The pharmaceutical sales industry was once an industry where thousands of young professionals longed to be. With innovative products hitting the market and the freedom as representatives to utilize your own creativity and salesmanship to sell, many were attracted to the once thriving profession. But with so many changes and the increased scrutiny on the pharma industry, has the industry fallen on hard times? Is the luster of the profession wearing off?
When I first started in this industry, I’m embarrassed to say that in my youth and inexperience, one of the primary perks of being a pharmaceutical rep to me was the free gas and free car insurance that came with the free car. Eventually the benefit of this perk wears thin and it becomes no big deal in your mind…or at least is wore thin for me. As I progressed in my profession however and began to “get it”, I realized that there were so many amazing aspects about our industry. Here are a few:
- The ability to move up the ladder based on skill, increasing income potential: I believe (and many might also believe) that the total compensation associated with being a pharma rep is pretty good. On top of the fact that one can make a 6-figure salary as low man on the totem pole is rather impressive. But imagine and industry where low man can move up the ladder based on salesmanship, hard-work, creativity, and ingenuity. An industry where with each promotion you have the ability to increase your total compensation. The pharma industry is that industry. It absolutely is possible!
- The ability to work with extremely intelligent professionals: There is no doubt in my mind that the pharmaceutical industry has some of the brightest most creative professionals around. As one moves up the ladder, the professionals he/she works with becomes even sharper, more focused and smarter. I had the great pleasure of working with some of the smartest professionals and it lifted me as a professional….it forced me to increase my abilities and broaden my skill sets or face the fear of fading away (professionally speaking).
- The ability to learn about innovative products and debilitating disease states: I am absolutely proud of the fact that I had the opportunity to learn and gain a very in depth understanding of the diseases that affect people and the pharmaceutical products that can help them. As they say “knowledge is power” and it is totally empowering to have such intricate and specific information bouncing around your head.
- The ability to go toe-to-toe with extremely intelligent physicians…many times educating them on items they did not know: One aspect of the job that I truly enjoyed was the ability to be face-to-face with a physician who doubted my ability to grasp medical information and surprise him/her with my knowledge and understanding thus “selling” him or her. This is a powerful feeling to be able to go toe-to-toe with a highly educated person and in many cases teach them something.
But has the industry changed….do these items above still hold true? They absolutely do hold true but not without new challenges that were not present when I began in this industry. There are challenges that have created landmines where there once was a clear path to a comfortable retirement, now there may be some challenges that have made the industry a less attractive place to work. Here are some of the new challenges:
- The increasing world of verbatims: When I started in this industry there were of course regulatory items and compliance items that we always had to be aware of and fully comply with. I am an advocate of not allowing one to simply spew off at the mouth with anything they believe will increase their ability to gain prescriptions. There is a certain challenge to playing by the rules and still winning versus your peers. From a straight sales perspective, I enjoyed playing by the rules and expected my internal competitors to do so too because this gave us all a level playing field from which to be ranked. However, as I progressed in the world of pharmaceutical sales, with the increased scrutiny on the industry and more and more governmental regulations, pharmaceutical companies were forced to include certain verbatims that we all must say when in front of a physician. This is altogether annoying and takes away from ingenuity and creativity. You can have a robot give a verbatim, it takes a creative human to take information and make it pop! Verbatims are killing the industry.
- Mergers and Acquisitions: There is no secret that companies are gobbling up other companies and the fallout of this are many lost jobs. All you have to do is read your smart phone to see who is buying whom. For some there are opportunities that are created, but for many mergers and acquisitions have created an uneasy working environment in which we now operate. Imagine going to work every single day just hoping, but not knowing if your job is safe. Imagine going to work each day and hoping that you are being told the truth about the direction of the organization. Many no longer feel that they are untouchable in the pharmaceutical world and though I am a firm believer that capitalism is the greatest economic system in the world, sometimes what is good for the shareholders may not good for the rank and file.
- Know it all Board of Trustees who restrict access of Pharmaceutical Representatives: Having spent much of my pharmaceutical selling career in New York, I can categorically say that many of the hospital systems that started buying up private physician offices restricted access of representatives. Many hospital systems in Long and in New York City basically said that they do not want pharmaceutical reps to step foot in their facilities. This is akin to being a “know-it-all” because what you are saying (in my opinion) by doing this is that you know everything about every product that hits the market and therefore no representative can tell you anything new. On its face, this is simply ridiculous. For some gray haired board members to sit in a room and make a decision like this is extremely short sided. Until there is a cure for every single disease state known to man, pharmaceutical companies will still bring products to the market. This is the very essence of capitalism and the very essence of innovation. When a business organization can do something innovative by creating a product that can either cure or severely mitigate a disease states symptoms, this is extremely impressive!! However if some gray haired dipsh*t doesn’t allow that innovative organization to bring that innovative product in front of the eyes of the physicians who may use it or educate them on the features and benefits of it, than it is worth nothing!!
- Managed Care Organizations who restrict usage of branded products: As with #3, when an organization such as a managed care organization restricts the access to certain new medications, this is akin to saying that generic products can cure everything. As we all know pharmaceutical representatives only sell branded products. If you are a rep ask yourself how many times a physician told you he/she likes your product but simply cannot use it because of managed care restrictions. This is ridiculous and if the America people were more educated on this they would be up in arms over it. There are new and innovative products that can tremendously help people that will never be used by some physicians because they simply do not want to go through the trouble of prescribing a new branded innovative product. This is shameful!!