Musings of an ex-pharma rep.

I’m hesitant to post this one.  Today many of my hardworking, dedicated former colleagues at Lilly will find out they no longer have a job.  I believe some of this could have been avoided.

To Lilly’s credit, it has made tremendous efforts to keep as many sales people as it could over the years while other companies were laying off left and right.  Unfortunately, it’s that time.  Patent cliffs and changing environments are calling for a dramatically different footprint for the company.  I get that.

I also got a lot from Eli Lilly while I worked there.  I spent seven years with the company and I am so grateful for the experience that I gained.  I learned first hand about being a self-starter, that dedication and hard-work do, in fact, make a difference.  I learned some interesting strategies for healthcare sales and marketing, and all about engaging with physicians in an ethical manner. I learned about the regulatory struggles of big pharma and the challenges that come with being a large organization.  I learned the pride that comes with working for a 100 year old company, rich with tradition. I had the privilege to work with some amazing people, and the opportunity to learn to work with some challenging ones as well.  The skills I gained while at Lilly, and the network I grew have benefitted me tremendously and will continue to over the years. When it was time for me to move on, I knew, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

Back to today.  I continue to believe that real, true, (possibly uncomfortable) communication can help any company.  Ask your people for real feedback and act on it.  Years ago, we in the field could see the writing on the wall: sample boxes piling up in the closet, (but my percent sampled is too low! Jam another one in there!), the “I just saw your other partner and the other one two days ago” response from physicians, closing access and more reps than patients in the waiting room.

This was years ago, and it seemed like no one wanted to listen.  Hiring continued, expansions continued, partner turned into partners and soon the value of the pharmaceutical rep was diluted to a UPS drop off.  I’ll refer you back to my mini-series on creativity in pharmaceutical sales forces, as I cannot stress enough the importance of asking for feedback without having fear of retribution, and for acting quickly on that feedback.

The action part is key.  It’s really time, pharma.  Too big to fail didn’t work for the banks and it won’t work here either.  It’s time to leverage the access field sales has to real time information.  Ask them for feedback, really mean it, and act on it.

It is my hope that great companies like Eli Lilly survive these challenging times, and not only survive, I want to see them thrive.  Thriving in today’s world is going to take some big change!  Big change can’t just come in the form of layoffs.

Whether or not you believe it, at the core of what these companies do, they are focused on helping people live longer, healthier lives.  They invest millions and billions of dollars, time and resources into research; research that wouldn’t happen without pharma. In fact, “U.S. firms conduct 80 percent of the world’s research and development in biotechnology.”  This research doesn’t happen over night, and more often than not, never makes it to market.  It costs over $1.3 Billion to bring a new drug to market.  I encourage you to check out this article from Forbes entitled, The Truly Staggering Cost of  Inventing New Drugs. These companies take on enormous risk, all in hopes of that one molecule, that one medicine, that proves it’s got the stuff to change someone’s life for the better.

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