Roles, Resources In Conflict

Oct 01, 2010
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

The medical sales environment is changing, creating strains on the traditional model. Physicians feel handcuffed by managed care oversight and lower reimbursement, payers wield increasingly effective tools to encourage generic drug use, government is intensifying regulatory requirements, and healthcare reform is upon us. These and other factors are shifting the way prescribing decisions are made. In planning for the future, pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device and diagnostic companies must reassess sales force objectives to create and manage a customer-facing organization that is prepared to meet stakeholders' evolving information and service needs. However, data shows that regional sales managers—those who have been and continue to be at the forefront of leading customer service and sales growth—are being essentially ignored when it comes to investing resources into their training and development.

Results from a 2010 benchmark study conducted by the Society of Pharmaceutical and Biotech Trainers (SPBT) brings such leadership issues to the forefront. The study, which surveyed 47 companies representing 1,000 full-time training employees, 44,000 medical salespeople, and more than $180 billion in 2009 revenue, revealed some unexpected trends. The lack of emphasis on regional sales managers is among the most surprising. Results show that less than 20 percent of surveyed companies offered regional sales manager training in 2009.

Four Drivers of Effectiveness
This lack of investment is counterintuitive to the profound influence a regional manager has within an organization. They typically lead more than 100 company associates and impact more than 10,000 customers. Regional managers have strong company and customer knowledge, as well as a substantial internal and external network. The misstep companies make, however, lies with the assumption that these qualifications have a direct correlation to role assimilation and future success. This issue is further compounded as companies speed up the search for refreshed commercial strategies and place even greater responsibility in the hands of these leaders.

"In a time of transformational changes in our industry, training continues to be challenged to assess all resources while maximizing the impact of customer-facing personnel," says Tim Kern, vice president, Training, US Commercial Operations at Pfizer. "The SPBT Benchmark Study enables us to understand the gaps between needs and current practices for critical and evolving roles such as regional managers, as well as shed light on overall industry trends that can help training leaders with effective business planning."

According to the SPBT study, only one third of companies surveyed require completion of training as a determination of readiness for the regional manager role. The study also showed that the average number of days of training for regional managers dropped from 15 in 2007 to six in 2010. In addition, companies have found shortcuts in building training modules into national meetings rather than having focused, independent sessions.

"The benchmarking data provides context and knowledge to help understand future implications of the current business environment," said Brian Fagan, Executive Director of SPBT. "Company shortcuts and savings may work in the short term, but without an adequately trained organization from top to bottom, there may be longer-term consequences."

Surveyed companies state that the biggest challenges to strengthening regional manager training include justifying time out of the field, lack of resources, and the fact that it's simply not a priority given the long list of critical training needs and budget restraints.

The 2010 SPBT Benchmarking Study provides industry companies with an unbiased view of how other organizations are budgeting, delivering, and measuring training for numerous audiences. Understanding current approaches in relation to other companies can help better determine how to develop effective leaders and drive business.

Manny Gaspar is a senior consultant with Health Strategies Group.

Kristen Brill is an independent communications consultant in the healthcare field and is director of communications for the Society of Pharmaceutical and Biotech Trainers (SPBT). She can be reached at

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