The Cultural Divide Blocking the Non-Personal Promotion Gold Rush

With more hospitals and health systems blocking rep access, and fewer pharmaceutical sales representatives in the field due to increasing head count reductions, the rush is on for non-personal promotion (NPP) tactics that deliver results.

Is the pharmaceutical marketer ready for a world without sales reps? If your typical high-prescribing doctor has more sales representatives in their waiting room than patients today, imagine what that doctor’s life will be like with no pharmaceutical representatives visiting their office. From the doctor’s perspective, it will be much better, right? Maybe not. From the pharmaceutical marketer’s perspective, it will be much worse, right? Maybe it doesn’t have to be. Perhaps this new world could be better for both parties.

Pharma’s R&D Core

From a cultural perspective, the pharmaceutical industry has a scientific research and development core that is wrapped in thick, sales-heavy armor. This two-layered culture worked great for decades. Develop great innovative drugs, and then send an army of well-clad, well-educated sales representatives out to sell, sell, sell. However, as buyers have shifted from small practice clinicians to outcomes-driven financial decision makers at increasingly larger payer organizations, the sales dominant culture is neither welcome nor effective anymore.

As the industry pivots to a customer service-based support network—instead of the usual army of sales reps—it is critical that the messaging and the culture evolves as well. If pharma’s NPP efforts carry the same unwelcome “sell, sell, sell” messaging that pharmaceutical marketers have become so expert at shouting, the physicians’ lives will be no better in an NPP world.

In fact, with marketing becoming increasingly targeted at a select few, the NPP advertising onslaught may overwhelm physicians and have the opposite effect than what pharma desires. Physicians may opt-out wherever possible and remove themselves from all pharma communications entirely, choosing to block their annoying, intrusive email/web advertising/direct mail/social media stalkers. However, if pharma can culturally evolve into a thoughtful, value-adding partner, marketers might both improve the physician’s life, educate them on improving outcomes, service them in the pursuit of outcomes, and in the process, enhance their own relationships with their customers beyond what the “sell, sell, sell” salesforce could achieve through brute force.

If pharmaceutical marketers are bold enough to envision a world in which they are truly customer service oriented and think first about their customers’ needs, even over the temptation to communicate its products benefits, then we may be on a path to improving both the lives of the physicians and the success of pharma marketers.

Change is hard, particularly a cultural change that has been ingrained for decades. However, pharmaceutical marketers should not fear changing; they should fear not changing.

  • RJ Lewis

    R.J. Lewis is President & CEO of eHealthcare Solutions. R.J. is also the chair of the American Medical Media Publisher task force on Ad Viewability. Follow him on Twitter @rlewis.

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