4 Sales Reps Visiting the Same Doctor? Lilly Stops the Madness

Last Updated Jan 20, 2010 6:55 AM EST

Eli Lilly (LLY) once sent three or four drug sales reps to call on the same doctor every month, according to an eye-opening article on IndyStar.com. The theme of the story is familiar: Drug companies are laying off thousands of sales reps as their revenues decline (and because sales reps are becoming increasingly ineffective).

What's new in the story are details on what amounts to madness at Lilly prior to 2007. Its 4,000 sales reps would double-, triple- and quadruple-team their target doctors, delivering scripted messages ordered from on high. Unsurprisingly, docs got bored of that fast, and many now ban reps, the Star reports:

  • About a third of medical schools require sales reps to have an appointment before calling on physicians or residents
  • About one in four physicians works in a practice that refuses to admit sales reps.
  • Of those who do see reps, nearly half require an appointment, up about 23 percent from 2008.
Also eye-opening are how few reps have lost their jobs so far. The Star cites figures from ZS Associates, a drug consulting firm, which say that the number of U.S. drug sales reps has fallen by only 10 percent from its peak of 100,000 in 2005. ZS claims the headcount will drop to 70,000 by 2015.

Only 10 percent? It feels like so much more. Lilly laid off 25 percent of its U.S. sales force in 2009, about 1,000 employees. Pfizer is grinding through Pfizer 19,500 layoffs and Merck is working its way through 16,000. But those aren't all reps -- firms are cutting and outsourcing R&D also.

Lilly's new policy for sales: One rep per doc, more listening, and less speechifying.

And finally: The author of the story, John Russell, began by asking visitors to Cafe Pharma to contact him. Read the anonymous feedback he got on CafePharma here.