Monday, February 13, 2006

Generation X Pharma Reps

I have very little in common with Jamie Reidy, the author of the book "Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman," which is a tell-a-lot-but-not-all about pharmaceutical sales (see my review of this book in the upcoming February, 2006 issue of Pharma Marketing News). For one thing, Reidy is a Generation X'er (the cohort born between 1965 and 1980) and I am a boomer (the cohort born between 1946 and 1964).

The differences between Generation X'ers and boomers may help explain the decrease in pharma sales force effectiveness over the years.

One difference to consider concerns the importance of wealth vs. community as motivating factors for these two generations. A UCLA survey of college freshmen cited in the book “Bowling Alone” showed that Generation X'ers -- who were freshman in 1990 -- were much more concerned with achieving wealth than boomers who were freshman in 1970 (see chart). "Greed," says author Robert D. Putman, "trumps community" for Generation X'ers.

Greed -- i.e., the promise of a high salary, bonuses, expense account, and company car -- motivated Reidy to interview for the Pfizer sales rep job in the first place. Throughout the book he exhibits other Generation X traits, such as the frequent conversational use of the word "dude" as in "Dude, I need a little favor" and "Dude, pass the Viagra!" He is also frequently at odds with boomers, including his father and managers at Pfizer, especially when it comes to work ethic and other traditional values of older generations.

Reidy mentioned a Pfizer survey that revealed an "alarming high attrition rate" among reps with 4 to 6 years of service. In contrast to this are the Pfizer Masters -- sales reps whose sum of Pfizer service plus age equals at least 65 years and who have tremendous sales success. "Most of the Masters," quips Reidy, "still comb their hair the way they did when they first saw
Rebel Without a Cause in the movie theater."

UCLA Survey Chart

Greed alone may not be enough to motivate successful sales people. Maybe a little more sense of community -- caring about patients, for example -- might help. Nowhere in Reidy's book do I see any evidence that he really cared about patients. He was trained that "Most benefits [of drugs] revolved around saving a physician or her staff time and hassle", not about treating patients. And, according to Reidy, "nothing makes pharmaceutical sales people crazier than news of 'tab cutting'", a practice common among poor an elderly patients who cannot afford the high cost of drugs. "Dude, where's your compassion?"


  1. I don't think Reidy is an apt characterization of Generation-X in the drug industry nor does this have anything to do with the lack of compassion.

    While I - like Reidy - use "Dude" in select daily vernacular, I should point out that both I and Reidy live in Southern California where Dudes are fixtures to beach communities just as Googlers are to internet communities.

    As a member of Generation-X, I've noticed the stratification within Generation-X, which I have not seen addressed anywhere. The younger Generation-X (ones born in late 70s and in the 80s) were born into cultures of corporate cynicism. The older Generation-X (late 60s early 70s) like me grew up believing in employer loyalty and then evolved to see the errors of our ways in face of glorified lean operations, rainbow belts in six sigmas, and business process reengineering that usually means laying people off.

    Forget the Way of Employee Empowerment, what Generation-X and Generation-Y have seen and continue to see is the Way of Dilbert and management doublespeak. We have grown up seeing management preach one thing and practice another: at the helm of drug industry scandals are senior management serving as examples to Generations X and Y as how one would get ahead at the company. There are members of the Baby Boomer generation who don't question dubious actions of management because one should "toe the line." There are members of the Baby Boomer generation who through their actions have taught members of Generations X and Y that when your connections are powerful enough or concealments clever enough, one does not have to play by the rules.

    This is not about greed abounding and compassion lacking across generation divides. This is simply about greed knowing no bounds and compassion being made irrelevant when your performance is solely judged on how many pills you have sold this week.

  2. Anonymous3:33 AM

    I think your memory is playing tricks on you, old timer.

    Remember the '80s and all that "greed is good" crap?

    Be they "baby boomers" or GenX'rs drug reps are pretty much the lowest of the low.

    End of story.

  3. I am not convinced that the graph is at all relevant to Generation X.

    The data point out the views of people when they were freshmen in college, but it does not give any longitudinal information about the cohorts.

    One might claim that the reading of the freshmen at the time is more a reading on the culture at that time than the long-held values of the particular cohort.

    I would hope that data from this century on the Gen X population might show that we are a different crowd than we were before.

    Polling data such as here:
    Suggests that the many X-ers are holding on to conservative beliefs.

  4. Chris,

    Thanks for your comment. I am not sure the data you cite proves your point. The data I cite relate to what is important to people in terms of their objectives in life, not how they view current issues of political candidates or whether they are conservative or liberal. You may change your objectives in life from when you are a freshman, but that's the time of life when we are really thinking about what we want to be doing with our lives. So I think my data is better than your data.

  5. Anonymous1:24 AM

    "Untucker" - n. A style of long-sleeved button-down shirt, somewhat retro in design (wide, spread lapels), favored as the de rigeur Business Casual attire of male Gen-X'er Pharma Reps at National Sales Meetings. The Untucker is usually coupled with the mussed but fussed strategically-gelled "Dude Where's My Company Car" spiky hair. Don't forget the Big Black Kenny Cole Square-Toe semi-dress shoes and Big Black Kenny Cole distressed-leather big-buckled trendo Belt (just barely visible 'neath the diagonally-striped untucked-yet tailed Untucker). Stylin. Very "Jamie".


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