Tearing Up the Rule Book - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Tearing Up the Rule Book
Sales compensation practices are due for an overhaul in 2010


Pharmaceutical Executive


New Talent Pool

As companies populate new commercial models aimed at different stakeholders, the survey foresees a period of additional staffing upheaval. While the new models may not lead to a change in the absolute number of sales reps, they will most certainly elicit a call for swapping out reps with one set of skills for new hires with a different set of skills. There will still be a need for sales reps that fit today's profile (particularly in some therapeutic areas), but these will gradually become the minority. Today, the ratio of sales reps to reimbursement specialists is 80/20; we would not be surprised to see the opposite within just a couple of years.

Several roles are emerging to correspond with three basic channels of influence in the market; among them:
Reimbursement Specialists will function as business partners to payers, be they public or private. They will be versed in health outcomes and economics research, and will be able to speak payers' language.

Clinical Science Consultants will be responsible for implementing marketing programs that increase awareness of particular diseases or whole therapeutic areas. With advanced science degrees (PharmD, MD, PhD), these consultants can provide the clinical knowledge needed to increase recognition, diagnosis, and treatment of key disease entities.

Key Account Managers will manage accounts with large, national institutions that drive significant sales volume. They will need to have business-to-business sales experience and keen negotiating skills, as well as solid understanding of health economics, payer needs, and funding flows.

Practice and Product Support Representatives will resemble the current sales rep role, providing product education and practice support to physicians and nurses. However, they won't be considered front-line sales positions as they are now; they will support but not drive the commercial model of the future.

At the moment, nearly all (91 percent) of participating organizations view other pharmaceutical companies as a prime source of sales force talent. A majority (68 percent) also regard sales reps from other industries as preferable to non-sales talent from within their organization for open sales positions. Most respondents (83 percent) weigh pharmaceutical sales experience more heavily than interpersonal skills or business acumen in the selection decision.

However, hiring (as opposed to training) for business acumen will undoubtedly become more important for the new roles supporting business-to-business sales. As sales roles develop, there will be an increased focus on business acumen, marketing, and finance skills. A focus on interpersonal skills will not be the core competency, rather it will be how good the individual is at managing an account or a business.

A few companies have already experimented with placing high-performing sales reps into positions within their pilot commercial models—a laudable approach from an employee-relations standpoint, but one that may suggest a lack of appreciation for how different the new roles really are. Unfortunately, attempts to fill these positions from within have met with only modest success; as few as half of the current sales leadership will be able to assume new roles as account leadership in the new model.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers will need to look beyond their own ranks and those of their competitors as they staff their new organizations. We foresee that they will turn to their customer base for talent, as other industries have done. After all, who would know better how to address the needs of pharmacy benefit managers, managed care organizations, and large healthcare networks than the very people who've been working within those organizations?

An Employer's Market

Two factors have converged to reduce voluntary turnover in pharma and biotech sales organizations to the lowest level since 2002: the recent downsizing of sales forces and the weak economy. (See Figure 2.) Turnover among primary care and specialty sales reps is 11 to 12 percent, and among field sales management and managed care executives it is 5 to 7 percent. As a result, the average experience level is increasing. Three-quarters of all sales reps and 80 percent of first line managers have at least two years of relevant experience to their credit.


Figure 2
It would be a mistake, however, to ease up on efforts to retain high performers, as retention issues are sure to resurface when the labor market strengthens. Companies that are working to keep their best performers use a combination of career development programs, higher compensation opportunities, executive-rep status, and special recognition to retain and motivate their star performers. Indeed, a third of the surveyed companies have a formal job rotation program. In addition to assessment centers, companies should consider using manager exploration programs as a way to educate sales reps on the first level manager role. An obvious caveat is that these exploration programs need to consider the new career options (practice support, reimbursement, and account leadership). The upside is that companies will be able to match top talent with customer-focused roles.

Regardless of the specific course of action, it will be important to address retention. New research has suggested that there are serious issues with employee engagement and satisfaction. Coupled with the fact that other life sciences sectors are hiring, 2010 holds a potential flight risk of high performers.


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