The iPad: Now Poised to Steal Drug Sales Reps' Jobs

Last Updated Jan 22, 2011 6:46 PM EST

Everyone in the pharmaceutical business will be getting a free iPad! OK, that's a slight exaggeration but not by much: Over the next few weeks, thousands of drug sales reps will receive Apple (AAPL) iPads from their employers loaded with Veeva Systems' iRep, which displays product presentations and then allows the doctor viewing them to sign the iPad when they're done. iRep was launched Jan. 11.

AstraZeneca (AZN), Novartis (NVS), Sunovion (formerly Sepracor), ProStrakan, and Millenium are already iRep customers, along with a number of contract sales organizations that provide salesforces to other drug companies. The iPad is spreading into a wide array of sales jobs, including small business, real estate agents, and restaurant sales.

Stick to the script, please
Traditionally, drug pitches are delivered orally by reps who have to rote-learn scripts as they turn flipboards and collect pen-and-paper signatures. Getting the message exactly right was key, because getting it wrong can have major legal consequences. The iPad could make script-learning history. Before sales reps begin rejoicing, however, they may want to consider why management is so keen on the iPad as a selling tool.

Currently, reps detail only one or two priority drugs at a time. iRep allows reps to walk into a doctors' office with an unlimited number of sales presentations preloaded on the iPad. All a rep has to do is stand there while the doc pokes the iPad and then signs. In theory, an iPad could carry any drug company's entire portfolio of drug presentations, and instantly email research papers in response to off-label use requests. With an iPad, a rep need not even open her mouth.

Drug reps as bicycle messengers
The rep, in other words, becomes a glorified bicycle messenger who need not have any special expertise in the content they're delivering. It's the iPad, not the rep, that becomes the crucial part of the transaction. The medium is the message.

As one rep can deliver a plethora of iRep presentations, drug companies may find they need fewer reps to cover the same amount of ground. That has been the trend among companies recently who have tried a number of innovations to get reduce the number of reps they use, including:

So, reps, enjoy your new iPads while you can. But remember that your employer may one day choose to keep the tablet and lose you.

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Image by Flickr user FHKE, CC.