Retooling Your Sales Function To Ensure Market Access

Rita Numerof explains why you'll need a more nuanced sales approach in this new age of payer supremacy and budget cuts to maximise succes.



Just as landmark scientific advances have accelerated the pace of innovation, rising costs and demands for affordable healthcare are challenging the economics and traditional business assumptions of the industry.  Markets are becoming fragmented as physicians, providers, patients, and payers look for focused solutions that have optimal efficacy and safety profiles for narrower patient populations.  Finally, there is much greater skepticism among key internal stakeholders (investors, regulators, payers, physicians, patients, politicians, and the public) in the integrity and soundness of the industry.

Each of these dynamics has powerful implications for pharmaceutical companies’ sales and commercialization strategies.  Drug makers will need to rethink their approach to the sales function to ensure their continued success.

Needed: A More Nuanced Value Proposition Capable of Persuading a More Diverse Group of Stakeholders

For pharmaceutical companies, some of the most significant changes in the market environment affecting sales have included:

  • A more diverse group of stakeholders involved in decision making, as payers, patients, hospitals, advocacy groups, pharmacists, and policy-makers all assert themselves into decisions that were once the sole domain of the physician
  • Increasing “time is money” pressure on physicians who must get more value out of any time they are not spending with patients
  • Regulations governing industry behavior that have removed some traditional tools for developing relationships with physicians

The physician needs to be seen as more of a collaborative partner than a customer

Each of these changes has resulted in increasing complexity for pharmaceutical sales strategies.  Ultimately, the key to addressing each comes down to value.  For example, while physicians may not be able to spend time with reps to get branded product they can easily get through other means, they will always spend time with anyone who can provide genuine value in the context of running their practice and providing a more effective (and affordable) continuum of care for their patients.  In today’s environment, reps need to leverage new approaches to building relationships with physicians that are less dependent on social skills and more on the rep’s ability to provide real value.

In fact, the physician needs to be seen as more of a collaborative partner than a customer.  The real needs of healthcare practitioners are to achieve better health outcomes for their patients, and to do so most efficiently in an economic environment where time is money.  Presuming the value proposition of any healthcare product brand starts with an impact on health outcomes, drug companies should be forging partnerships with health practitioners that are based on achieving measurable health outcome improvements.

While this may seem obvious, it is not apparent in many industry-physician interactions today.  Your physician partners are interested in how to better diagnose unique patient conditions, how to determine the overall course of treatment to achieve an improved health outcome, and how to guide a patient to manage their health.  They do not need product brand information dumps that lack any broader context to overall success in disease state management.

Similarly, payers have their own concerns about value that will need to be addressed, which will require new skills and a new approach.  Selling to payers is a complex major account management challenge that even the most experienced reps are not prepared to handle.  They need to develop new competencies to engage in a truly consultative sales process – one focused on engaging in value-added conversations with executive decision-makers to surface needs, craft responsive non-product solutions, and convey compelling value propositions that leverage the full capabilities of their company.

The unmet clinical value in this natural human scenario is in moving earlier into a care continuum and addressing health needs before more drastic interventions are required

Finally, consider a truly patient-centered perspective. The reality is that people don’t want to have health problems, and would prefer to do anything before they have to go to a hospital or get an operation. The unmet clinical value in this natural human scenario is in moving earlier into a care continuum and addressing health needs before more drastic interventions are required.  Pharmaceutical companies that build this consideration into their value propositions will have a stronger case to make to this increasingly engaged stakeholder group. 

The Opportunity for Pharmaceutical Companies

This approach -- a sales model based on individual stakeholder value -- offers pharmaceutical companies a way to meet current market challenges, but it does require retooling your sales infrastructure.  Sales roles need to be redefined, and often more specialized roles are created in response to a more complex array of decision-makers.  These roles often require competencies that current staff don’t have.  Sales managers will need to improve their approach to competency development, coaching, managing performance, and reinforcing new behaviors in order to get the change they will need.  Sales processes will need to be redesigned to address strategic territory analysis, target account management, and leveraging best practices.

Leaders throughout the pharmaceutical industry need to proactively plan to meet the demands of a rapidly changing marketplace in which the ability to create an adaptive sales infrastructure makes the difference between winners and losers.  By focusing sales efforts on value to individual stakeholder groups, pharmaceutical companies can build the agility required in this increasingly complex market. 


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eyeforpharma Philadelphia 2014

Apr 15, 2014 - Apr 16, 2014, Philadelphia

Make customer centricity work: smart pharma mindsets, models and technology that will seal commercial success