Medical Affairs

Pharmaceutical industry medical affairs physicians have more influence over customer prescribing than their sales force.

Why is medical affairs important?

  • Published literature and studies are 3.5 times more influential than a call from a sales representative.
  • A 1:1 visit from a pharmaceutical physician is twice as influential than a call from a sales representative.
  • Scientific meetings are twice as influential as a promotional symposium.

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Our approach involves using a novel group awareness and consensus methodology to generate and agree, the SWOT, Critical Success Factors (CSFs), Aspirational Statement before we go away and design the tactics themselves.

The importance of Medical Affairs

It seems that the promotion of prescription only medicines has become synonymous  with the pharmaceutical sales representative ‘carrying the bag’ and calling upon a customer armed with their trusty detail aid and leave piece.

Times have changed, access to customers has waned, call rates have reduced and better enforced regulatory restrictions have meant that even those few sales calls that are made are more reliably limited to licensed indications only. As a consequence, conversations can be dry and limited to the very basics of the data supporting a medicine, so quenching just part of the thirst prescribers have for information on the medicine.

Medical affairs physicians, by contrast, are non-promotional and are used reactively, so in response to a specific request for information or simply for a visit to discuss a pertinent subject or question. The peer-to-peer nature of the discussion and broader remit would seem to make for a more satisfying interaction for the customer. It can be seen that this could serve to strengthen the relationship between the customer and the company’s portfolio.

Pharmaceutical companies spend a significant amount of their brand budgets on ‘personal selling’ and the other components of the ‘promotional mix’ which relate to the sales force and their activities. Substantially less, on the other hand, is spent on medical planning or non-promotional activities.

This begs the question: Is this the best use of the money?  Are their other, more impactful,  ways of communicating selling messages to the customer and encouraging the prescription of a company’s medicines?

In order to answer these questions, a questionnaire was sent to a complete list of customers in an orphan disease area asking them to rate how much influence each of the common pharmaceutical company activities had on their prescribing of a medicine.

The activities within the questionnaire were grouped to understand the influence of  two main categories:

1) Non- personal selling activities: those that don’t involve a direct contact between a person from the pharma company and the customer.

2) Personal selling activities: these were further subdivided into:

i) promotional personal selling (by the sales force)

ii) non-promotional personal selling (by the medical affairs physician)

It should be made clear the term ‘selling’ is problematic from a regulatory perspective when used to describe an interaction between a medical function and a customer. No industry physician would allow themselves to ‘sell’ in the conventional sense. ‘Personal selling’ here is used in the business theory sense to describe an interaction where information is exchanged between company employees and a customer which is relevant to the prescribing of a medicine.

The respondent was asked how much (on a scale 0-10) each of the activities listed directly influences their writing of a prescription for a pharma company’s medicine. This event could be considered a surrogate marker for a ‘sale’.

The results are listed below:

These data make two points: firstly, there is a clear suggestion that, in terms of ‘personal selling’, the sales force are far less influential than their medical counterparts. Secondly, the non-personal selling activities are reported to be the most influential overall.

Within a pharma company, the medical department lead all non-promotional activities (shown in red and green) and these results would seem to make a good case for increasing the relative emphasis on medical spend in relation to the promotional one. At the very least, more medical key evidence-generating activities should be carried out that culminate in a publication.

Given the long history pharma has with the sales representative, it may take a while to steer this oil tanker in a new direction. That said, it may just be time to start turning the wheel.

The article is a summary of an MBA thesis, the full manuscript is available on ResearchGate on the link below:

Personal selling and its effectiveness in generating sales: an assessment of: ‘promotional’, ‘non-promotional’ personal selling and ‘non-personal’ selling as part of the Promotional Mix in the Pharmaceutical Industry

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