September 15th, 2011

GSK’s new drug marketing model: Pharma reps as educators, not sellers


A GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) pharmaceutical sales representative these days still works to get in front of a physician’s desk to discuss GSK drugs. But their conversation today is vastly different compared to one a year ago. That’s by design, said James Millar, GSK’s vice president of oncology marketing and sales.

Pharma rep compensation has historically been sales based: sell more drugs, make more money. Doctors knew a rep was incentivized to sell more to make more, Millar said.

But GSK is aiming to remove financial incentives from the equation. Pharma reps still receive a mix of salary and bonus. But GSK replaced individual sales targets with new targets measuring the overall performance of the sales team and feedback from customers.

The new system also evaluates a rep’s scientific knowledge as well as the ability to communicate that information. Millar, who helped design the new GSK program, said GSK’s goal isn’t necessarily to sell as much medicine as possible. The goal is to communicate both benefits and risks of a drug.

“That’s where, in the pharma industry, we differ from commercial packaged goods,” said Millar, who spent 10 years at Proctor & Gamble Pharmaceuticals (NYSE:PG) before joining GSK. “There’s no reason that 100 percent of households can’t have (laundry detergent) Tide. With medications, it’s different.”

In acknowledging that for some patients a particular treatment might be inappropriate, GSK is turning on its head the old model of selling as many drugs to as many patients as possible. London-based GSK, which has its U.S. headquarters in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, announced the pharma rep changes last summer. The new program started in January.

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