There is a general perception amongst industry influencers and thinkers about the general decline in the importance of a Medical Representative. Ask medical representatives, they would also say they don’t get inspired by their work. Where does it take us?
What has declined over years?
Apart from the disruptions in technology, there are many other factors responsible for this situation:
- Mechanical training of Medical Representatives – Our training and refreshers are focused at memorizing the detailing story and spill it over in the clinic. There is hardly any effort to connect the job with the purpose but those who do, are successful in getting results even today. Most often, the teaching is as impractical and useless as what get in our schools and colleges.
- Coverage and compliance – To improve productivity, sales force effectiveness has been viewed as a critical success factor to improve execution. The role is seen as execute as you are told or as per the strategy. Don’t apply your brains but give me your sweat and blood. Who will want to die in the battle field if the definition of the job is to only kill or get killed by the enemy soldiers in front of you? Only when there is a larger context and connect, to save the nation, we see our soldiers making the supreme sacrifice. This larger connect needs to be established in the induction cum training programs.
- Uncreative and undifferentiated marketing communications and campaigns – Several such campaigns do not even ignite the passion in MRs and therefore, rarely executed. The core is, if it doesn’t interest me, it won’t interest my doctors too. This is still not understood well in organizations and the marketing and creative aspects are often confused and concentrated within the same role.
- Marketing and Leadership arrogance – Often line managers don’t listen to our MRs. Anytime there is a suggestion, it is completely discounted with an opinion. Often, a feedback is seen as an excuse for non-performance. That silences the person and burns an opportunity to get first-hand, real-time market intelligence. And we spend enormously in learning from external consultants, advisors and strategists. That again, is undifferentiated because the same stuff goes to all their clients.
- The language customers speak, medico-marketing excellence – In my early days of joining the super-specialty business in a MNC, we had a simple 3 days training. But it was focused at the practical aspects of communicating with super-specialists and in-depth understanding of the basic subject. All technical terms simplified, all definitions memorised, all review literatures understood with clarity. Needless to say, we were immensely successful and our achievements were all exemplary, with a strong scientific foundation. It was exciting, interesting and simple, never boring at all.
- Empowerment and Decision-making abilities – While my super-specialty colleagues are blessed to be empowered to take decisions in a few cases, at the Medical Representative levels, the level of empowerment and decision-making ability is zero. Any customer-centric organization, in any other industry, will suffer if their customer-facing staff is not empowered. (I personally love the Virgin Atlantic airlines stories of empowerment) Why can’t our MR colleagues also be a part of the same team that is the custodian of the patient’s interest or the customer’s interest?
- Role of First Line Managers – We all know the importance of the role of our first FLM and the influence of this person in anyone’s life. Influence for sure, whether negative or positive is pure luck. It continues to remain so in many cases. While there are efforts to make this role meaningful, the challenge continues. From blaming the new generation to lack of training, this is a common story everywhere. However, this problem stems from the fact that we still see the role of a MR as someone who is supposed to execute and not think. When he grows into a FLM, he continues to do the same. We need to address the root-cause itself to correct the situation.
Getting back to basics, restoring the importance of MRs by right induction and training, right empowerment, effective and creative communications and a good supervisor is all it needs to change the scenario. Creating a real brand ambassador. Will it be perceived as a differentiator by the customers? Try it to know it. The amount of market intelligence lying in the minds of our MRs will astonish you. Some organizations have tapped it brilliantly and needless to say, are the fastest growing, top ranked pharma cos.
Remember, this is the only role that brings revenue, everything else is a cost. It’s time we invert the organization pyramid to make it meaningful, relevant and important to not just external stakeholders but also to our own industry.
Vivek Shankar Verma
An entrepreneurial leader with more than 23 years of experience in the Pharmaceuticals Industry.
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