For a pharmaceutics giant like Merck to let go 2,000 sales reps is a huge shift away from their traditional in-person sales model and clear evidence that the way Merck's customers are buying has changed dramatically. It shows that the "shift left" phenomenon of buyers researching more online, prior to making a purchase is starting to bite at the heart of established, profitable businesses.
For Merck and other companies to adequately respond requires much more than dropping the sales person, indeed that's probably the final shoe to drop in a long series of changes in how they communicate with their customers. It is only when the online communication is being done adequately that the expensive sales people become obsolete.
Pharmaceutics are very complicated products and a large firm like Merck distributes many but fundamentally, the information about the medicines can and should be conveyed authoritatively by the firm at a granularity that enables a specialist physician to educate themselves sufficiently to buy with confidence. Creating a process to gather and distribute this information is most sensibly done centrally and applying AI and Marketing Automation to put the most relevant information in front of a customer makes perfect sense.
However, this contrasts starkly with professional services, where within a large advisory, there are many highly-nuanced disciplines that a centralised marketing function cannot represent adequately.
This is because the thing that is being purchased is extremely non-standardised (advice) and is unique to the needs of the potential customer. Publishing the biography of a lawyer, for example, is helpful but it cannot meaningfully cover the in-depth contextualised knowledge of the individual. To demonstrate real expertise, it is necessary for the people giving the advice to speak for themselves.
In both pharmaceutics and professional services, this is precisely the same process as before, doctors never bought or prescribed medicines blindly, nor have people paid for advice in complex matters from total strangers. What's different is that people in every walk of life now educate themselves online about their options, before choosing a supplier.
Merck has let go circa 2,000 US sales reps in the last 18 months, following a cross-industry sales downsizing trend.... ...Customers increasingly prefer to conduct their own pre-sales research online, instead of having a face-to-face conversation with a sales rep. They are also more likely to use digital channels for non-strategic and repeat purchases. But there is still a role for the sales rep in the customers’ eyes for high consideration purchases, and those requiring detailed evaluation. Engaging customers in the future will require a multichannel sales strategy powered by smart digital investments, which can cater to the different needs of first-time and repeat customers.