Remodeling Your Sales Force

Transitioning to a decentralized sales force requires new metrics and standards of reporting, as well as sales managers ready to step up and take charge
Oct 01, 2008
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

Christian Marcazzo
What's the most frustrating thing about being a sales rep? Micromanagement. Take the common pharmaceutical sales manager: he or she knows the situation on the ground, but isn't allowed to manage. This causes increasing frustration, especially when managers are given specific revenue targets but not the necessary information and flexibility to achieve their goals.

Typical refrains such as "Why does the home office think they know which doctors to call and how to detail them better than me?" and "I know the doctors in my territory and the tactics my competitors are using in the field" are becoming all too common. Thus, it may be time to move forward with decentralization of the decision-making process—an old idea that's ready for a serious reassessment given the competitive environment and the state of technology today. The stakes are higher than ever, with a need to use every resource in the sales arsenal more efficiently.

Rise to the Challenge

A few organizations have already made the switch to decentralization, and have reaped benefits. For example, one biotech company recently enabled its specialty representatives to identify and follow up on triaged patient cases in its payer database. This led to a decrease in turnaround time by the payers in resolving patient cases, more revenue, and a shorter cash cycle for the company. The field managers were also equipped to analyze their representative's performance, and were given visibility into specific cases to redirect or mentor the representative, as necessary.

At both levels, the technology encapsulated a business decision-making framework used by representatives and district managers to get answers to their specific questions. Such a system not only reduces the workload for the home analysts, but also helps build loyalty, efficiency, and a "can-do" spirit among the field force. In the long run, such a culture will give rise to pharmaceutical sales teams that are more responsive to new opportunities and adaptable to the market challenges they face.

Today, pharma sales managers are deluged by sales reports that only manage to confuse an already challenging job. It is no wonder most of these "reports" go unread or even unopened. Unfortunately, sales representatives, our real foot soldiers, are required to provide details about every call so someone can publish these unread reports. This is neither a good use of the representative's time nor valuable for the field manager. If anything, these reports tend to be a distraction for many in the field and are only used by a few analytically savvy managers. The irony is that even these savvy managers export the data to Excel to do the necessary manipulations and understand the meaning of the reports.

So the central challenge is to figure out a model that allows for decentralization while keeping the field managers and the representatives focused on the end goal. In fact, it is imperative that reporting challenges and administrative overhead be substantially reduced for a decentralized model to work. Here are some top-line ideas on a few elements of a decentralized model and how it might be understood, supported, and measured.

Let Managers Manage

In the last decade, pharmaceutical sales forces have rapidly expanded, resulting in field managers and new representatives being instructed to strictly execute the "Headquarters Plan." These plans and updates are so detailed that they don't allow a representative to use their local knowledge and change tactics if necessary. The field is asked to provide extensive data, but managers are provided very little actionable information to help them become more productive.

A more effective sales model is one that allows field managers to take the reins and become more or less the "CEO" of their region. Thus, to support our future leaders, a change in the current systems for hiring, training, and providing feedback would benefit industry.

lorem ipsum