Pharma firms like Pfizer and others replace medical representatives with new age executives

Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015

Pharmaceutical firms are increasingly turning their marketing force into teams of specialists, because a generalist medical representative may find it tough to explain to a doctor the complex and high-margin drugs they are pushing.

Pfizer, Sun Pharmaceutical Industries, Abbott, Dr Reddy's Laboratories, Cipla, Lupin, Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, Mankind Pharma, Torrent Pharmaceuticals, Ipca Laboratories and Hetero Drugs are all hiring management and pharmacy graduates as marketing executives and are paying hefty salaries, say industry executives and analysts.

They are using this "new cream of medical representatives" to improve sales of niche products and profits, said T Kameshwar Rao, national secretary of the Federation of Medical and Sales Representatives Associations of India (FMRA).

Drug makers are globally investing in innovative products to treat increasing lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart ailments and neurology disorders. While these new products offer higher margins, the companies realise that marketing them with doctors who specialise in those fields would as well need specialised skills.

"Many drug makers that we interact with have been hiring management graduates from premier institutes in good numbers with hefty pay packages given the high-margin drugs they are selling," said a pharma analyst at a Mumbai-based foreign brokerage. These people can make better presentations with specialist doctors who may not have much time to spare for them, said the analyst, who didn't want to be named. Prescription drugs account for close to 90% of India's Rs 80,000-crore pharmaceuticals market, underscoring the need to take the doctors on board to sell products.

The top 20 companies control at least 40% of the total market and they are in the forefront to recruit specialists. Lupin is one of the pioneers in hiring management graduates and domain experts for sales. More than 80% of its sales force of 4,700 are specialists.

"We need the professionals with better convincing skills to push our new and complex brands into the market. They (management graduates) can understand the product better compared to a general graduate who requires heavy training that increases our costs and timelines," said Group President (Indian Region Formulations) Shakti Chakraborty. "Another factor is that, we have marketing partnerships with global pharma companies who have very unique brands which require better introduction to doctors and medical practitioners."

He, however, expressed inability to provide details such as the improvement in business volume and profit because of employing management graduates. Lupin is focusing on cardio, diabetic, respiratory and neurology therapeutics and is looking at launching new products in oncology and dermatology segments, all of them requiring specialised marketing executives, said Chakraborty.

While large pharma companies have hired thousands of management graduates, who account for more than half their sales force, specialist salesmen form less than a third of the teams at many medium firms. Of India's more than six lakh medical representatives, specialists with management education qualifications account for a little over a sixth.

"There is tough competition among domestic and multinational drug makers operating in the Indian market now, which is forcing many to look at hiring specialists like management graduates from top institutes to aggressively push the brands," said Hetero Drugs marketing director M Srinivas Reddy. "Many pharma companies are looking at creating specialist marketing arms with management graduates and domain experts like post-graduates in pharmacy."

Kameshwar Rao of FMRA viewed that the trend of hiring more specialists and management graduates to sell medicines could hurt the financials of small and medium firms that cannot afford heavy overheads.