Pharma is very good at training and deploying sales people in the field to sell brands. The pharma sales model has worked for many years. It’s also one that’s often said to be under threat, but is it really? We look five years out.

This article was originally published in Pharma In Focus as part of a 4 part marketing series. 

With the average tenure of a sales rep in pharma being quite high, reps have been hearing about supposed changes to the way they work for quite a while but they see little evidence of actual day to day change.

The current reality is that pharma marketing activities continue to put the sales team at the centre, resources are created with the sales teams in mind and only about 10 per cent of marketing budgets go to digital spend.

But change is on the way and likely to affect the role and scope of the pharma sales job over the next five years. What can we expect to see?

Customer centricity

This has been a hard concept for pharma marketers to grasp but to meet the increasing needs of their customers, evolve digitally and outperform the competition, they will need to do so.

Every company is working on this, and at some point, each pharma marketing team will move their brand planning process to a customer centric model.

Rather than focus on what it will take to support the sales team to communicate the brand message, the focus will be on what the customer needs at any given time and the power to choose will be given over to the customer.

Imagine a customer getting to a point where she or he is given control of how and when the pharma company communicates with them, and the quality of the support they receive is so helpful that they happily choose to engage with that pharma company.

The power is moving and will continue to move to the customer, and pharma companies will need to earn the right to maintain a relationship.

Sales reps will be just one part of that process and will need to ensure they are relevant and timely by using all the available tools and data about each customer.

Data management

It won’t be long before pharma companies create data dashboards that tell marketing and sales useful information about a customer – where they are on the adoption ladder – and allows them to personalise information specific to that customer.

Some of this will be automated, some of it will be selected for the customer based on what they say they want, and some will be based on the HCP’s actual behaviour indicating what they need and want.

Sales reps will no longer own or control the flow of information. They will be just one touch point amongst a number of data points. Focus will move from a linear view to a 360 view of the customer.

Change in skill set

The tools that will become a reality in the next five years mean all of us will be learning new skills to do our jobs – or to do new jobs when our current ones no longer exist.

Once, where a healthcare professional would make a phone call for support, they will be able to interact via a website, talk to an online help desk, which at times will actually be a chatbot/artificial intelligence.

This means pharma sales reps will need a very contrasting set of skills from those they have today.

1. Customer not brand champion

Reps will need to use effective questioning to understand the pain points for HCPs so as to present helpful solutions.

2. Influencing skills

Rather than ‘pushing’ information at customers as sound bites, reps will need to have a partnership mindset, employing influencing skills to gain the right insights to be able to support the HCP as much as possible.

3. High adoption of digital tools

The sales reps of the future will need to be hungry to use their digital tools to the fullest to make their job easier and more productive.

4. Data interpretation skills

Data will drive choices in real time. On a daily basis data points will be gathered and choices of what information and tools to share will be determined by what the data tells the sales rep, not what they think on a given day.

5. Open to change

Embracing flexibility and change will be a day-to-day mind set – think Millennial

6. High collaboration skills

No longer will sales reps see themselves as gate keepers to the customer, but part of a greater team with one goal, to do what it takes to support the HCP in the most constructive way that works for that one particular customer.

Tania Rowland is a digital marketing consultant and co-founder at, specialising in digital strategy and social media. Pharmacologie builds digital strategies and technology that help pharma help patients.

Read the next article in the series; 5 Pharma Marketing Trends You Need to Know About