Reps and Vendors

As marketing professionals, how many outside vendors do you meet with every day?  How much time do you spend with each one?  Do you listen to what each of them says and then make a determination on how you will change the way you do business based on what they say?  If your boss told you not to use a certain vendor’s product would you still try to figure out how to use it?  If your bonus was impacted by how often you didn’t choose the lowest priced product from a vendor, how often would you use the more expensive product?  How comfortable are you when 3 or 4 vendors are standing outside your office while you are trying to work?  Do your peers and boss think the vendors might be having too big an influence on your thinking?

More than likely you would answer that you limit the vendor/partners that you use and that your company has solid procedures in place for selecting the new vendors that you can utilize.  You will tell me your time is too valuable and you rely on others, such as purchasing, to help qualify vendors and the products you might use.  If it cost you financially to choose one vendor over another, I doubt you would ever even consider going in that direction.  Even though it is the vendor’s mission to bring you the latest and best thinking in the pharmaceutical industry, you limit their access and protect your time.  This could at times even be detrimental to your brand’s performance as you may miss the new ideas.  I am sure you claim that you will learn about the new trends from other sources such as the Internet or journals, and that new vendor visits are not critical for your success.

I think you might be guessing where I am going with this thinking.  Why is it that your marketing plans are so reliant on sales representatives seeing physicians, when you don’t even see the value of seeing them yourself?  You develop plans that require your reps to see physicians every 2-4 weeks and constantly message them with the benefits of your product.  You count on this happening despite the fact that physicians are getting increasingly busy and being told by their bosses to see more patients and do more administrative work.  Major teaching hospitals and large clinics, like most businesses, are limiting access to reps because they take up time and often work against what they are trying to accomplish.  It seems a little odd that we think the model would work with physicians, who are busy treating patients, when we would never give it a chance in our own work environments.

Keep in mind that most physicians, unlike product managers, are reimbursed by the amount of work they do every day.  The more patients they see, the more revenue is brought into the practice.  They rely on their staff people to keep the flow in the office going so that there is maximum efficiency.  When a sales person comes in and begins taking up staff time they are in a way taking money away from the practice.  The physicians are incentivized to follow evidence based protocols and to follow drug formularies.  When they vary from these they could be costing their practice revenue and yet we often ask our sales representatives to try to convince physicians to do just that.  We even have the audacity to ask them to take time to override the system through prior approvals.

You tell your sales representatives that frequency and consistency are the keys to success with physicians.  They are given standard ways to go through their presentations, some of this demanded by law and some by marketing direction.  What would you think of a vendor who came in and constantly repeated the same message and stayed within a tight script of what she could or could not say.  I think you would quickly get turned off.  Why is it we are surprised that there is decreased access for our reps and a much higher percentage of sample drop details?

Let’s get real about the impact reps still have in 2012.  I agree, that if they have the opportunity to spend 5 minutes going through all the clinical and financial information about a product, then they are an important part of the marketing mix.  But in reality, how often is that really happening?  Why would you expect physicians to respond to your sales representatives when the marketing team practices a limited access policy every day?  I am not in any way suggesting that marketing folks spend more time with vendors but I am just trying to point out the fallacy of assuming physicians have more time than marketing people to see rep after rep in their offices.  Think about it.

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