Pharmaceutical field sales forces are among the best in any industry. Well-recruited, professionally managed, thoroughly trained, strategically deployed, accurately measured, and driven by carefully designed comp plans.
Likewise, the pharmaceutical inside sales teams that support them are among the best, as well.
Still, as good as each is, they typically don’t collaborate very well. Each is so driven by its own performance targets, that cooperation risks being drawn down by a weak collaborator or represents spending time and effort that could be focused on compensated activities.
The paradox is that cooperation can make each group more productive and more effective in accomplishing the shared goal of maximizing market share.
Barriers to collaboration
Data is readily available regarding Health care professionals (HCPs) who are prescribing for each disease state and which brands they prescribe most often. Pharma companies typically assign each HCP to a specific sales channel—field selling, telemarketing, or digital channels—based on the likely returns on sales efforts in roughly this sorting:
Each channel is compensated on the prescribing performance of the specific HPCs they are assigned. There is no incentive, for example, for inside sales reps to support HCPs that are assigned to the direct sales force. The separation between the two is perhaps the greatest barrier to collaboration.
A main advantage of this kind of organization of sales resources is that HCPs whose potential is viewed as less worthy for direct field sales interaction is served by a sales resource who can manage more relationships at a lower cost to serve than the traditional pharmaceutical sales rep making office calls. Contacting these low prescribing HCPs with lower cost digital and telephone channels increase overall market penetration and share.
Can you build a relationship on the phone?
A second barrier to collaboration is the perception that the inside sales representative on the phone is less capable than personal selling. It is true that the average, transaction-oriented telephone rep is limited in what they can accomplish on the phone.
Still, recruit telephone reps with the right education, communication attributes and empathy, and they can accomplish sophisticated missions. A case in point is Intuit, which recruits tax experts to provide telephone support for its Turbo-tax product. Over half of the calls they complete involve interpretation of tax law and its application to complex customer situations. Not only do these teleservices representatives provide excellent service to customers, they act as trusted advisors. Another benefit to Intuit is that the reps become experts at how to improve the product.
What if sales resources were deployed to maximize market share rather than to maximize the compensation system?
Market share is maximized by moving HCPs along the belief and behavior continua: from being disengaged from a brand to being invested in it (belief continuum) and from not prescribing a brand to almost always prescribing it (behavior continuum).
Here is a sample of these continua:
Take advantage of HCPs’ increasing receptivity to digital and telephone channels
Many HCPs are “multichannel animals,” increasingly preferring email and direct mail. This is especially true in practices where the “office gatekeeper” restricts direct access and digital and telephone channels appeal to their crowded, multi-tasking schedules.
While being “detailed” on new pharmaceuticals and learning about how to appropriately prescribe them, HCPs continue to seek access to new clinical research that is helpful to their patients. However, filling their day with increased patient load makes it increasingly difficult to access new information during office hours. As a result, more and more, HCPs view electronic media as acceptable sources for clinical information—evening (after office hours) and weekends as preferred times to stay up-to-speed.
Concerning promotions, surveys show HCPs place the highest value on samples, followed by patient vouchers, new/existing drug information and patient education materials. These promotions are just as effective when offered and discussed on the phone and in emails as when they are included in face-to-face detailing.
HCPs have always had a low tolerance for time-consuming communications. And gate-keepers and increasingly physicians, accept “sound bite” e-details and web conferences over phone calls and even visits.
These trends point to organizing sales activities differently for different segments of customers:
A leading pharmaceutical company challenged Harte Hanks to prove the benefit of cross-channel collaboration
One leading pharmaceutical company has a very well established, effective, but traditional approach to deploying selling resources. As is typical, it leaves a great deal of inadequately covered HCPs in the market where sales efforts are not optimal.
They were intrigued by Harte Hanks’ hybrid sales model and challenged them to engage in a proof-of-concept pilot.
In partnership with Harte Hanks, this pharmaceutical company executed a three-phase approach:
- Obtain insights from data to better deploy sales resources to support customers’ service preferences. Segmentation placed HCP practices along belief and behavior continua and identified how each preferred to be contacted at each step of their buyer’s journey.
- Design interactions to encourage each type of HCP practice along in their buyer’s journey; recruit capable reps; train and coach reps; create and refine content
- Launch hybrid sales model; Measure results against goals; course correct for negative variances and to take advantage of positive variances.
The hybrid model requires the inside sales team to do a higher level of brand messaging, relationship building and detailing over the phone.
This requires significant rigor in recruiting. When hiring agents for the test program, this included:
- Extensive screening, testing and interviewing steps designed to reduce and minimize early attrition;
- Provided realistic job preview as part of the process
- Involved the client in the review and selection process
- 1-2 years’ experience in pharmaceutical sales or inside sales role
- Medical/dental pharmaceutical sales and/or in-practice experience
- Relationship and account management experience required
- Strong understanding of decision making processes in medical/dental practice
- Thorough understanding and ability to position product benefits, features and value proposition
Hiring also included seeking out key representative traits:
- Ability to effectively represent customer brand
- Strong communications skills
- Effectively determine the decision makers/influencer in the medical/dental office
- Strong rapport building with the practice, (multiple stake holders)
- Ability to manage and grow account set
- Ability to address / overcoming objections
Beyond hiring the right people, this program required the right inside sales tools and technology. Harte Hanks helped the client deploy call management utility on top of their existing proprietary application and extend existing licenses across the inside sales team. They were able to use this application for:
- Call management
- Email marketing
- Practice messaging
To determine the success of this pilot program, measurement was clearly outlined and reported in the following ways:
- Built an ongoing Average Weekly Recommends (AWR) assessment process to gain visibility into changes in recommendations
- Conducted quarterly assessment of practice behaviors
- Assessed Average Weekly Recommends (AWR) for changes from the original benchmark
- Identified additional brands being adopted at the practice
- Reassessed the “economic model” to determine movement in belief and behavior continuum
- Reoriented coverage model when practices moved up or down in the continuum
The pilot exceeded all of its goals and led the client to adopt and roll out the hybrid sales model. Significant results included:
- Direct sales force coverage (HCPs per sales rep) doubled: from 250 HCPs per sales person to 500;
- Completion rates of marketing contacts (percentage of targets contacted) increased from 15% to 44%
- Market share increase goals were met.
Best practices were established for:
- Leveraging contact center support to extend personal selling reach
- Optimizing sales rep impact to drive greater reach and frequency
- Uncovering previously untapped targets to drive recommendations and sales
- Understanding the range of contact types and frequency to grow recommendations
- Best approaches/tactics to reach new HCPs (medical and dental) when cold calling to ensure successful follow up
The tested hybrid sales model program demonstrated that telesales is in fact able to build relationships and brands. The effectiveness of in-person sales can be enhanced through collaboration with telephone sales, and organizations can overcome political opposition by focusing all departments on the superordinate goal of increasing market share.