What does a truly digitally mature sales force look like and how can companies transform their current force into one?
For all its highfalutin talk, progress still plods in many corners of the pharma industry. Many companies are still focusing too much on their products and incentivising their reps based on sales metrics rather than on patient outcomes. The traditional, transactional sales model is still being utilised and there is a failure to consider a different type of conversation.
A new breed of sales rep must emerge to meet the demands of the fast-evolving healthcare landscape, and, according to Patrik Grandits, Head of Daiichi Sankyo’s Commercial Operations Oncology in Europe, this will involve a huge change of mindset also among pharma’s leaders.
“It all starts”, he says, “with asking ourselves how we can interact in a meaningful way with our customers. This is where we need to be disruptive.” However, most companies have not yet embarked on that journey.
“Once you’ve realized the transformation of mindset at leadership level, it’s key to bring the right people on board and to foster the right mindset by sharing the same vision across all levels and all functions”.
He, furthermore, stresses that it is not just about ‘doing digital’ either.
“It is easy to say let’s move to a digital age and everything will be sorted for us as if sales reps could be substituted by a machine. A digital channel does not replace a personal interaction. At the most, it complements the latter.”
“It is an imperative”, Grandits emphasizes, “that we start focusing our endeavours to understand what our customers actually need and that we tailor our customer service accordingly”.
Chris Gish, Strategic Biopharmaceutical Commercial Leader, who held senior positions at Sunovion and Pfizer before setting up as a consultant, thinks a full transformation could take up to ten years.
“Companies will first have to realise they have to transform,” he says, “They will have to get rid of people, and then train people up.
“The sales rep in ten years’ time will look very different from the sales rep of today. The central difference will be that, instead of today’s approach where a rep gets into his car each morning and goes to see a long list of health care professionals (HCPs) in order to sell a product, the first thing the sales rep of tomorrow will do is to sit down in front of his computer and look at a few dashboards about the kind of communication that has been occurring among the people he is looking to target that particular day.”
Gish believes technology will enable reps to see information about HCP participation in conferences, HCP reading of emails, about patient traffic and volume, affiliations with hospitals and health systems, which, in turn will provide talking points and help build relations.
He maintains that it is less about digital taking over everything and more about the industry harnessing the power of digital to provide a truly personal service.
“A lot of digital people say sales jobs are going to go away and digital is going to take over,” he says. “But I have never thought about it as an either/or. It’s not them coming from the left and the rep coming from the right, it’s really a circle of all these things around the customer. The trick is to get all the key elements – the digital ad, the call centre, the phone rep, the customer service rep, the company website and the reps themselves – to work together to improve patient outcomes.”
Grandits goes one step further and predicts that the sales rep will not even be called a sales rep in the future but will be known rather as a healthcare development manager. The same way the focus of its role will move towards improving patient outcomes, the same way will his skill requirements evolve.
“They won’t just be selling,” he says. “The sales reps of the future will need to be trained to deliver personalised customer service which means that they will need to be trained on a number of adjacent disciplines as well. For instance, they will need to know about data analytics and how to understand patterns in data. They will need to be apt to think more strategically and to know how to ask the right questions. And they will also need to be equipped with market access knowledge and a deep understanding of the true value of the economic equation, as well as an understanding of the budget impact model.”
Grandits further outlines “At Daiichi Sankyo, we genuinely believe in a different pharmaceutical operating model. That’s why we have recently launched a sophisticated training program tailored to the specific needs of the sales rep of tomorrow. Building up leadership capabilities and empowerment are at its core.”
Matt Portch, Vice President of Managed Markets at Sunovion Pharmaceuticals, says the industry will need to start hiring people with learning agility, who are able to do different things with different customers.
“Currently, we don’t have much of a dialogue, it’s more of a monologue – us telling them about our products. I believe the future will be about creating a selling dialogue with our customers to understand their individual needs and then to deliver the parts of the proposition that are most impactful on the physician.”
He also says that from a data perspective there is an opportunity to better deploy sales reps.
“Right now, we deploy the same everywhere, but I think we need to micro-deploy based on the very specific needs of each individual market place,” he explains. “So, there may be some markets where we need more reps and others that need fewer based on each individual economy and where they are in the continuum of evolution.”
There is no roadmap showing the way but there is broad agreement that things do need to change in the pharmaceutical world and a consensus that the industry has been slow to react.
There is some disagreement and debate about what form the transformation will take but what seems definite is that the sales rep of the future will be a radically different creature to the sales rep of today. He or she will almost certainly possess a higher level of collaborative selling skills, more clinical acumen and a greater knowledge of multi-channel data. The focus will be not just on safety and efficacy but on patient and economic outcomes.