From Samples to Studies: The Changing Landscape of Life Sciences Sales

When thinking of the importance of behavior change for sales representatives in life sciences, one quote comes to mind: “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” (Lao Tzu)

How many sales representatives long for the heydays when they simply dropped off samples and lunches at physicians’ offices and made their quota? This approach was once fruitful for them, but most of them have probably learned the hard way – maybe by way of declining sales numbers – that they can no longer hang their hat on just relationship-building and frequency of visits.

Companies have been searching for the Holy Grail that will put their sales representatives back in the good graces of physicians. Good news – they can cease the search; access is attainable. But, access will require behavior change. Otherwise, they may end up where they’re heading – the world of ever-decreasing sales.

Physicians today want to see more clinical sales representatives. Sales representatives must possess skills in various domains including clinical selling, customer service, and technology to align with healthcare providers’ (HCPs) needs.

The following are a few statistics from the What Physicians Want 2014/2015 survey that provide greater insight into the type of representatives HCPs want to see.

  • 91 percent of HCPs want representatives to leverage clinical studies and EBM.Sales representatives who aren’t fluent in the language of evidence-based medicine (EBM) will not survive. The life science sales professional of the future will require high levels of fluency in EBM to effectively communicate and position value to potential medical buyers. This trend is well-aligned with key findings by TGaS Advisors about the importance of EBM. “For the first time, evidence-based medicine was found to be the strongest customer buying influence…” (Focus magazine, Training the Sales Rep of the Future, Winter 2014)
  • Physicians want more representatives skilled in their specialty.HCPs are looking for sales representatives to be a source of knowledge and resources rather than a fountain of polished, canned marketing language. The key: provide value. This value comes in the form of a patient-centered dialogue that determines the appropriate solution for the HCP’s practice and patients.  Representatives must then seek resources from across the organization to help enable that solution. The use of various company resources creates multiple touch points and the type of customer engagement that leads to customer loyalty.

HCPs need a partner who can truly speak their language and understand their challenges. As a result, and maybe even contrary to popular belief, 62 percent of primary care physicians want more traditional primary care representatives, while 91 percent of specialty physicians want specialty representatives. To truly differentiate themselves from their competition, sales representatives must entrench themselves in the HCP’s world.

  • Physicians want “hybrid” representatives.Hybrid representatives are still assigned to specific geographies and sets of target HCPs but they reach the HCPs through many channels (e.g., face-to-face, phone, and video) and at times (e.g., work day, after hours, weekends) that convenient for the physicians. This approach may be completely foreign to many sales reps as they are so accustomed to the old model of solely face-to-face selling. However, as in any role or industry, accessibility is king. Individuals – whether it be a physician, CEO or director of marketing – want responses and meetings on their time. If sales reps can be flexible, they will have access. While it may seem like HCPs are demanding the world of clinical sellers, consider the amount of pressure they are under, especially since the legislation of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, when many of these trends began to emerge.

As the world of healthcare undergoes rapid transformation, there will be new winners and losers. The winners will be armed with the knowledge, skills and abilities to successfully add value to the HCP and meet the new standards for success in the industry. It’s time to take a turn off the beaten path and learn how to adapt to the needs of the 2015 HCP.

Brad Ansley is director of life sciences for SPI, Email Brad at

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