There’s been a lot of talk in the past year about how we need to re-think the role and profile of the pharmaceutical/biotech sales rep.
This dialogue needs to happen, given the trends that are rapidly shrinking the size of sales forces. Of course, when you poll the doctors, they are going to focus on the need for greater depth of clinical knowledge. That’s certainly important. And, if you talk to the rest of the staff, then knowledge of health plans and administrative/business issues rise to the surface. As you’d expect.
But now, let’s take a look at it from the shoes of the pharmaceutical company – the executives and managers responsible for outreach to the medical community. What does the new new rep need to look like with their perspective in mind?
The old model had much to do with reach and frequency – getting the message out. Looking ahead, I think it’s going to require a mentality much more focused on opportunity and strategy – that is, approaching one’s job as a business, and intelligently using available information to maximize proper patient use of the most appropriate therapy.
Often this includes training in something like business acumen, but perhaps a more helpful description of the overall mindset would be something along the lines of business opportunism – savviness/insight joined to creative initiative and enterprising strategy (including pulling in other resources) to accomplish the desired business end. And while one means may be messaging with reach and frequency in mind, that is certainly NOT the end!
A business opportunist would look at the accounts in a territory with a thoughtful finger on the pulse of prescribing volume AND current prescribing habits AND treatment practices AND health plan coverage variations AND patient flow AND other important variables, and be empowered to ask this question: “Where is the greatest potential impact for the most (appropriate) patients?” This is a very different mindset than, “How can I make my call numbers this week?”
Better clinical training instead of meal-and-message-delivery services? Absolutely. Healthcare and office process knowledge? Certainly. But perhaps it’s time to re-think the whole sales rep model, and start deploying business opportunists. I’m thinking advanced training for reps who have been in the field for a year or two should be geared more toward strategic business skills. What do you think?
Sign up for the Impactiviti Connection weekly e-newsletter (see sample), chock full of news and resources for pharmaceutical professionals
Get the Impactiviti overview
George Ericsson - VP Learning & Development, Foster Rosenblatt says
The value proposition offered to healthcare providers by the commercial side of the pharma / biotctech industry has been eroding since the nineties.
I can’t be sure why business acumen development hasn’t been addressed across the pharma industry more aggressively. With access declining and length of details rapidly decreasing, we all need to step back and re-model our direct promotion model.
– If the time spent with a rep doesn’t generate an improvement in patient care and an improvement of the practices cost structure, the HealthCare Provider can’t spend time with them other than for a signature. The value proposition can’t be a lunch.
– Most practices haven’t been able to give the office staff or the HCPs a raise in 2-3 years. If a new drug prescribed by the practice causes more insurance/payer phone calls and paper work, they will revert back to the competitor product.
– “Follow the money”. If a rep doesn’t understand how the practice makes money, they are poorly prepared to sell. With that knowledge, they need to adapt all behaviors to make sure all interactions with the practice are value positive for the customer and their patients.
– Marketers and sales leaders need to provide customer centric promotional materials and programs that support that effort.
– Selling skills models that reinforce one minute spills out of the reps mouth are dinosaurs. High quality listening skills, analysis skills and strong EQ (emotional intelligence) become important factors for hiring and training of both reps and their managers.
Nancy Pratt says
Training representatives differently may lead to an actual change in behavior for a small percentage of the representatives. The training focus should really be on sales leadership.
Do we have the right people in management positions that can coach to a new approach to sales? Probably not.
I say that because as an industry, we don’t generally invest in truly developing leaders. Often, once someone becomes a manager, their formal training stops.
The only way to have effective pull through and true change is to have sales managers that develop these new skills in their teams.
Greg Rust says
While listening to NPR this morning, it was announced that GM earned its first profit since 2004. A lot of the growth is coming from the introduction and sales of the Chevrolet Volt, their electric car. However, there is still doubt about how fast they can continue to grow and innovate due to the large “outdated culture” that still exists within the walls of GM.
The same situation exists within the walls of many Pharma. I still have friends that are pharma reps and they still concern themselves with the same metrics of hitting a certain number of calls a day (based on a signature, more than anything else). They have more creative tactics to achieve this but most still evolve around food & Starbucks for the office staff.
When queried, they would all prefer to conduct a deeper business discussion without carrying a platter of food or concern that the doctor wanted his vanilla latte with skim milk, not whole. But that has to come from the home office and they are still focusing on driving “details”.
The problem now as you stated and which I have been in agreement with for years, is the pharma model does not map to the medical practice model. Physicians are trying to run a business and at the end of the day or month, its based on what the P&L shows.
There is a reason physicians dont have time to meet with reps. When I first entered the industry I thought the most important thing for the doctor and his staff were my products. Now that I have friends that have medical practices, I have learned how challenged they are to run a business and how often they are looking for resources to help them address those challenges.
Pharmas answer? Recently a physicians practice was recruiting staff. Part of the add mentioned breakfast & lunch were provided daily.
Alan Berkson says
Anecdote: I had breakfast yesterday with a friend who had been in pharma sales for 15+ years. He was laid off over a year ago and can’t find work. His perception? The style of consultative sales he was trained in (by pharma companies) is no longer desired or appreciated. He feels the pharma companies would rather someone read off approved sales literature than provide value-add and a consultative approach. He speculates it’s due to liability concerns, but is not sure.
I really don’t know this space, but I thought it might be useful to add to the conversation.