I spent Monday and Tuesday at the eyeforpharma Sales Effectiveness conference in Philadelphia – actually, there were 2 co-located eyeforpharma conferences (the other on E-communication and On-line marketing), and I was able to time-shift between them.
Overall, it was a well-organized event. eyeforpharma is a UK-based organization, and there was certainly more of an “international” flavor among the attendees, speakers, and organizers. It is clear, however, that there are some very universal challenges facing pharma sales and marketing.
One of the more striking presentations was given right out of the gate by an AstraZeneca Promotional Regulatory Affairs professional, discussing how the many layers (and sources) of regulatory restriction impinge on selling practice. Federal regulations are troublesome enough, but one of the growing issues that will add complexity is the move among states to create their own specific regulations. This atmosphere may well make it very difficult to retain self-motivated, entrepreneurial sales professionals who yearn to just sell – in fact, one trend noted by an audience member when discussing retention issues was the growing number of field reps/managers simply leaving the industry altogether.
An interesting statistic given out by Stewart Adkins was that although the average number of drugs launched per year is roughly steady (about 44), the profit-value-per-drug is trending downward, as the number of blockbusters decreases, and the number of in-licensed drugs increases. Stewart also introduced the interesting perspective that, increasingly, pricing and reimbursement issues (commercial viability) may well trump drug approval issues (clinical efficacy) as companies have to make decisions on pipeline candidates.
Although the program is young and specific approaches and results had to be veiled for proprietary reasons, Abbott is apparently doing some innovative things with targeted sales approaches for group practices, which constitute a growing percentage of overall prescribers. This appeared to be an innovative response to the ever-changing marketplace.
I admit to a bit of disappointment that there was little active discussion about the impact of opt-out practices for physician-level prescribing data. Also, the sales training presentations were fairly basic – though there was a good bit of discussion around the need for better management training, especially provoked by the input of Mike Capaldi from sanofi-aventis (who also presented some solid information on measuring training effectiveness).
On the marketing side, I was quite pleased to see how much active wrestling was occurring with the need to find a way to participate in the “Web 2.0” movement of user-generated media, community discussion, etc. The major web trends, moving away from centralized and controlled information flow toward a more personalized and user-centric model, seem to be in conflict with the highly regulated/controlled approach that must be followed in pharma marketing (and sales training). Putting some toes in the water will require risk and courage and wisdom – not doing so will mean simply being left out as a participant in the discussion. These will be tricky waters to navigate, as evidenced by the lively exchanges that occurred in these sessions. Reprentatives from such companies and Yahoo and Google gave their perspectives as presenters.
The co-located conferences got me thinking about the “ideal” pharma sales conference. These 2 topic areas (Sales Effectiveness; E-marketing) are quite separate and so there was limited “flow” between the two, and it also led to a vendor area of unrelated companies that serviced very distinct groups. Nonetheless, I think very highly of the idea of co-locating conferences, or, perhaps more precisely, creating broader conferences that have related tracks. Here would be my ideal pharma sales conference, consisting of tracks and vendors focused on the following themes/target needs:
– Sales Training
– Sales Effectiveness
– Promotional/Sales Compliance
– Global Sales
Such a conference could lead to great cross-pollenization among related disciplines, and have a more cohesive set of attendees, speakers, and vendors. Keynote adresses could span multiple areas (e.g., The Use of Technology to Equip Global Sales Forces; Certification of Sales Professionals; The Impact of Corporate Consent Decrees on Sales Practices, etc.), while specific “tracks” could dig deeply enough into the major themes that all attendees would be able to enjoy a full conference of sessions that interest them (including cross-over into other tracks). While each of these areas of focus could be (or has been) its own conference, often those events are lightly attended – a better critical mass would be reached by having a larger conference with inter-related themes. My two cents.