The Power of Added Value - Interview with Adam Wood, Regional Interface Training & Sales Excellence, Bayer
The allocation of pharma resources has moved from the sales force arms race of old to developing more focused, in-depth training programs to produce a more precise method of selling. The value of targeting and understanding the right customer is now recognised as the smarter way to succeed.
While there are naturally many variances in sales approaches in different regions across the globe, the pharmaceutical market itself has changed significantly in the last few years. This evolving industry has forced sales managers to become more flexible in their methods, according to Adam Wood, Regional Interface Training & Sales Excellence, Bayer. “It can be very varied from a global perspective so we aim to cover all these areas, supporting countries that may have a range of different teams.”
“For the specific brand that Bayer is working with, we will have a range of different types of field personnel or key account managers – depending on whether the focus is primary care or specialty care, depending on specific location, and depending on how exactly the client is.”
“The first sign of change was when companies realised that these mass-produced mouthpieces may not be able to compete with a more knowledgeable rep that could have a conversation of some value”
Over a decade ago, the main tactic employed by pharmaceutical firms was to saturate the market with sales people. The number of sales reps therefore rose steadily but the amount of time spent communicating with customers and the quality of these meetings deteriorated significantly. Although recognised as a less than efficient sales model, companies were still focussed on increasing the volumes of reps as a modicum of return could be seen, says Wood. “But the first sign of change was when companies realised that these mass-produced mouthpieces may not be able to compete with a more knowledgeable rep that could have a conversation of some value – a staple requirement of the practitioner or payer.”
Maintaining best practise techniques means monitoring on-going processes and trends, constantly revising techniques according to the market climate and current goals of the organization. And a significant development that sales teams presently need to adapt to is the very visible and immediate presence of customers as patients, maintains Wood. “We have a lot more access to these customers through digital media. They have a voice as well so we must train our reps to be smarter about where they go and what they say.”
Basic selling techniques are therefore no longer adequate as the payers – and patients – are looking for sales reps with more and more knowledge. They want to liaise with well-trained executives that are comfortable speaking on an array of medical topics and have good business acumen, reports Wood, and that’s the next area that marketing teams will have to address and develop.
With the implementation of training programmes geared towards consultative selling, reps have become better prepared to communicate in a way that helps build a trusting relationship with each particular doctor or potential customer. Says Wood: “It is now about asking and finding out who the client is and what matters to them.”
In comparison to ten or fifteen years ago, the amount of information that reps need to up skill on has increased – the area of compliance a much bigger headache for newcomers, for example, as the regulatory environment has become considerably more rigid. But apart from the additional volumes of medical information to ingest, the methods in which the training is being delivered has also changed dramatically, according to Wood. “We now do a lot more blended styles of learning, realising that that’s a more efficient and effective way to get the right knowledge across. In addition to hard copy material, we utilise some e-learning tools and we facilitate some face-to-face tutorials. Furthermore, reps have the opportunity to avail of further training while they are actually in the role.”
“If a payer sits down with a sales rep that talks about his clinical data but can’t converse about much more than that, the payer does not feel like he is getting value”
But are these lofty company policy aims for excellence filtering down and inspiring the sales teams on the ground? There are several aspects of this, according to Wood. “We are in an environment where we need to be more patient focussed so we must be able to provide the medical representative with the right information and training to deal with that. If a payer sits down with a sales rep that talks about his clinical data but can’t converse about much more than that, the payer does not feel like he is getting value – and the success of the meeting will reflect that.”
Therefore the onus is very much on the market access and health economics teams to prepare this rep to feel comfortable in this situation, to be able to talk about additional information if required. But, regardless of training or wealth of knowledge, reps may still be driven by the incentive of sales targets, an aggressive structure that can foster ignorance to real customer needs and have a negative impact on the industry at large. Says Wood: “Quite a few years ago, some companies switched to incentivising, not just on sales, but also on doctor feedback in an effort to encourage correct and less aggressive behaviour. So if the sales rep was given positive feedback by the customers in his area, then that would correlate with his ultimate cash reward.”
Since abandoned as a rather unscientific measure, that would no doubt have been susceptible to some degree of corruption, Wood nonetheless feels that this value driven concept should marry with a sales target focus in order to create a certain sense of balance in the attitudes of field sales. And with patients now very much part of the whole marketing mix, there is a whole new level of education and recognition involved – “what matters to the patient?” – that may assist these reps in realising the actual end result of their efforts. “If you’re just incentivising on sales, that’s what you’ll get back. But if you’re incentivising on customer relationships and on patient support, that’s generally the return you will get – and that’s ultimately a more rewarding experience.”
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