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Med representative's job partly vanishing

Pharma firms find online marketing cheaper but doing without field force not quite feasible

Sushmi Dey  |  New Delhi 

Drug marketing are moving away from the traditional reliance on (MRs) to sell their products to the medical fraternity. Instead, they’re gradually shifting to software-oriented e-detailing.

Interacting with doctors via internet-based communication applications allows customised services. For instance, Pfizer has started a digital service called ‘Ask Pfizer’. This provides promotional product information and makes presentations to doctors at a time convenient to the latter, across  online meeting rooms.

Sanofi, Glenmark and Lupin are also moving towards various e-detailing options. “This is definitely going to be an effective way of reaching out to doctors with relevant product and service information, specifically in a complex and highly fragmented market such as pharmaceuticals,” says Shakti Chakraborty, group president, India & CIS, Lupin.

  • Major pharmaceutical have 3,000-5,000 (MRs)
  • Most have additional senior managerial-level executives who supervise MRs working on the field
  • Smaller employ 2,000-2,500 MRs
  • 60% of a pharma company’s total promotional expenses is spent on MRs

The reach to doctors is faster and it helps reinforce recall and to improve sales force efficiency, he added.

Currently, most major — Ranbaxy, Sun Pharma, Lupin, Dr Reddy’s, Cadila, Glenmark — have a field force of 3,000-5,000 people. And, senior executives supervising these MRs on the field. For instance, Sun employs around 3,500 MRs and an additional 500 managers above these. Lupin has a field force of a little over 5,000 people. Glenmark has 3,000 MRs on the front end. Even smaller employ 2,000-2,500.

Now, however, say industry officials, there is a sharp dip in MR hiring, with moving to new technologies for detailing their products. “This year, the hiring of has been minimal across the industry, even as the turnover is high. The reason is that almost everyone is moving towards adopting technology to minimise the cost of marketing and promotion,” said an official from Glenmark.

According to Tapan Ray, an independent pharma strategy and policy analyst & consultant, pharmaceutical product detailing to doctors by MRs is still believed to fetch the single largest return on marketing investments globally. Yet, drug makers across the world are increasingly experiencing that the significant expenditure incurred towards product detailing is not resulting in the desired top and bottom line growth for the organisation. According to industry estimates, a little over 60 per cent of a company’s total promotional expenses is spent on MRs.

E-detailing is now evolving as a means of communication between MRs and doctors. “It is intended to be highly customised, very interactive, more effective, quite flexible and cost-efficient, too,” says Ray, former president of the Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India and chairman of its marketing committee. In India, however, the trend might take some time to pick up, say experts. While multinational corporations are exploring innovative e-detailing options, most domestic majors are using it as a technology to complement the traditional detailing done by MRs.

“One cannot do without MRs. In the past, have tried and realised that without a field force, it does not work in India,” said an official from another domestic major. Domestic are mostly keeping the core concept of traditional detailing unchanged, while introducing digital interventions to eliminate some important manual processes that MRs used to follow earlier.

With e-detailing, the major saving is on the cost of sampling. A lot of samples are misused by MRs, according to a senior official with a multinational company.

“E-detailing allows you to provide customised service to doctors and, hence, the company can directly send samples as per the doctor’s requirement,” he said.

First Published: Tue, October 15 2013. 00:49 IST