The New Sales Force

Mar 01, 2009

Performance on Overall Sales Experience
It used to be so easy. If you grew the sales force, sales went up. It wasn't an elegant business strategy, it wasn't complicated, in fact to a lot of folks it sounded dumb—but it worked. And so the US pharma sales force burgeoned, growing from about 35,000 in 1995 to some 100,000 in 2005—about one rep for every eight physicians. They took up space in waiting rooms, chatted up receptionists, delivered samples, and got precious little face time with doctors...and the sales rolled in.

Then the world changed. Doctors, feeling hounded, began cutting off reps' access. Congress fumed about the nation's drug bill. Managed care got ugly. And pharma, with too many mouths to feed and not enough new products to detail, started laying off employees by the thousands. It became obvious that the next generation of drugs, when it finally arrives, isn't going to be dominated by the kind of mass-market products that made the primary care sales force such a useful tool.

Most effective pharma sales forces
Pharma needs a new selling model. The past 12 to 18 months have seen major shifts on the part of virtually every large drug company, with a good bit of experimentation over new ways of promoting pharmaceutical drugs. It's too soon to know which is the right model. But consensus is starting to emerge on some of the themes that will be part of tomorrow's approach. From reorganization to use of alternative sales channels to outsourcing, these new ideas help redefine the relationships between pharma, physicians, patients, and payers.


Product portfolios are changing, patents for a bevy of blockbuster drugs are expiring, and many companies are trending toward small, specialty drugs rather than the mass-market blockbusters of the past. Sales force reorganizations are inevitable. The job loss for so many companies is difficult to stomach. But these reorganizations are also disruptive to customer relationships; the simple act of "re-drawing" territory boundaries can often lead to the loss of quality sales personnel—the top-performing reps who drive much of the value and whom companies can't afford to lose.

Important criteria for assessing the value of a meeting with a pharma sales rep
Traditionally, sales execs just dealt with that issue as a necessary side effect whenever they found a way to optimize the field force. But Solvay Pharmaceuticals, when faced with its changing product portfolio, took a different tact. The company implemented a new sales force structure it refers to as the Customer-Centric Alignment model. It's based on maintaining a fixed number of geographical territories, and provides for flexibility instead by optimizing promotion and allocating resources within each territory. Mark Hastings, director of sales operations for Solvay, says that by keeping a constant number of sales teams and territories, they can ensure that, above all else, customer service remain constant. At the same time, he adds, the model still provides for flexibility because the company can adjust how each brand is resourced in each territory. You can see how this works by looking at Solvay's cardiometabolic business, which it supports with 645 reps. All cardiometabolic specialty reps carry three products, but promotional optimization yields individualized call plans that result in a differential weighting of each product for every rep.

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