Pharma Replaces Sales Reps with Call Center

What if a call center worked just as well as hundreds of sales reps on the street? That’s the question raised by BNet Pharma after AstraZeneca disbanded almost all of its in-person sales force for the stomach drug Nexium and replaced it with telephone support.

The answer, at least according to Bernstein Research analyst Tim Anderson: “Such a sales model could be used for other mature brands.”

Here’s how it works. By the end of last year, AstraZeneca had all but shut down detailing on Nexium. Reps were cut or “redeployed to other brands.” Doctors who need samples, informational materials for patients, reimbursement information and the like can visit an Internet site to place an order or contact a 300-person call center.

“By having a call center and an Internet site where doctors can order materials and samples, [AstraZeneca] says it can adequately meet the needs of many prescribers at a lower cost,” Anderson explained to investors. Indeed, the analyst wrote, the company agrees that “there are more costs to come out of the system” and says that it’s “less than halfway through such cost-cutting activities.”

Moving doc-detailing online isn’t just an AstraZeneca strategy, either. Merck, for one, has been beefing up its online sales activities, setting up sites where doctors can review sales pitches and other info on various meds. And given that docs have greeted the move with enthusiasm, more’s sure to come.

by Tracy Staton