Sales Force Survey: Still Too Much Business as Usual? - Pharmaceutical Executive


Sales Force Survey: Still Too Much Business as Usual?

Pharmaceutical Executive

Big Pharma: The Trimming Continues

The trend toward reductions in force did not disappear in 2011. In fact, a slightly greater percentage of respondents in 2011 (29 percent) than in 2010 (25 percent) indicated they had decreased the numbers of their sales force. However, the percentage of those who increased the sales force was twice as high in 2011 (43 percent) than in 2010 (21 percent). It is important to note that all increases came from participating companies outside of Big Pharma. Though half of our Big Pharma participants had "stood relatively pat" (+/- 5 percent) with their current sales force size, the other half had decreased its number.

While most Big Pharma organizations had expected—or at least hoped—that their sales forces would have been "right-sized" by now, the reshaping of the commercial organization overall seems to still be a work in progress. The labor-intensive role of the typical representative—with multiple sales reps visiting individual physicians in what the most cynical industry critics have labeled a "sample dropping" exercise—continues to evolve.

The most progressive Big Pharma organizations are leveraging information technology to provide value to individual physicians, hospitals, and managed care organizations. And, as product differentiation and price (among other factors) have become more prominent considerations, this "value" now has become more than just touting the superiority of a specific compound.

The majority of companies feel they now have the "right number of sales reps" in place. Again, Big Pharma is the exception here. Only 50 percent share this positive view, while the remaining 50 percent feel they are still overstaffed. While most participating organizations outside of Big Pharma plan no change in sales force size for 2012, all of our Big Pharma study participants plan on further cuts at the 6 percent to 15 percent level.

Recruiting: Still Inside the Box?

By far, companies prefer to hire from their competitors' field sales forces, only infrequently tapping other departments within the company, or sales professionals outside the industry. Given the changes needed in the commercial organization, especially in the more established pharmaceutical companies, this is a somewhat unexpected—and even disappointing—finding that seems to support a "business as usual" mindset.

The finding that the dominant criteria used in hiring sales reps remains "years of pharma industry sales experience" reinforces the concern that the commercial organization may not really be ready or willing to move in a new direction. Only 40 percent rely on behavioral/interpersonal competencies to inform their hiring decisions, and even fewer (20 percent) factor in business acumen or scientific expertise.

The faster that companies free themselves from the notion that only those who have "been there and done that" in the industry can add value to the commercial organization, the sooner they will be able to accomplish real change. Companies would do well to focus more on finding people who possess these competencies—even if it means de-emphasizing industry experience.

Training Budgets Rise

After several years of holding the line on training budgets, twice as many participants (27 percent) indicated that they had increased these budgets in 2011 versus 2010 (13 percent). However, many (60 percent) still indicated virtually no change in 2011.

Barring some unforeseen trauma in the industry or the global economy, we expect to see belts continue to loosen in this area. A key to success is to ensure that training delivers exceptional value, especially to the new customer base.


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Source: Pharmaceutical Executive,
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