The phrase ‘adapt or die’ has never been truer for the pharmaceutical industry than it is today. But which companies are able to meet the challenges of the increasingly complex NHS market?
The espionage world of characters like James Bond might seem pretty far removed from the day-to-day life of the medical sales executive – except perhaps for the important role of cars and technology. However, the new NHS landscape means that it is more important than ever that both pharma companies and individual sales people can be ‘agents of change’ in responding and adapting to their customers, who are in turn having to evolve to survive in their changing work environment.
“It is this close dialogue and the ability to listen and respond to their customers that enables mediumsized companies to be ‘agents of change’”
Like Bond’s ‘licence to kill’, it is essential that those working out in the field have a licence to adapt, having the autonomy and responsibility for their sales to work flexibly with different key contacts. More complex local health systems with a variety of influencers mean that the standard GP detail will no longer have the necessary impact. It is those companies that take the initiative to adapt to the new market and are agile enough to respond quickly that will succeed in this new environment.
This article – the first of a series of three – will look at the ways medium-sized pharmaceutical companies are changing how they work to meet the demands of the new NHS. The following two articles will introduce some of the sales executives working for these companies and find out how these new working models are making a difference to them.
Shaken, not stirred
We spoke to managers from the HR and Personnel Departments of several medium-sized pharma companies to find out how they are meeting the challenges of the modern NHS and working to identify the new key players. Interestingly, each company we contacted had recently adapted their sales model to better meet the needs of their customers. To cite two examples, Napp and Lundbeck have both restructured their sales regions to match the boundaries of SHAs, aligning their efforts with the structure of the NHS. Many companies have also introduced new teams or restructured current ones to target the new key customers. Napp has introduced new roles into its Commercial Team, to create NHS specialists who work specifically with PCTs to remove blocks to prescribing.
Another company, which has been aligned to the NHS structure for some time is Merck Serono, one of the UK’s fastest growing pharma companies. Merck Serono has recently taken additional steps to further focus its customer facing efforts into various specialist teams who either focus on specific key therapy areas and/or work with all relevant influencers and decision makers, in both clinical and nonclinical roles within hospitals, PCTs and SHAs. This has also led to the creation of a new NHS Liaison Team. “We have to be flexible and ensure that we are communicating with all the relevant NHS personnel, and providing them with information and services that meet their specific needs,” says Dr Jim ‘UXB’ Golby, HR Manager at Merck Serono. “The one-message-fits-all attitude won’t work anymore. A deeper knowledge of the therapy area is needed along with a full understanding of individual customers’ challenges and requirements.”
We asked why it is particularly medium-sized companies that have been able to respond to the market in these ways: “In a medium-sized company there is a shorter chain between those in the field and the top-level management, which means decisions can be made quickly,” says Julie ‘Armed and Dangerous’ Worth, who works in Personnel for Napp.
License to kill
One thing that all these restructures have in common is that they are empowering sales teams to take the initiative in managing their territory or therapy area. As part of these new business models, the individual sales executive has greater autonomy in how they interact with their customers.
HR Manager Carol ‘Lethal Weapon’ Angell explains how this works at Lundbeck: “Our three values are that we encourage our salespeople to be imaginative, passionate and responsible and these underpin everything we do. All our salespeople have full responsibility for their territory, who they will approach and how they will do this, provided that they are within guidelines. Our key account executives can investigate and establish new business opportunities and take them forward, able to penetrate at all levels of the NHS organisation.”
Sales executives are able to be ‘agents of change’ in dealing with customers flexibly depending on their individual requirements, and the shorter chain within medium pharma means that whenever approval is needed for an activity, the company is able to provide a quick response. Eisai’s Amanda ‘Nuclear Device’ Russell develops this idea: “Our representatives have easy access to head office personnel, so any proposed initiatives can be quickly evaluated, approved and, if needed, be linked with our national strategy. A combination of high company expectations, clear marketing strategies and internal compliance empower the sales force in formulating local initiatives to meet overall business objectives.”
The smaller size of these companies and their policy of empowering the sales force result in a high level of recognition for the individual. Full responsibility for their own territory or market area means that the achievements of sales executives are apparent to everyone in the company, even to director-level. This recognition generates rewards in terms of remuneration for excellent performance, but also leads to increased development opportunities, a topic we will discuss in a later article.
The world is not enough
If we believe what we hear through the media, the future of the pharmaceutical industry is an uncertain one. The headline news is that the major pharmaceutical corporations’ pipelines are becoming blocked and their overreliance on blockbuster products that are facing patient-expiry have left their balance sheets in turmoil.
The outlook from the perspective of a medium-sized company, however, seems to be more rosy. Even a company like Eisai, which has only had a sales force in the UK since 1997, is expecting sales exceeding £70 million this year. The combination of a smaller UK operation that is nimble enough to respond to changes in the market and the support of a large global parent-company seems to give medium pharma the edge during these difficult times.
Each of the companies we spoke to has a positive pipeline of medicines, some of which are expected to launch within the next one or two years. One example is Lundbeck, which launched Circadin for sleep difficulties just last month and currently has five products in Phase III development, three in Phase II and four in Phase I.
Other companies are branching out into pastures new: “We are releasing a new product in pain relief early next year and have up to seven launches planned for the near future,” explains Julie Worth. “However, the real challenge will come in about eighteen months, when we are planning to move outside our comfort zone and launch a product in the respiratory field. One of our company aims is to continue to make Napp a great place to work, so as we grow and move forward we will not lose sight of this.”
Whereas other companies are boosting their chances of positive appraisals for future launches, such as Merck Serono’s new Health and Clinical Excellence Department, which was created to ensure that the company’s submissions to NICE are of the highest quality and exceed the necessary requirements.
This close dialogue and the ability to listen and respond to their customers enables medium-sized companies to be ‘agents of change’ and survive the twists and turns of the NHS market.
However, the real source of the success of medium pharma, is that they have not lost touch with the real focus of pharmaceuticals – the patient. As Dr Jim Golby concludes, “Not only do we need to adapt to the market, but we also need to make sure that all our realignments are always geared towards providing the maximum possible benefits to our patients.”