How much commissions to pay your partners? Learn the math and logic behind it. Read here →

Understanding Pharma Sales Reps: What Motivates Them and How to Drive Sales Performance

Understanding Pharma Sales Reps: What Motivates Them and How to Drive Sales Performance

Understanding Pharma Sales Reps: What Motivates Them and How to Drive Sales Performance

Executive summary:  Pharma sales reps connect medical products with healthcare providers, bridging the gap between life-saving medications and the professionals who prescribe them. 

We’ll explore the responsibilities: product persuasion, building relationships, finding market insights, delivering sales presentations, record-keeping, and product training.

Then, we’ll move on to the factors that motivate reps: money, competition, the thrill of achievement, a sense of purpose, building relationships, and career advancement.

Lastly, we’ll share some strategies to motivate your sales team: leveraging passion, fostering competition, using rewards, maintaining communication, and providing feedback.

There are interns. There are residents. There are attendings. 

Each role has their job cut out for them. But when this unique group of professionals walks into the bustling corridors of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, there’s always drama!

Enter nurses.

Nurses are the heartwarming heroes. 

They're the ones rushing around ensuring everything runs smoothly in this healthcare storyline. 

Similarly, in the real world, pharma reps navigate a realm of high stakes and intricate relationships in the pursuit of excellence. 

They don't perform surgery or administer medications directly, but they're on the sidelines selling medical products to healthcare providers.

In this article, we’ll dive into the fascinating world of pharma reps through the lens of this iconic medical drama. We’ll uncover the motivations, challenges, and strategies that drive these individuals to make a difference in patient care.

Ready to be served?

Understanding Pharmaceutical Sales Reps: The Unsung Heroes 🦸

To put it simply, pharmaceutical representatives, or medical sales representatives, are individuals employed by pharmaceutical or healthcare companies to promote and sell their products to healthcare providers.

Picture them as charismatic cheerleaders, akin to the charming characters of Grey’s Anatomy!

Their primary objective? 

To bridge the gap between life-saving medications and the medical professionals who prescribe them.

Pharma reps come in various forms, each specializing in a different facet of the pharmaceutical landscape. 

They are like the actors in a medical drama, with specific roles, expertise, and motivations that contribute to the unfolding plot.

Some common types of medical sales reps include:

  • Primary care sales reps: They promote pharmaceutical products to primary care healthcare providers like general practitioners and family physicians. 

  • Specialty care sales reps: They promote medications and therapies for specific medical specialties like oncology, cardiology, and other specialized areas. 

  • Hospital sales reps: These reps work primarily with hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare institutions to promote pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and healthcare solutions used within hospital settings.

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) sales reps: They directly promote non-prescription or over-the-counter medications and healthcare products to retail pharmacies, drugstores, and other retailers. 

  • Medical device sales reps: They promote medical equipment, devices, and diagnostic tools used by surgeons, radiologists, and lab technicians.

  • Biotech sales reps: They focus on promoting biotechnology-based pharmaceuticals and therapies. 

Now that you understand the various roles around the pharma industry, let’s answer this – what exactly does a rep do?And how do they get compensated?

On to the next section!

With Power Comes Great Responsibilities 💪

Have you ever wondered what a typical day looks like for a pharmaceutical sales representative? 

Let's dive into a firsthand account from Paige Peterson, specialty sales representative at Avion Pharmaceuticals:

“Every morning, I get to my first office around the 8:30-8:45 window. While in my car, I look over my reports that give me information about the insurance the practices are in network with.  

Followed up with a report of which drugs they have written scripts for in previous months, then put together a plan of action of what I’m going to say to the doctor or questions I’m going to ask to understand their need for my drug.”

She continues:

“Once I finish my pre-call planning, I go into the office, greet the staff and pull out my samples that I’m going to leave for the office to prep my tablet for the provider's signature. 

I also prepare branded materials that I’m going to leave behind that contain supplemental information about the samples that I will be leaving for the day.”

When asked about in-person meetings, Paige answered:

“I do about 8 to 10 office visits per day, and I also stop at pharmacies in the surrounding areas to ensure that the doctors can send prescriptions for their patients and they get it at a great price and it’s readily accessible.”

To put it broadly, a medical sales rep’s primary role is to:

  • Connect with potential customers.
  • Understand their needs.
  • Persuade them to make a purchase. 

Of course, the specifics of a sales rep's role can vary depending on the industry and the company they work for.

Here are some key responsibilities:

Responsibilities of a medical sales representative

1. Mastering product persuasion

Pharma sales isn’t just about information delivery.

Reps need to present their products in a way that captivates healthcare personnel (HCPs) and convinces them of their value. 

To excel, they need to become a product advocate. This involves:

  • Creating compelling narratives that highlight the real-world benefits of your products.
  • Crafting persuasive arguments that address the target audience's pain points and showcasing your products as the ideal solution. 
  • Stay updated on the latest medical developments and how your products fit into the evolving healthcare landscape.

2. Forging pharma relationships 

The world of pharmaceuticals revolves around a lot of networking.

Reps not only establish initial connections with HCPs but also nurture and maintain these relationships over time.

How is it helpful?

Communicating regularly allows you to better understand each HCP's unique needs and preferences and tailor your interactions effectively – making them feel valued.

This strong rapport can eventually lead to increased product adoption and recommendations to their patients. 

Just as doctors often cover shifts for colleagues due to their strong bonds!

3. Unearthing market insights

Comprehensive market research is not just a good practice. It's an absolute necessity. 

Let’s understand why:

As new drugs, treatments, and medical practices emerge regularly, reps need to stay updated with the latest developments. This helps them remain as a valuable resource for their clients.

Moreover, diving deep into market research helps you:

  • Set your product apart from the competition, creating a distinctive edge.
  • Customize your offerings to cater to the unique needs of your target audience.
  • Engage in meaningful discussions with clients armed with the latest data.

In the world of pharmaceuticals, knowledge isn't just power – it's your ticket to success!

4. Delivering impactful sales pitches

There is nothing more yawn-inducing than presentations, right?

But for reps, it’s their opportunity to shine!

All that market research and building relationships will hold no value if reps can’t convince HCPs to buy their products.

That’s why they work to deliver truly impactful sales pitches. This includes:

  • Understanding the unique needs, preferences, and pain points of the HCP.
  • Using case studies, success stories, and concrete data to showcase how their products result in tangible improvements in patient care.
  • Identifying the challenges HCPs face daily and demonstrating how their offering can make work easier.

5. Organizing data

Accurate record-keeping is the lifeblood of successful medical reps. 

They diligently document interactions with healthcare professionals.

What secrets do these hold?

Reps capture data like the topics discussed, product samples provided, and any feedback received. 

Think of them as the medical charts that doctors maintain for each patient!

These records play a pivotal role in maintaining follow-ups and evaluating the effectiveness of sales strategies.

Additionally, reps can use this clear trail of all interactions to ensure they’re adhering to stringent regulatory requirements.

6. Training as pharma professors

Medical reps are expected to be experts on the products they represent. This involves continuously updating their knowledge about the products.

Moreover, for each product, they need to understand the mechanisms:

  • Action.
  • Indications.
  • Side effects.
  • Safety profiles (safety-related data like adverse effects and contraindications).

This responsibility ensures that HCPs are well-informed about the products and can make informed decisions when prescribing or recommending them to patients.

Woah! That was a lot of information to take.

Ready to learn about day-to-day responsibilities?

Say no more!

Cranking Up the Motivation Meter: What Fuels Pharma Reps' Rockets? 🚀

Surgeons find their motivation in a myriad of places: personal convictions, patient stories, and the adrenaline-pumping world of surgery. 

Similarly, pharma reps have their unique rocket fuel sources. Let's go through the motivations that keep these reps soaring high:

1. Money matters… but only to some extent!

In response to a question about their driving force, an anonymous specialty pharma rep (at a company with 120+ sales members) revealed:

“umm… income for my family. Yes, I think that’s what this gives me, the financial stability and the bonuses sure don’t hurt!”

Pharma companies typically structure their compensation packages to include base salaries, commissions, and performance bonuses. 

Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Base salary: The base salary provides a stable income, ensuring that pharma reps have a financial foundation to support themselves and their families.

  • Commissions: Commissions are directly tied to sales performance. The more they sell, the more they earn. This variable component reflects their ability to drive sales and meet targets.

  • Performance bonuses: Performance bonuses serve as an additional incentive. They reward exceptional achievements, such as surpassing sales goals or launching a new product successfully.

This setup aligns the financial interests of the representatives with the company's goals, creating a win-win scenario.

The stats speak for themselves.

On average, a pharma sales rep in the United States earns approximately $111,620 per year. The base pay accounts for $73,720, while additional pay is $37,901.

When compared to other industries, pharmaceutical sales stands out as a lucrative field:

Source: Glassdoor

While this financial stability is undeniably enticing, there are other motivating factors as well.

Let’s find out. 

2. A dash of competition

At its core, competitive spirit is what drives pharma reps to excel.

The question arises: what exactly fuels this competitive fire within pharma reps?

For starters, competition is deeply ingrained in the pharmaceutical sales culture. It's not just about meeting quotas or goals. It's about thriving in an environment where challenges are part and parcel of the job. 

In the words of Kendra Woods, a cardiovascular sales specialist at Bristol Myers Squibb:

“It’s a very competitive job and I love the thrill of it.”

Clearly, she revels in the competitive nature of her work, relishing the thrill that comes with it.

Now, let's dig deeper.

For some reps, competition stokes their intrinsic motivation. They're driven by more than just monetary rewards. For others, setting challenging yet attainable targets is crucial in kindling the competitive fire.

It's like a friendly challenge among teammates – a race to outperform others and oneself!

3. The thrill of achievement

High Stakes = High Rewards

Pharma reps thrive on setting ambitious sales goals and pursuing them with unwavering determination. 

Sure, it's a journey filled with challenges and hurdles. But the thrill of meeting and surpassing these goals keeps them engaged and fiercely driven.

Much like a surgeon experiences an adrenaline rush in the operating room, pharma reps feel the exhilaration when they secure a critical prescription or close a significant deal. 

This rush is addictive, pushing them to reach new heights.

Tracey McCudden, a Sales rep at Eagle Product, knows this exhilaration well. As a sales rep for a sustainable PPE glove company, her day-to-day involves prospecting and engaging potential clients. 

It's a challenging endeavor that often involves rejection.

However, for Tracey, it's all worth it, “...once you get someone interested and see their reaction to the quality of our gloves. We have a very unique story and no one in the industry is doing it so I think that is what keeps me very motivated.”

Her company is a trailblazer in the industry, as they are the only B corp glove company in the U.S., emphasizing sustainability and ensuring glove purity through rigorous testing.

4. A sense of purpose

Pharma reps see themselves as healers in their own right. 

They may not be wielding scalpels or making critical diagnoses, but they play a vital role in improving patient outcomes. 

Knowing that the products they promote can alleviate suffering and improve patients' lives adds an extraordinary layer of motivation to their work.

When asked about what keeps them motivated to do their job, Kendra shared:

“Helping patients fight against illnesses just makes this job all the more worth it.”

Kendra’s belief in the “sense of purpose” makes this role not just a profession but a personal commitment to improving lives.

5. Building relationships

Initially, the interns were focused on surviving their shifts. 

However, amidst the chaos, they realized building relationships is equally important. 

And soon, they were thick as thieves!

Building and maintaining solid relationships with HCPs is crucial. This includes doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare providers. These relationships are built on trust and expertise.

Pharma reps who enjoy connecting tend to have a more positive experience.

Reflecting on building relationships, Jaclyn Lonergan, Inside sales rep at Pharma Logistics, shares:

“I love being able to talk and learn from my team. However, the most rewarding part for me is when I build relationships with people. I've always loved learning about new people and connecting so when people give me the time of day and talk to me it's a very nice feeling.”

Additionally, these relationships are also sources of continuous learning. 

By engaging with healthcare providers, pharma reps gain insights into evolving medical practices and emerging healthcare needs.

This results in:

  • Increased product adoption and recommendations.
  • Enhanced credibility and trustworthiness in the eyes of HCPs.
  • Referrals, partnership opportunities, and other career benefits.

6. The quest for advancement

Advancement within the pharmaceutical industry signifies an opportunity to widen horizons and take on greater responsibilities. 

Imagine it as the next level of surgical expertise for resident doctors. The higher you go, the more lives you can touch.

What does this advancement entail?

It means access to a broader network of HCPs, enabling reps to engage with a more extensive array of medical professionals. 

This, in turn, leads to a greater capacity to influence and drive change in patient care practices. 

But why is this advancement so attractive?

It's not just about more power or a fatter paycheck.

The allure lies in the opportunity to contribute to improving patient care and having a voice in shaping it. 

Mastering Motivation: 5 Strategies to Inspire Your Pharma Sales Team 🌟

Here’s the thing: At some point, every sales manager encounters the challenge of motivating their team.

And more often than not, incentives and fancy rewards are used as the driving force.

However, it runs deeper than that and adheres to a proven strategy.

First, let’s understand the different types of motivation.

A. Intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation is driven by personal satisfaction and internal rewards. In other words, it comes from within.

For surgeons, the passion for saving lives comes from within, and that acts as an intrinsic motivator.

Similarly, reps are motivated by the belief that their product improves patients' lives, giving them a sense of purpose.

B. Extrinsic motivation

Remember when Dr. Bailey set up a surgical contest and offered the sparkle pager as the reward? The sparkle pager allowed the winner to take away any surgery for the next three months. 

Here, the sparkle pager acted as an extrinsic motivator.

What’s that?

Extrinsic motivation comes from external rewards, recognition, or avoidance of consequences (fear-based).  

For example, for reps, it can be the prospect of earning a bonus for meeting sales targets or receiving public acknowledgment for outstanding performance.

While some reps might respond more to intrinsic motivation, others are driven by extrinsic factors.

But it’s better to avoid fear-based motivators, as they can often do more harm than good.

As Peter Scalici, Regional Sales Manager at Salix, puts it, “I’ve always been an advocate by doing it out of love instead of fear. Motivating the team for the possibilities that lie within their reach should they meet and/or exceed their quarterly goals. Especially since I’m the manager for the Inside sales team, my current reps hitting their numbers will speak volumes for when they look to transition to outside sales openings.”

Overall, both categories are beneficial in a lot of ways. 

Use the following strategies to keep the sales fire burning in your team:

1. Leverage the passion for the product

One of the easiest and most effective ways is to channel the rep’s passion for the product or service. 

Here's how to leverage this unique passion within your team:

  • Offer comprehensive training to showcase the benefits and value of what reps sell.
  • Encourage reps to share success stories demonstrating the significant impact of the product on patients.
  • Implement a recognition program for outstanding performance to boost passion and commitment.
  • Train reps to understand how the product directly improves patients' lives.

Once reps start to genuinely believe in the value of what they're offering, their enthusiasm and dedication can lead to positive outcomes.

This resonates with Mike Lopez, Director of Sales & Business Development at Medpoint Inc. From Mike:

“But by far the most successful sales reps were the most passionate ones on any team. That passion came from their competitive fire combined with the belief that their product or service being sold truly made the most difference in a patient’s life." 

Ignite that passion and channel it toward success! 

2. Foster healthy competition

According to Dr. Craig Dike, clinical psychologist and assistant clinical director of Doctor on Demand, “Competition at its base is what has driven us as a species to survive.” 

This primal instinct is deeply ingrained in our DNA. And when harnessed, it can be a powerful force within your sales team. 

It's not just about winning. It's about personal and collective growth – where friendly competition catalyzes achievement. 

How do you harness it effectively?

Two words: Sales contests

Sales contests are a common strategy pharmaceutical companies employ to create sudden spikes in sales and production. 

In discussing sales contests, Mike adds:

“Competition amongst your teammates or a competition created by a contest in the middle of or at the start of a bonus period is always a good way to create a bump in sales and production. This is a common tactic used by pharmaceutical companies when sales become stagnant or when the company is close to hitting a goal.” 

The element of competition introduces an extra incentive for sales representatives to push their limits, increasing their chances of earning additional bonuses.

To create a successful sales contest, you need to strategically align it with specific business objectives. 

Some scenarios where a sales contest can work well:

  • Expanding into a new medical specialty.
  • Introducing a new medication to the market.
  • Scheduling consultations with healthcare providers.
  • Following up on potential pharmacy partnerships.

The idea is to keep it challenging and engaging.

And the key is setting a clear start and end date, as extended contests tend to lose their spark.A 30-day event can be an ideal duration.

Additionally, you can use leaderboards to spice things up as well.

Sales leaderboards backed by medical sales rep tracking provide a transparent and motivating way to track progress, recognize achievements, and encourage sales reps to excel. 

It can help create a friendly rivalry among team members. 

Seeing their colleagues performing well, reps may be more inclined to push themselves to achieve similar or better results.

3. Use rewards as incentives 

The Reinforcement Theory by B.F. Skinner suggests that an individual's behavior can be molded, conditioned, or reconditioned through reinforcements.

It can be done by introducing positive stimuli or removing negative ones.

Various fields, including sales management, use this theory to promote desired behaviors and improve performance.

One such stimulus is rewards for winning sales contests. It can be in the form of bonuses or non-monetary gifts.

Here’s what Mike has to say about incentives:“The rewards are oftentimes monetary but you often have the reward of a free shopping spree that could be worth thousands of dollars, reward points that are redeemed in an online catalog for items that you normally might not have considered buying, and, of course, reward trips to exotic destinations.”

However, the problem with contests is that they traditionally favor star performers.

How do you find the right balance?

To achieve this, you can offer non-cash prizes for lower performance tiers perceived as equal or even superior to the top prizes in some aspects.

But remember, simply offering lower-grade versions of top prizes won't be effective.

Otherwise, it’ll be like asking two interns to scrub in for surgery but allowing only one of them to participate. 

Imagine that discussion going down. Phew!

Another option is to let them choose their rewards… or rather design the contest.Dan Tyre, Sales Director at Hubspot, uses this three-step approach:

  1. Ask if the team needs motivation.
  2. If yes, he asks them to set the objective.
  3. Lastly, he allows them to pick a reward within X budget.

4. Emphasize the importance of clear communication

Chris Kemp, Division Sales Manager at Pharmacyclics (an AbbVie Company), said it best, “Communication is key. It’s absolutely important.”

Indeed, clear communication is the backbone of synergy and success.

Why? Because misunderstandings can lead to missed opportunities and, ultimately, lost sales.

Let’s take a closer look at these reasons:

  • Ensuring regulatory compliance: Regulatory guidelines can change frequently, and companies need to stay informed about the latest updates to comply with evolving standards and regulations.

  • Staying informed: This includes staying in touch with scientists, doctors, industry professionals, and patients to ensure they benefit from the latest advancements.

  • Winning the competitive edge: From healthcare professionals to patients, you need to communicate to understand audience needs, develop products to meet those needs, and build relationships with key stakeholders. Therefore creating that competitive advantage.

  • Unifying efforts towards a common goal: The pharmaceutical industry is a collaborative ecosystem. When all players work toward a shared goal, the industry can achieve breakthroughs, maintain high standards, and deliver innovative solutions to patients worldwide. 

  • Building strong relationships: By emphasizing effective communication, pharma companies can foster relationships that lead to productive partnerships, satisfied customers, and a healthy, vibrant industry that thrives on trust and understanding.

Ultimately, it all boils down to individual skills.

Here’s your roadmap to developing effective communication skills:

  1. Active listening: Actively listen when engaging in conversations. Avoid waiting for your turn to speak and instead focus on comprehending what the other person is saying. This demonstrates respect and ensures that you fully understand the message.

  1. Eye contact: Maintain eye contact during conversations to signify your attentiveness and genuine interest in the topic. It is a non-verbal cue that you are engaged in the discussion.

  1. Clarity and articulation: Articulating your thoughts clearly and concisely demonstrates that you have taken the time to consider the issue before responding and ensures your message is easily understood.

  1. Body language: Pay attention to your body language. Maintain good posture and confident body language during conversations. This conveys self-assurance and reinforces the message you are delivering.

5. Provide regular feedback and reviews

Meredith and Christina were best friends. And their love for gloominess and darkness is what helped them bond.But when it came to medicine, they were a world apart.While Meredith had an inclination towards neurosurgery, Christina was fascinated with cardiothoracic.

This can be applied to pharma sales as well. 

Not every rep is the same. And a one-dimensional management approach can be counterproductive. Instead, you need to acknowledge and respect the individuality of your team members.

To understand them better, you can ask questions like:

  1. How frequently would you like to have check-ins or team meetings?

From Chris:

“We’re in constant contact and we do text-based reviews every month.”

  1. What is your preferred method for receiving feedback and updates?
  2. When acknowledging your achievements or providing constructive feedback, do you prefer it to be done privately or in a team setting?
  3. What specific types of feedback are most valuable to you? Are you seeking performance-related feedback, career development guidance, or a combination?

For example, Chris says, “To drive sales and certain behavior, I recommend my team to work on their pitch… as in send messages in line with what's important to customers.”

And lastly, if there’s any issue related to your managing style, address them:

  1. If you ever find something about our communication or management style that's bothersome, are you comfortable sharing it with me? 

Prescriptions for Success: The Vital Role of Pharma Reps in Healthcare

Motivated by financial stability, competition, a sense of purpose, relationship-building, and the opportunity for professional growth, pharma reps play a pivotal role in healthcare.

To lead and inspire such a diverse group, it's crucial to employ both intrinsic and extrinsic motivational strategies.

These include:

  • Leveraging their passion for the product.
  • Fostering healthy competition.
  • Offering enticing rewards.
  • Emphasizing clear communication.
  • Providing valuable feedback.

Keeping the fire alive will strengthen their belief in this noble cause. It’ll give them a reason to show up each day and make their efforts truly count.

After all, as the iconic Derek Shepherd said:

Make payouts right every time with ElevateHQ

Move from manual to automated and error-free commission calculations with our platform.

schedule demo banner image