Sales Force Effectiveness, Millennial Style

Apr 06, 2017
Volume 37, Issue 4

eyeforpharma’s annual Barcelona event has been running (initially in different European locations) for 16 years. During that time it has grown from a sales force effectiveness (SFE) summit to Europe’s largest commercial pharma meeting, attracting more than 1,000 industry delegates. These days, sales force effectiveness as a concept itself, as well as other aging terms such as multi-channel marketing, change management, and customer relationship management, are generally absent from the event’s agenda, as are those promises of old that offered to help attending companies “deliver big profits,” “increase sales,” and “target the most profitable customers.” 

The conference is now populated with sessions on gender-parity concerns, healthcare ecosystems, and advice on how to “adapt your organization to the patient,” of all which are of course welcome and indeed de rigueur in today’s more technologically sophisticated and socially democratic age. 

But fueled partly by nostalgia (and more by a keenness to discover how the field is changing in the advancing digital and patient-centric era), Pharm Exec zoned in on the event’s 2017-style “sales force effectiveness” offerings, which now occupy less of a prominent position in a multi-themed approach that comprises commercial innovation, patient centricity, and stakeholder collaboration. There were some rich pickings, nonetheless. Some of the sessions featured observations that might be disruptive to evolving notions of sales force strategy, such as Nestlé Nutrition Global Head of Performance Dirk Abeel’s assertion that face-to-face detailing is still the most effective means of promotion, and Miller Heiman Group Partner Harry Dunklin’s comment that “70% of all major change initiatives fail because of lack of leadership alignment and consistent messaging.”

But there were plenty of new ideas in line with the changing demographic, technological and commercial landscape, not least Dunklin’s reminder that pharma is gradually losing its “Gen-Xers” to the rise of the Millennials, who are predicted to reach 50% of the workforce by 2020, and 75% by 2025. While this statistic might not be overly surprising, Dunklin offered an insight about how the behavior and attitudes of the new generation will affect the sales workforce. Millennials, said Dunklin, favor a “culture of inclusivity,” with research showing that employees in an inclusive culture report above-average levels of “engagement” and “empowerment.” This could be critical in terms of performance; Dunklin pointed to a recent study that stated organizations with high numbers of engaged employees outperform others by more than 200%. 

This glimpse of the near future paved the way for Colleen Schuller, head of global selling excellence at GlaxoSmithKline, to talk about the drugmaker’s ongoing commitment to the removal of individual sales rep targets. GSK announced this approach some years ago, although the catalyst was as much a reaction to scandal as a concern for employee engagement and empowerment. It came in the wake of bribery allegations against GSK in China in 2013, prompting then-CEO Andrew Witty to overhaul the existing compensation scheme with one geared to encouraging reps to provide information to doctors more “clearly, transparently, and without any perception of conflict of interest.” 

But Schuller’s explanation that “the intrinsic motivation for a salesperson is more important than extrinsic factors” still has a radical ring to it, so it was interesting to see how the company was faring under this philosophy. Schuller confirmed that neither sales nor the turnover of reps have been adversely affected by the scrapping of targets. GSK sales rep motivation now comes from an opportunity for autonomy and to “master their craft.” 

Whether the rest of big pharma finds this convincing, or whether small and medium-sized companies will ever be able to introduce similar incentives, is open to question. But given Dunklin’s view of the future of the workforce, what seems radical now could be more widespread in a decade. And it all goes to show that sales force effectiveness—or however it will labeled in the encroaching era of the Millennial—is a subject that still offers plenty to talk about.

 

Julian Upton is Pharm Exec’s European and Online Editor. He can be reached at [email protected]

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