The Zen Approach to Transforming the Traditional Sales Model - Pharmaceutical Executive

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The Zen Approach to Transforming the Traditional Sales Model

Pharmaceutical Executive


Figure 1 – Traditional Model vs. Cross-functional Team Model
Over the last two years, virtually every pharma company has significantly reduced its sales staff. Still, sales teams remain among the single largest investments that most companies make in promoting their products. Manufacturers want a sales force that can adapt quickly in response to competitive threats from labeling issues, mergers and acquisitions, and patent expirations. As medicines become more complex, products will require less promotion and more education.

Two approaches to transforming the sales model are being implemented with lower costs, increased flexibility, and enhanced quality: the cross-functional team model and the embedded team model.

Let's take a look at both to see how and why they could work.

Cross-functional team model

The cross-functional team model features a customized approach characterized by three key principles:

  • Experienced and performance-driven sales representatives are matched with the physicians who have the best potential to become high-decile prescribers.
  • Roles on the team are educationally driven (some physicians respond better to messages that are less promotional).
  • Investment levels shift over time as the product moves from the launch phase into maturity.

Implementing this plan is simple, inexpensive, and non-disruptive. Availability of better market research, data analytics, and targeting tools make it fairly easy to identify which physicians are likely to become high prescribers and influencers. And by using payer mix analysis, companies can pinpoint physicians who participate in insurance plans with formularies that are favorable to their products. Once identified, the company can structure its sales plan to ensure that its most skilled and highly compensated representatives are calling upon the most valuable prospects. As for lower-decile prescribers or those participating in less favorable insurance plans, companies have the option of replacing some traditional sales representatives with customer service representatives (CSRs) whose roles are less focused on physician interaction.

CSRs support economically an average of four pharmaceutical products at a time versus the one or two products for traditional representatives. They require less investment in experience and training. They can also be employed to detail mature products and support seasonal needs or vacant territories.

Non-personal selling tactics can be used to reach physicians who are less apt to become high prescribers. Tele-detailing, e-detailing, e-mail promotion, and direct mail all have been shown to be effective and cost-efficient methods of connecting with providers who may not require a dedicated representative.

The cross-functional team model can leverage other specialized roles, including patient adherence representatives, medical science liaisons, and clinical nurses.

Employing a mix of specialty roles on the sales team enables pharma companies to better address specific customer needs, while at the same time freeing up a smaller group of sales representatives with strong skills to focus on the product's most valued customers. The result is a more streamlined, efficient sales team that delivers greater value to healthcare providers.

The embedded teams model

Also gaining popularity is the embedded team model, a new approach for leveraging the strengths of outsourced representatives. Pharmaceutical companies have turned to outsourced sales teams in recent years as a way to reduce costs and increase efficiency. Internal sales teams and outsourced teams, however, have been traditionally managed separately, and with distinct recruiting processes, different benefits, fleet cars, and incentive programs. Managing two separate groups of sales teams can be complex and cumbersome.

In this model, outsourced sales representatives are embedded into internal teams. The manufacturer can then manage the sales force as one combined team. Outsourced and internal representatives are virtually indistinguishable, working side-by-side on the same teams promoting the same products. The major advantage this model provides is improved flexibility and scalability for pharmaceutical companies. Manufacturers are spared the time it takes to review resumes, screen candidates, and conduct initial interviews because the outsourced partner manages these tasks.

The embedded sales team model results in shorter vacancy periods and reduced costs. Vacant territories and disruptions in sales teams can have serious cost implications for pharma companies. According to a 2006 research study, prescriptions typically decrease by 2.5 percent in a given territory following a vacancy. Outsourced providers, on the other hand, often have a pool of prospective representatives to draw upon at any given time. They can quickly fill positions when they become vacant, reducing disruption and associated costs.

Paul Mignon is President of inVentiv Selling Solutions, a division of inVentiv Health. He can be reached at

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