The Future of the Medical Sales Profession: Challenges and Approaches in a Fast-Changing Healthcare Market.
Medical sales representatives are professionals who promote medical and health related products or services to healthcare providers, such as hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and doctors. These professionals are responsible for educating customers about the features, benefits, and usage of their products, as well as building relationships with them. In other words, medical sales reps are the main drivers of sales since they act as a link between companies and the healthcare community.
Despite the usefulness of the profession, medical sales representatives are about to face several challenges because of changing dynamics in the healthcare industry as well as technological progress that reshapes the way companies interact with the HCP community. The most important challenges that the profession will have to face are the following:
- Increased competition and consolidation of the healthcare industry: Due to an ever-growing demand for medical products, new entrants and established players compete fiercely for higher market shares. This translates to higher costs and financing needs. These costs will inevitably lead to mergers and acquisitions of competing organizations, to achieve economies of scale and reduce costs, including those related to sales and promotion. This means that in the near future the workload of the medical sales reps who will manage to keep their jobs will increase significantly, as many of the currently employed med reps will be driven out of the profession. Moreover, the consolidation that several healthcare providers will have to undergo means that the remaining sales reps will have fewer but larger accounts with more bargaining power.
- Focus on value-based care: Thanks to the DRG model that many states implement on public hospitals and most private clinics gradually adopt, the healthcare industry is moving from the traditional fee-for-service model, where providers are paid based on the volume of services they deliver, to a value-based care model, where providers are paid based on the quality and outcomes of the care they deliver. To thrive in this new environment, medical sales reps will have to demonstrate how their products can improve patients’ treatment and at the same time do it in a cost-effective way for healthcare providers. All at once, med reps will have to adapt their strategies to the goals and incentives of their customers, who may be rewarded or penalized based on their performance and patient satisfaction.
- Increased demand for data and analytics: As healthcare providers gradually move towards a performance-based model, they will begin to ask for more evidence that will lead them to better decisions. To cater to this need, medical sales reps will have to utilize data and analytics they have at their disposal in an optimal way, so that they provide insights and valuable recommendations to their customers.
- The advent of digital selling: During the last years and especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, new communication tools have been developed and widely adopted by both medical sales reps and health care professionals. Video conferencing, webinars and online demos are just a few of the tools that med reps have at their disposal to promote their products to an increased number of customers even at remote locations, at a fraction of the time and cost they would have otherwise had to undertake. Yet these tools despite their easy-to-use properties, come with significant challenges that med reps need to address. Building and maintaining rapport and trust with customers is the most important challenge but not the only one medical sales professionals have to face. Other challenges include differentiating oneself from the rest of the competition as well as overcoming technical issues that may occur during the use of these tools.
- The need for continuous learning: As the medical sales profession becomes more complex and competitive, as science conquers new frontiers, as new products, technologies, and competitors emerge, medical sales reps will have to keep up with the latest trends in their field. Additionally, they will need to acquire new skills that will help them improve their performance and become better professionals. Towards this end medical sales reps and their companies will have to invest in continuous learning and development opportunities that will help them enhance their capabilities.
- The need to integrate AI in the medical sales process: Artificial Intelligence is probably the most important challenge that the medical sales professionals will face in the future. Compared to the previously mentioned challenges it is not as imminent as they are, but it is a much more threatening situation because it has the potential to replace med reps altogether. Sooner or later AI will appear in the form of chatbots communicating directly with doctors whenever they need it. It is going to be a precise, online, and on-demand tool, always available to respond to health care professionals’ inquiries whenever they ask for it. Yet it is going to take time to develop such precise AI models, that will pass all necessary regulatory tests (it is almost certain that FDA, EMA and every other health agency will have to approve the use of this new tool). Additionally, it is going to take time until HCPs fully trust it and rely entirely on AI instead of human med reps. Until this time, med reps will have to focus on the previously mentioned challenges. After that, they will have to find ways on how to integrate AI in their profession, instead of fighting it.
These are some of the most important challenges that the medical sales reps will have to go through in order to remain relevant and valuable to the market. Certainly, there will be other challenges as well, but given what we know and what we can anticipate for the time being, the aforementioned are the most significant.
Since the AI threat is not as imminent as the five first challenges, for the rest of the article we will focus on how to overcome them and not so much the AI challenge. Med reps need mainly to survive the forthcoming circumstances and after doing that, to find ways about how to integrate AI in their profession.
To overcome these imminent challenges, all professionals need to approach medical sales in some of the following ways:
- The specialist approach: This approach suggests that med reps will have to focus on specific therapeutic areas, on particular products and on certain customer segments. They will have to become experts in their specialized field by providing tailored solutions and insights to their customers and at the same time by collaborating with other specialists within their organization (for example the pharmaceutical company they work for) to create better value propositions.
- The consultant approach: In this approach the medical sales professional will act as a trusted advisor who helps his customers find solutions and achieve their objectives. By having access to data and analytics and by knowing how to use and combine them in the best possible way, the consultant med rep will offer better recommendations and insights to his customers.
- The educator approach: In this approach med reps act as sources of credible and useful information to healthcare professionals, by sharing with them clinical studies, best practices, and case studies. Additionally, with the use of digital tools they deliver more engaging and interactive content to their customers, thus becoming more educational in their role.
As a conclusion, the medical sales profession will face significant challenges in the future because of new business models, increased competition, and technological progress. To survive these challenges med reps will need to develop new skills and approach their customers in different ways. Depending on the approach they will follow, med reps may become more specialized, consultative, or educational in their role.