Sales Force Effectiveness - Is it easier to say than do?

by Admin 1. May 2004 05:00

Times are tight in pharma, and getting tighter. With record numbers of drugs reaching patent expiration, smaller pipelines, pricing and political pressures and increasing costs, pharma is feeling the squeeze from every direction. And sales forces, once immune to such concerns, are under the gun to gain efficiencies at a time when they are being asked to deliver bigger than ever before.

CONNECTING WITH DOCTORS is more difficult than ever, making it tougher on sales teams to deliver on growing expectations and putting sales force effectiveness centre stage for pharma sales organisations. At eyeforpharma’s 2nd Annual Pharmaceutical Sales Force Effectiveness Conference in Barcelona, Spain last month, European thought leaders from across the industry came together to share best practices and strategies for building leaner, more productive sales teams.

Change management - a major hurdle for SFE

The event, which drew more than 350 mid- to senior-level executive attendees from leading pharmaceutical organisations, focused on SFE strategy and implementation. Leandro Herrero, CEO of the Chalfont Project, a UK-based consultancy, kicked off the conference with a thought-provoking examination of the importance of the human component in the implementation of new sales and marketing business processes. According to Herrero, the majority of problems encountered when implementing SFE initiatives can be traced back to vision and strategy issues and change management roadblocks on the people side of the equation. And Herrero’s presentation set the predominant theme for the rest of the conference, with nearly every talk coming back to the importance of the “human side“ of strategy and implementation for every stakeholder from the sales representatives and managers themselves to doctors, formulary decision makers, auxiliary care givers (such as nurses and pharmacists) and, ultimately, patients. One difficult hurdle pharma faces, according to Eduard Vidovic, Head of Training for Sanofi Synthelabo, is abandoning a sales culture and model that has been so productive in the past. “There is a resistance to change well-established sales practices,“ he said. “Information collected by reps is not readily shared - and there are no real incentives to do so. And without that kind of information, segmenting and targeting fails, leaving us to play a numbers game to ensure the best customers are “hit.“ SFE leaders can capitalise on the people component, however, Gregory Cordano, Project Director Sales Force Effectiveness at Schering-Plough, advised by looking to the field force as a source of innovation. “Work backwards from the field and build technologies and processes around what works for them,“ he said.

 Processes and systems - cogs in a larger wheel

Like the pieces of a complicated puzzle, however, delegates discovered that truly successful SFE initiatives rely on a variety of important and complex “cogs“ coming together in harmony to create a smoothly functioning and productive “wheel.“ Laurent Schockmel, SVP Global Operations CRM Pharma for CEGEDIM, stressed the importance of supporting processes through segmentation and targeting, territory alignment, sales force management, integration of customer data and performance measurement. Integration of customer data becomes critical to developing what David MacMurchy of Dendrite calls customer intimacy. “Access to quality data and detailed customer information, allows you to deliver value to the customer, while simultaneously increasing profitability,“ MacMurchy said. “Successful sales and marketing is about how you create a value proposition that is shared with your customers, enabling both to profit from the relationship. That‚s true intimacy.“ But understanding who the customer is has become increasingly difficult. As Tina Billet, Supplementary Prescribing Manager for Janssen- Cilag, told delegates, the face of the customer is changing. “Nurses and pharmacists, who were once influencers, are now customers and will soon overtake doctors as the leading prescribers,“ she said. “Pharma is now challenged with adjusting its sales tactics to address this new audience of prescribers. And it‚s not as group sales reps necessarily understand.“ Rising promotional pressure coupled with declining returns will require pharma companies to build organisational flexibility to sustain accessibility of business intelligence and reactivity, Pierre Morgon, General Manager of Yamanouchi France, told delegates. To meet these challenges Morgon and his colleagues have launched a PMCIA technology initiative to provide enhanced customer management tools to its sales organisation. The technology, Morgon said, will facilitate new roles for Yamanouchi‚s sales staff, promoting synchronised interactions across all channels.

Global versus local strategies - What works best?

Nina Felton, VP of Sales Optimisation Consulting Services at IMS Health, told delegates there are advantages and disadvantages to globalisation. Globalisation, she said, brings benefits such as economies of scale, consistency of practices and faster learning through sharing of best practices. However, it also results in increased overhead, lack of innovation and diminished responsiveness to local customers. According to Mark Langston, Senior European Business Manager, and Ivan Blanarik, Head of Marketing and Sales Portugal, at Boehringer Ingelheim, when it comes to implementation, global thinking is important. During a European field force initiative launched at Boehringer in 2001, their teams have found that strong leadership and commitment is vital to success, since top-down implementations can be challenging. They also recommend “modular“ implementation - splitting the process into “digestible“ parts - to drive success.

Valuable benchmarking, learning and networking

There was one point on which nearly everyone at the conference could agree upon: the event offered a valuable opportunity to measure progress against industry benchmarks and afforded tangible take-home learnings and tools to be applied within individual organisations. Delegate and speaker feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with many deeming it the pharma sales event of the calendar. And anticipation was already running high for the 3rd annual event‚s Sales Effectiveness Awards ceremony, recognising organisations and individuals involved in industry-leading sales force effectiveness strategies and implementations in 2004.

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