Are you a successful sales professional? Are you looking for a change of industry? Are you looking to work in an industry where you really do make a difference to people’s lives? Have you ever thought about getting into Pharmaceutical Sales? Many people have, but have often thought that you need a science degree to enter this industry. This is not necessarily the case.

In this article, Darren Spevick from Novo Consulting aims to give an insight into the industry, the role of a pharmaceutical representative, and how to get into the industry.

There are many different types of sales roles in the pharmaceutical industry, from selling OTC medicines (Over the Counter), and selling prescription drugs into GP, Hospitals or Primary Care Trusts. For the purpose of this article we will focus on GP sales roles, as this is typically the entry point into the industry.

The Pharmaceutical Industry

The pharmaceutical industry is a vibrant, dynamic and global business. It invests huge sums of money into R&D, new product development and the marketing of new products. The pharmaceutical industry has a captive market place in that people are always going to be ill, and ‘consumers’ now have the expectation that if they are ill, they can take some medicine and be better. The UK Government invests billions of pounds into the NHS each year to improve the healthcare of the nation. A share of this is spent on drugs and medicines which the pharmaceutical companies will receive when their products are prescribed. At the moment in the UK prescription pharmaceuticals cannot be advertised to the general public, only OTC products that you can buy in a pharmacy. However, in the United States these products are marketed direct to the consumer, which increases the knowledge of the consumer and can influence the prescribing habits of Doctors. Many believe that this could happen in the UK in the future.

Why join the pharmaceutical industry?

People will consider joining the pharmaceutical industry for a number of reasons:

Job Satisfaction
Many people join the pharmaceutical industry as they want to know that they are selling a product which does make a real difference to people’s lives. It can be very rewarding when a doctor tells you that they have put a patient onto your drug and have seen a massive improvement in that person’s health and quality of life.

The pharmaceutical industry offers many benefits to its employees. The overall packages do normally include competitive basic salaries, excellent company car schemes, comprehensive benefits packages, and bonus potential typically between £6-10k per year, but this will vary from company to company.

Training and Development
Pharmaceutical companies typically offer excellent training for their sales people in terms of product knowledge, personal and professional development. A lot of companies also offer structured career paths which allow you to move into senior sales roles, training, management or into marketing.

The role of the Pharmaceutical Representative

Pharmaceutical sales is different to other sales roles for a number of reasons.

You are not selling to the actual consumer.
Your role is to educate, influence and persuade a Doctor, that given the right situation, your product would be the most appropriate product to prescribe to a patient. You are then relying on the medical professional to use this information when deciding which drugs to prescribe and hope they remember yours.

Ethical Sales
Pharmaceutical sales operate within a strict code of conduct – the ABPI – which has guidelines that determine what you can and cannot say about your product.

You are selling to highly educated and well informed medical professionals. You need to have the right level of knowledge to be able to converse on a credible basis.

GPs and nurses are incredibly busy. It can be difficult enough getting a doctors appointment when you are ill, let alone trying to see one to promote your products. There are a lot of representatives competing for the limited time the doctors have, so you need to demonstrate high levels of tenacity, determination and creativity to find new ways of getting in front of the influencers and decision makers.

Making the sale
One element of the role that presents a real challenge is the fact that you are not closing a deal, or at least not to the extent of walking away with a signed order. More often than not you are looking to gain a high level of commitment from the GP that they would prescribe your product in the right situation. For some sales people who have come from a more direct sales environment, they will either find this a real challenge, or it will frustrate them.

How to get into the industry

Historically the pharmaceutical industry has looked for people who have a science education (A-Level or degree) who want to work in a commercial environment. This is because they found that these people were able to pick up the information and scientific knowledge quickly and could converse on a credible level. Some companies still look for this as a minimum criteria. However, things have changed. Many of the larger companies will now look for people who have a reasonable education and demonstrate the willingness and desire to learn, combined with the right attitude to sell in a competitive environment. The skills they would look for are excellent interpersonal and communication skills, high levels of energy, tenacity and determination, and you must have the ability to work both on your own and as a part of a team. I know of many people who have come from other industries such as FMCG, recruitment, media, financial sales and IT sales, who have successfully moved into pharmaceutical sales.

Before you apply for these types of jobs you must do your research. Companies will expect that you have thoroughly researched the role, the industry and can really prove your desire to want to work in pharmaceutical sales. Pharmaceutical companies spend a huge amount of money in training and developing new people, so they want to get a return on their investment. The last thing they want to happen is for someone to join, get trained, start the job and realise it is not for them. If you do not do this research you will find it difficult to break in.

If you are looking to move into pharmaceutical sales, or if you are considering some other career change and want advice on how you can move on or up in your sales career, please contact Darren at Novo Consulting on 01923-854600 for a confidential conversation, or email your CV to

Novo Consulting specialise in providing career consultancy services to Sales professionals.

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