Going Digital - A Thrust or Threat to Pharmaceutical Sales / Medical Representatives

On the onset, the emerging digital era has rendered redundancy and irrelevance in many professions. One of them being threatened is the job of the Medical Representative (MR) who has dominated the Indian pharmaceutical industry in the healthcare marketing segment.

The quintessential MRs often seen with their black leather bags were hired by pharmaceutical companies as ‘medico marketers’.
Today 68% of doctors do not want to meet Medical Representatives (MRs) more than once a month, with a majority claiming that such meetings do not add any value to their clinical practice. The reason being doctors have easy access to websites on Healthcare Digital Marketing and Pharmaceutical marketing to learn about new drugs. Most doctors also said that they are already aware of the drug information that the MR provides. Therefore, the doctors now expect MRs to go beyond the basics and deliver higher value to their practice. With rising focus on evidence-based medicine and personalized treatment plans, doctors are hopeful that their next meeting with MRs involves a more scientific dialogue with complete and deeper understanding of the drug.

With scientific and technological progress, medical advertising, digital marketing for doctors and digital marketing for hospitals in the forefront, it is imperative for pharmaceutical companies to indoctrinate a change on how MRs engage with the medical community. Pharma companies need to come up with a comprehensive digital media plan that also integrates with their field force activities.

A newly launched digital platform of global Doctors which enables peer-to-peer interaction & knowledge-sharing for better clinical decisions revealed that although 74% doctors wished to communicate with MRs regarding new drugs, 68% wanted to restrict these meetings to only once a month. Moreover, only 33% thought that such interactions add value to their practice. The fact that a whopping 80% preferred accessing product information online proves that the Indian doctor’s behavior has changed.

Pharmaceutical product marketers need to act fast and reduce the gap between what doctors expect and what MRs offer. They must understand how the Indian healthcare sector is changing and how this is altering the Doctor-Medical Representative relationship. New strategies require to be devised to keep the sales force relevant and updated in the competitive digital media markets.

The proposed changes required to be initiated by Medical Representatives to stay relevant to today’s changing medico marketing scenario include:
1. Rid the insecurity: Digital adoption can lead to restructuring and redefining of job roles. It can enhance and not detriment the jobs of MRs if correctly used. MRs to unlearn deep-rooted practices and adopt newer knowledge-based approach while communicating with doctors. 
2. Re-skill: Acquiring skills that will help to adapt to the ever-changing conditions in todays competitive work scenarios. Update of knowledge and analytical skills is a constant for one to remain and thrive in today’s competitive pharma market scenario. 87% of all doctors would like MRs to talk about recent clinical studies and evidence-based medicine. 
3. Understand your clients/doctors’ needs: Low product differentiation, stiff competition and high market potential have led MRs to restructure their scope of work. A MR in India now requires being equipped with CRM systems, presentation skills, familiarity with digital platforms and medical marketing skills as well. 
4. Respect doctors’ busy schedules: India has only 0.7 doctors per 1,000 people. This extreme shortage coupled with the increasing disease burden has made doctors busier than ever. Medical Representatives need to change their strategy and adopt effective communication to disseminate complete product information and other proprietary knowledge in the shortest span of time.
5. Accept the digital invasion: Technologies like cloud, social media, mobile apps and data analytics are bringing in a paradigm shift in traditional healthcare models. MRs have to accept, embrace and adapt themselves to the latest technology in pharmaceutical marketing
6. Focus on adding value: Sales goals will remain. But a Medical Representative will need to adapt differently for doctor meetings/hospital marketing with discussions moving from incentives to adding value to the drugs being marketed, offering to convey the pharmaceutical company’s commitment to healthier patient outcomes.
7. Become a medical specialist: A MR is no longer just a sales person. He needs to understand his work entails partnering doctors in healing patients. While sound product knowledge is a must-have, MRs should also be aware of the overall organizational strategy and vision of the pharmaceutical company he/she represents. The MR has to find the best balance between the pharmaceutical company, the medical experts and social media tools available to him.
8. Place physician before the pill: A MR has to be able to provide prompt responses to queries and requests via emails or through company’s website. Transparent product information and maintaining a constant connection online with the doctors and medical staff, is the need of the hour. It is no longer restricted to selling pills for prescriptions at doctor clinics/ medical centers/ hospitals.
9. Offer more than the product: MRs need to go beyond selling the capsule, tablet, or dry syrups by assisting doctors in accessing the latest research or even help them enroll for industry-sponsored conferences. Exchange of intelligent and relevant information is needed to interact with the medical authorities.
10. Embrace digitalization: Digital marketing solutions such as product launches, webinars, feedback and interactions on various social media platforms are crucial for medical reps to stay efficient. Visit websites. Understand how top healthcare advertising agencies in Mumbai and other mega cities are bringing about the change in medical marketing.
11. Be conclusive: Pharmaceutical companies need to empower MRs to interact with physicians. Rather than perfecting a sales pitch, a medical rep should hone his skills to be conclusive in sealing a deal in front of the doctors. No going back and forth. 
We can thus conclude in a digital age, where every healthcare digital marketing agency and media advertising agency is vying for direct communication and social media networking with doctors through websites, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms, a major re-haul is necessary if MRs have to stay relevant to the medical community. The medical representatives in India should look upon going digital as a thrust and not as a threat!

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