly because few were willing to discuss it.

"What's missing is the elephant in the room: all the freebies, the wining and dining, the virtual bribing of doctors," said Fran Hawthorne, author of "Inside the FDA." "The doctors don't want to talk about it. They don't want to admit they're influenced by these freebies, which they are."

To read more about Pfizer's sales force, click here.  Top of page

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