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Good, old-fashioned pharmaceutical marketing research—comparing Product A and Product B—is still being conducted, but the drop in genuinely new molecules has substantially reduced the amount. Increasing, on the other hand, are research projects related to issues, among the most important of which is sales force effectiveness (SFE). Many non-interchangeable forms of such research, and even definitions of the term, exist. Some use SFE to refer to whether a pharmaceutical sales representative (PSR) is liked by physicians; others use it to describe whether the PSR communicates the promotional message assembled by the home office and uses the visual aid the advertising agency has prepared. Others think SFE research is about projects that delve into the qualities and behavior of a PSR that lead to product sales. Each kind of research has its appropriate application and must be selected to meet the needs of a particular project.

In fact, new applications of SFE are popping up. In some cases, pharma companies are required by the government to run studies to demonstrate, based on physician reports, that their PSRs are limiting presentations to approved indications. Other SFE research examines how decimated field forces can accomplish more with less.

Several interesting considerations result from these trends. First, marketing researchers must now develop working relationships with those in sales operations and with PSRs themselves, as well as have a working knowledge of the sales process in the industry and at their own companies. Relatedly, the marketing researcher must help ensure that all major stakeholders are of one mind in terms of what the sales force is supposed to accomplish.

In brief, research related to SFE will be challenging, exciting and important new work. Let's get to it.

Richard Vanderveer is group CEO, GfK US Healthcare Companies

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