Salesforce Roundtable

With industry-wide layoffs, how will pharma companies staff their sales organizations? Pharmaceutical executive and its sister publication, pharmaceutical representative, convened an executive roundtable to find out.
Mar 01, 2008

It's no secret that the pharmaceutical industry has been going through big changes, with doubtless more on the horizon. Industry-wide layoffs, a looming election, and changing public perceptions are all having an impact. How will pharma companies staff their organizations? And what does this mean for the existing sales model? To answer these questions—and more—Pharmaceutical Executive teamed up with its sister publication, Pharmaceutical Representative, to convene a panel of experts. An edited transcript of that discussion follows.


Joanna Breitstein (executive editor, Pharmaceutical Executive): News of sales force downsizing has captured headlines, but how do these layoffs correlate to pharma's changing sales model?

David Snow (vice president, commercial operations, AstraZeneca): We largely make decisions on size and structure based on where we're going strategically with our portfolio. Everyone would like to be a primary care company, if the portfolio supported that. But most product portfolios are moving toward specialty. And if you have specialty products, then you probably don't need as many people in your sales force.

Sandy Jennings (senior vice president of selling solutions and operations, inVentiv Health): Overall, we see that large and emerging pharmas are looking for a more flexible model, where they can quickly respond to FDA delays or generic hostile intrusion that is really challenging the patent expirations of some major brands. They need to create models where they can upsize and downsize without having to put out a press release to the financial community. Contract sales organizations can help them do that.

It's difficult for pharma companies as they optimize their field force structure to determine how long that optimization will last. Ideally, you'd like to get two or three years out of the structure that you put into place.

Matthew Herman (editor-in-chief, Pharmaceutical Representative): Many companies are moving to the specialty model. How does the change manifest itself at the rep level?

Todd Lambert (national sales director, GI business unit, Shire): Big Pharma is looking at some of the ways smaller companies operate.

Specialty companies hold reps to higher standards and see that as an opportunity to create some equity for the company. That means reps will have greater access and asking power down the road, and the company can keep their name out there and continue to feed their commercial business units with more products.

Rick Rosenthal (associate principal, director of sales force effectiveness research, Health Strategies Group): In primary care and specialty offices, the way reps are effective ends up being very different. In a typical primary care office-based call, reps must understand what it takes to generate the intent to prescribe a drug and how to remove the roadblocks to that prescription.

An effective specialty representative encompasses all of that, but they also become much more embedded in the delivery and the healthcare system around that condition. There's much more involvement in medical societies and patient advocacy groups—the rep becomes a real player in how that condition is treated in their territory.

Jennings: Throughout the years, the rep/physician relationship—making sure that there was impact in the office—was such a key focal point. But today, doctors don't have a lot of time for small talk. They're looking for a more scientific approach and a more scientific message—and that's an important area for training. In some ways, it's almost like going back to where we started in the industry many years ago.

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