The Future of Pharma Sales: Part II
This month, Rita continues looking at the future sales rep, a role which must evolve in order to thrive in this new healthcare landscape.
In last month’s column, I described how recent healthcare reforms have radically reshaped the customer landscape which is increasingly characterized by (1) fewer, larger provider organizations that are (2) exercising their market power through more centralized decision making, and (3) basing those decisions on product value. I also started to address how these changes will impact a pharmaceutical company’s commercial strategy in the near-term.
This month, I continue this discussion by highlighting some key considerations for manufacturers as they undergo a strategic shift from a “selling to one” to “selling to a network.”
Pharmaceutical companies looking to redefine their sales force to provide more value to the customer will have to reconsider not only the skill and qualification requirements used in hiring, but also give thought to how sales reps will be evaluated and rewarded differently going forward.
What skills and qualifications will be required for sales reps in this environment and how do we properly train new and existing hires?
As scientific exchange between sales reps and healthcare professionals like P&T committees and other institutional decision makers becomes progressively deeper and richer, the corecompetencies of new sales reps begins to closely resemble those of Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs). These scientifically trained personnel rely on discussions with KOLs to assist in the design of clinical trials, gather competitive intelligence, and present scientific findings.
MSLs aren’t “selling” a particular product, which ultimately enables them to build credibility with KOLs and the wider medical community. While it’s imperative that MSLs remain “firewalled” from commercial functions within a pharmaceutical company, manufacturers may consider either bringing more MSLs into a sales rep role or using similar hiring criteria for both positions.
Strong business acumen and excellent communication skills remain important, but they’re not sufficient. Pharmaceutical sales forces must have an understanding of specific complex diseases and the ability to negotiate with powerful payers and medical specialists. Credentials and academic training to foster scientific dialogue become increasingly critical. But as in the rest of healthcare, integration of clinical and administrative perspectives is needed, too. Reps of tomorrow need to be sufficiently fluid with finance to explain the derivation of savings claimed.
Sales representatives will require new competencies to succeed in a complex sales process. They will need to focus on engaging in value-added conversations with executive decision-makers to identify needs, develop responsive non-product solutions, and articulate compelling value propositions that make use of the full capabilities of their company.
As the role of reps continues to evolve, sales tools and training to support field success must change as well. Product and compliance knowledge will continue to be must-haves. New selling skills for a complex, longer-term sell are essential. And, asprerequisite, manufacturers must develop the necessary data to enable their reps to claim superior outcomes and/or downstream cost savings. Reps must then be properly equipped with the necessary sales collateral, including tools for practice and disease management, and trained to communicate this information to their customers in a more targeted and individualized manner. One final consideration for manufacturers is that as key account management has essentially become the norm in Pharma sales, clarity of role definition is critical. An orderly process for redefining and transitioning to new roles is necessary.
How will sales teams be evaluated and rewarded?
Just as the market is evolving, so should the metrics used to measure effectiveness and efficiency. Traditional metrics such as physician call frequency and contact time have been replaced by measures that provide insight into the quality of these engagements, including feedback from physicians. These outcomes-based metrics need to be supplemented with measures that evaluate the team and its shared performance, as well as the ability to develop and maintain long-term relationships.
As healthcare continues to move away from volume and toward value, pharmaceutical companies should incentivize their reps to achieve a culture based on true performance. Results will still determine success, but the metrics may evolve to include the ability to gain and maintain access as well as successfully moving pills. Furthermore, a team-based selling approach will require the addition of shared goals to individual performance in evaluating sales reps.
How has the career path changed for a sales rep?
The ability of the sales team to build long-term relationships with key stakeholders based on trust and patient value is more critical now than ever before. Furthermore, as outlined above, the skills and qualifications required for success have expanded, making the pool of appropriate candidates significantly smaller. In the short term, many reps may have difficulty making the transition, resulting in high attrition during a period of transition. After this change, the newly sized and more scientifically skilled sales force will be ready to tackle the challenges and nuances of institutional selling. The complex nature of the relationships that reps will need to build with multiple stakeholders, often working as part of a well-coordinated and integrated account team, makes it more disruptive to have significant and constant turnover. Combined with the small candidate pool of individuals who could replace them, this means it will be less desirable for manufacturers to rotate reps -- especially high performing ones -- out of their sales roles into management or marketing. The stability of the sales organization may have unintended consequences as the pipeline of commercial leaders -- executives who have carried the bag -- becomes less abundant.
The reshaping of the sales organization is only one component of the commercial model that pharmaceutical companies need to reexamine. The interaction with complex institutional accounts will provide insights into the fluid external landscape, and manufacturers must develop new capabilities in Market Access, Strategic Marketing and Strategic Sales to respond to the various needs of their commercial partners.
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