The Changing Role of the Medical Rep


With more than 25 years pharmaceutical industry experience, Ian Chamberlain provides training to help pharma salespeople talk to customers and provides sales managers with software to help pharma companies intelligently listen to the dialogue. As an insider, Ian breaks down the changing role of medical salespeople, from “Tell Sell” to “Intelligent Listening.”

I believe we are on the brink of a major and exciting role change for the medical representative.

I spend half my working life running workshops with teams of medical reps. I help them develop approaches that persuade customers to meet with them.

Healthcare professionals (HCPs) with a “no see” policy are open to meeting reps if the role of the rep is relevant, delivered with confidence and combined with clear, beneficial outcomes.

Since I became a rep in 1993 I have seen the role evolve considerably.

For the first few years of my career, the rep’s role could be defined as “Message Deliverer.”



  • Received a list of target doctors
  • Saw each doctor a requisite number of times
  • Explained one, two or three key messages per product to each doctor
  • Illustrated each key message with a graph from our detail aid

It was of course somewhat more sophisticated than that – we were trained in rapport building, questioning skills, closing the deal etc – but overall we were measured on message delivery and sales.

Our measurement technology was equally low-tech: a paper detail aid, carbon paper call reporting sheets and in-call performance tracking via a couple of manager-attended field visits per month.

Nowadays the role is far more involved.

Yes, of course, we still expect medical reps to deliver key evidence-based messages.

But today, reps need to do more. They are now “Healthcare Consultants.”


Skills include:

  • Problem-solving
  • Networking
  • Medicines integration
  • Guidance implementation
  • Feedback collation
  • Local health economy advocate  

To do all this well requires significant training and full management support with feedback.  

The technology we provide to our reps has evolved too.  The marketing plans of today are far more sophisticated as are our CRM systems and doctor targeting.  Every rep today has a mobile phone, an ipad (or similar) and a PC. The modern rep is very tech savvy.

Pharma companies now use a multi-channel marketing approach which will include remote e-detailers in addition to the field force.  Though to me, it still feels as if pharma is feeling its way with this.

The management of in-call quality for field reps, however, has not moved on in 30 years.

Pharma still uses one-to-one field visits: where an industry veteran manager driving a luxury German saloon car spends a long day in person with each rep once a month, in the hope that something noteworthy happens.

This now feels very dated.  It is also slow, inefficient and very expensive.


So what about the rep of the future? – A big change is on the way!

I’m in discussion with several pharma companies about Little Bird Medical, my meeting audio recording technology for field salespeople, enabling Rep-Doctor meeting recordings to be reviewed remotely at a time convenient to the manager.

After listening to the interaction, the manager then follows up with the rep via telephone, email feedback and coaching, and has the option to build “best practice” playlists.

This allows managers to prioritise field visits for reps who will genuinely benefit from one-to-one coaching, while companies can be confident that managers’ time is being spent intelligently and efficiently.

The future of this technology is very interesting…

A field force of 50 reps, each recording just 7 or 8 calls a week will create an archive of around 20,000 sales calls a year.

This valuable data will be illuminating for marketing teams in pharma.  Predictive analytics — combining voice recognition with machine learning and neural networks — will enable marketing managers to cheaply and highly effectively:


  • Identify doctors ready to switch medicines
  • Target resources, messaging and staff (a mature approach to multi-channel)
  • Retain current customers
  • Cross-sell and up-sell in a timely and appropriate way

Just as Amazon and Facebook give a better user experience by “listening” to our preferences, pharma will deliver a better service to HCPs by “intelligently listening” to their expressed opinions, reactions and requests.

The role of the rep will grow to facilitate this process as they audio record more meetings and use their skills to fully explore HCP’s needs.

Today, good reps ask great questions but pharma companies don’t intelligently listen, analyse or act upon HCPs’ answers. Currently, fewer than 5% of rep calls are observed by management and none are recorded for deeper analysis.  New technology will change this.

New technology will also bring added responsibility.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said recently “We will never achieve technology’s true potential without the full faith and confidence of the people who use it”. It is imperative that new technologies are not misused or we run the risk of HCPs opting out.  Technology should reassure HCPs of pharma’s commitment to compliance, quality and service.

The medical representative will be front and central in this new era.  


Follow Ian on Twitter.

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