Pharmaceutical companies are under ever greater pressure to maximize the effectiveness of an ever shrinking field sales force. Yet regular field force realignment leads to expensive disruption and downtime, whilst companies have no way of responding to the inevitable market changes that occur in between realignments, reducing accuracy and relevance.
Without effective field force alignment planning and day-to-day management, pharma companies will struggle to cost effectively and efficiently adapt to an increasingly challenging marketplace, writes Jitesh Rohatgi.
The role of the pharmaceutical field force has come under increasing debate in recent years in the face of changing compliance requirements and a reduction in face-to-face clinician time. Rapid market consolidation through merger and acquisition has demanded complex integration of products, territories and sales strategies; whilst representatives must now undertake multi-stakeholder market access to ensure all relevant individuals within the healthcare system, from doctors to nurses, pharmacists and payers are regularly contacted.
These significant new challenges occur at a time of significant sales force reduction — with estimates that the field force is between 30% and 50% smaller than a decade ago. These individuals not only have to be smarter than ever before, taking on Key Account Manager roles, but also, significantly, more efficient and productive.
For pharmaceutical companies looking to maximize the role of the field force, the implication of these fundamental changes on field force alignment strategies is significant. How can any company intelligently manage fewer individuals stretched across more complex markets whilst also minimizing disruption?
Most pharmaceutical companies undertake major field force realignment every three, six or 12 months in order to maximize the effectiveness of sales representatives in each territory. In an ideal world, of course, organizations would individually assess each doctor, in each geography, to determine field force alignment. However, such a model is simply not viable for sales forces with a large number of clinicians, covering multiple regions, therapies and roles.
Many organizations undertake time-consuming Excel spreadsheet-based management of the field force — a process that can take many months to complete with no validation process. To make this process easier there has been a trend in recent years for companies to outsource field force alignment to specialist consultants; exploiting complex mathematical algorithms to create mathematical models and business rules for determining which sales representatives are allocated which doctors.
The results however are mixed irrespective of approach; with pharmaceutical companies often needing up to four weeks post realignment to fix errors in the field representative territories. The inevitable disruption has a significant impact on productivity as representatives get used to the new customer list.
This downtime is simply not justifiable in the current marketplace. If organizations are to achieve more effective sales force realignment the challenge is not simply to match representatives to clinicians but to create a platform that supports more efficient planning and operating of that alignment strategy.
Planning and Operations
The challenge is not only achieving optimal major realignment on a regular basis but also enabling minor adjustments throughout the year to accommodate change. Information must be continually updated throughout the year to reflect changes in sales representative personnel, shifts in product portfolios and amendments to the target clinician population. It is, therefore, now becoming imperative to put in place a tool that not only streamlines the alignment planning process but also supports on-going operations.
A field force alignment platform exploits a raft of corporate information — from CRM to ERP and HR — to optimize the business rules for each new alignment. Combining Key Opinion Leader (KOL) data with product master files and personnel information, the alignment can be created far more quickly - with some organizations reducing the planning process from six months to just six weeks. Furthermore, this information is available to key individuals before the alignment change to enable questions to be addressed and problems resolved before the event, minimizing disruption when the changes are introduced. A good platform also provides the business with the ability to change alignment direction until just a few days before the alignment execution, a function that in the past had been just a pipe dream.
In addition, this central information repository can be used continually to reflect changes within both the pharmaceutical company’s employee base and the target clinicians. Any changes within the CRM or HR system automatically update the alignment system to provide minor realignments throughout the year.
The productivity implications — and associated cost savings — are impressive, with pharmaceutical companies attaining a return on investment within months. Working on the industry average revenue opportunity of $240 per clinician visit, during a traditional realignment process most representatives will make one fewer call per day for up to six weeks — creating a potential revenue loss of $7,200 per rep. For the pharmaceutical field force of 650, that adds up to almost $500,000 each time the field force is realigned. Reducing the opportunity cost associated with alignment errors and disruption can deliver very rapid bottom line benefit.
Furthermore, alignment models and information should not be restricted to the field force but should be looked holistically in a multi-channel approach. This model should be explored by marketing and other teams looking to target KOLs within specific geographies.
In addition, creating a repository of sales alignment information will play an increasingly important role in addressing compliance. Today if a regulator such as the Food and Drug Agency (FDA) is investigating a company’s apparent targeting of a paediatrician with a drug not licensed for paediatric use, a lack of alignment information would make it impossible to determine whether or not the representative was incorrectly allocated this clinician or made an independent approach. Building up this historical database of sales force alignment will become an increasingly key component of the pharmaceutical compliance model.
Highly effective field force alignment has never been more critical for an industry facing unprecedented change. By streamlining the field force alignment process and creating a consolidated information resource, pharmaceutical companies can minimize downtime and improve representative productivity whilst also creating a resource that supports market change — including rapid consolidation of sales forces post-merger.
About the Author
Jitesh Rohatgi is Director, Global Product Management & Innovation, Cegedim Relationship Management.