New But Not Improved

By Malcolm Fleschner

Ever since 1997 when the pharmaceutical industry began running direct-to-consumer advertising, the general public has become much better informed about the release of new drugs (not to mention Bob Dole’s sex life). Yet according to Steve Gielda, a senior consultant and partner with the human performance consulting firm Advantage Performance Group (, most pharmaceutical companies receive a low grade for preparing their sales forces to handle new product rollouts.

Gielda suggests that there are two primary ways drug companies drop the new product ball. The first is an improper focus on end consumers rather than the sales reps’ actual customers – the prescribing physicians.

“Marketing focuses on the efficacy, safety, and ease of use of the product from the patient’s point of view versus helping the physician understand the value of their product from a business point of view,” Gielda says. “For example, if a drug therapy requires a patient to take a dose only once a day, it’s easier on the patient and the patient is less likely to forget to take the prescription. This is a good thing. But what does this mean to the physician? This means if patients are more likely to remember to take their prescriptions, they are also more likely to become healthy sooner and therefore won’t require additional doctor visits. With most Managed Care organizations, the doctor only gets one set fee per month and doesn’t get paid for follow up visits of repeat patients. It’s best for the physician for the patient to get well after the first visit.”

Second, Gielda believes that, when launching new products, too many pharmaceutical companies remain fixated on the old industry adage that “frequency is key.”

“In other words, according to this philosophy, the more times you visit the doctor’s office and drop off literature and samples the more likely the doctor will be to prescribe your drug,” Gielda explains. “However, a physician’s time is extremely valuable and the standard “detailing” from sales reps actually destroys value and credibility. Detailing has, however, proven to be of some value when it comes from a so-called “specialty” sales rep. A specialty sale rep is a rep that has training is a specific area of medicine and therapy. Physicians seem to rely more on these reps as credible information resources.”Pharma companies who prescribe to the “frequency is key” philosophy have dealt with increasing pressures of managed care and competition by hiring more reps – rather than giving them better training. From 1995 to 2001 the number of reps in the U.S doubled to 80,000, many of whom are unprepared. For their part, physicians feel besieged.”

Gielda does more than simply identify the problems with most new pharmaceutical product launches, however. Look for his specific suggestions for improvement in next month’s pharmaceutical sales newsletter.