The Last “Detail Man”

In the old days, sales reps for drug companies were invariably middle-aged men, known in the trade as “detail men.”

The average detail man wore a downtrodden appearance and demeanor, no doubt from years of shabby treatment by the M.D.s who were his prospects — and treated him as a second-class citizen.

The detail man is a vanishing breed, largely replaced today by the “detail woman.”

Increasingly, these drug reps are bright, ambitious, well-dressed, highly educated, and usually drop-dead-gorgeous women — mostly in their 20s and early 30s.

Is this merely a sexist observation on my part?

Or is it a deliberately sexist sales management strategy carried out by drug company executives to get middle-age male physicians to prescribe with their gonads instead of their brains?

I have, by the way, noticed that male doctors are MUCH nicer to these pretty young women today than they were years ago to the detail MEN — worn-out salesmen who haunted their waiting rooms, waiting sometimes hours for a chance to peddle their wares.

Will I burn in the underworld for saying this out loud? Or am I right on the money?


17 thoughts on “The Last “Detail Man”

  • As long as theses “drop-dead-gorgeous women” are “bright, ambitious, well-dressed, highly educated,” and right for the job, then it is simply good marketing. Is it sexist as well? Maybe so, but it is still good marketing.

  • Interestingly enough Bob I used to share rent my offices from a primary care doc and used to see all the traffic going in and out of his building on a regular basis. I would have to disagree and say that there are more younger men AND women in the pharmacy rep game. But, there is still a lot of the old liners too, more than you think who can talk the talk and walk the walk.

    In my spotty conversations with the reps you realize that they have to be young because of the pace that they must go at and hit 20-30 different doctors offices on any given day. That is not to mention all the breakfast and lunch appointments that they bring into those offices just to get in front of the doc once in a month.

  • About 15 years ago, to gain experience in fields other than ABL prior to going freelance, I worked for a year in a medical ad agency here in South Africa. Even then most of the medical reps I came across were young, single (in their late 20s, early 30s), glamorous women. Most of whom had been low-paid nurses looking for a career that paid them a living wage or medical or pharmaceutical students who had failed to graduate. Sure they went at a hectic pace and had to handle the odd pass from lecherous old consultants, but they not only earned a fortune, they had fantastic perks, too – top of the range Beemers to drive, holidays in exotic locations, subsidised bonds, etc., etc. In fact, had I not been married with kids I wouldn’t have minded the job myself! And to answer SpongeBob Fan – the female medics apparently (so I was told anyway) preferred female reps, too. My main problem with working in so-called ‘ethical’ advertising, was the clearly obscene profits the drug companies made and the equally obscene amounts they spent (and still do I’m sure)on what amounted to bribing the medics to prescribe their products.

  • Sexist it may be, but if it works and it’s legal marketing departments are going to try it.

    The only surprise is that they haven’t always done it that way, especially back when most doctors were male. I’ve done jobs for a couple of pharmas, and they’re so sharp it’s crazy.

  • My guess is that the men want to see a pretty face, and the women probably feel more comfortable with another female.

    The same principle applies in other fields too. Years ago my dad had a software company selling largely to distributors (electrical supplies, plumbing supplies, etc.), a business dominated largely by men. His star salesperson was an attractive blonde woman.

  • If both people are highly knowledgeable of their product and industry, would you rather want to buy from the haggard looking detail man or the attractive pharmaceutical rep?

    Isn’t the drug industry in particular out to make us look better or feel better about ourselves?

    Wouldn’t a company like this want reps in the field exemplifying vibrance and healthy living?

    Sex sells… or at least gets us to notice… anything. Who do we blame for that? Attractive people or ourselves?

    And why is it wrong? (I don’t think I’ll burn in the Underworld for that one, but maybe things will get crispy up here…)

  • I think there are two reasons:

    1) The one everyone else has concurred with — smart, great-looking ladies get doctors’ attention more than older men.

    2) Many of these companies are huge into diversity. They purposely hire women and minorities because they believe in a diversified workforce. (I had heard that Pfizer or some other pharma had more female high-level execs than any other Fortune 500 co.)

  • While there is a lot of what you describe going on, it is not as much as you paint. My wife is a drug rep in her 50’s (don’t worry, she won’t read this). Yes, she is attractive, but also highly educated and very professional. While some doctors may like to look at those young, gorgeous women you describe, in the long-term, they prefer professional reps who know how to answer the tough questions they pose. Looks won’t matter for long if the rep doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

  • Jay: my observation is that doctors treat pharma reps as second class citizens and enjoy doing so. Are pharma reps seen as valuable resources by docs or just dispensers of free samples?

  • Bob: like any business, it depends on the rep and the client. Mostly pharma reps are hosts/hostesses serving meals to gain access to clinics. Some docs form friendly professional relationships, while others just take the samples. Occasionally, they will ask a tough question that requires research. Nowadays a lot of the information given also revolves around co-pays.

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