How valuable are tactical call rate goals?

June 1, 1999
Dustin Grainger, Tom Stovall
Pharmaceutical Representative

A look at daily detailing goals.

The call rate directive is eight doctor calls per day, plus one hospital call and two retail calls. It's 4 p.m., and the rep has been able to see only five doctors. As she sits in her car, she wonders: "What should I do now? I could do the two retail calls and catch Dr. Summers at the hospital. Or maybe I should just catch a few private practice doctors, drop some samples and make my numbers look good for the day. I sure am glad I have a lunch scheduled at the clinic tomorrow!"

Sound familiar? If it doesn't, chances are you've either been out of the field for some time, or the field visits that you've made have been phenomenally well orchestrated.

Access continues to be one of the top challenges for sales reps today. But sales force deployment and performance measurement remain primarily based on call activity. Is the issue of low call averages one of unrealistic mandates, or one of physicians allowing less access?

Call rate and presentation expectations per call are measurements that will probably never go away; nor should they. Salespeople need to see as many targeted physicians as possible. However, the tactical, activity-driven nature of salespeople can be directly attributed more to stringent call rate mandates than to personal desire.

Ends do not justify the means

While tactical call rate goals are very important in pharmaceutical selling, they should not be ends unto themselves. Engineering access "by any means" simply to satisfy a call rate mandate is unproductive.

Lunches in exchange for access is an example of the "ends justifying the means" outcome of tactical direction. Let's face it: Sales reps are resourceful and pragmatic. As a result, they will find ways to achieve the tactical directives placed before them, not the least of which is the all-too-familiar "lunch and learn" event.

However, the problem with this tactic is that most professionals, if they could avoid it, would never again schlep pizza and sandwiches into an office in an effort to discuss the clinical attributes of a pharmaceutical compound. Why? Because they have learned that this practice has become so widespread that physician offices use these free lunches as enticements for their staffs. The sales impact of such activities has become insignificant.

Likewise, multi-rep coverage has become a tactical response to the access dilemma. Some organizations have as many as four representatives in geographically identical territories. Representatives calibrate coverage on targeted physicians with great precision, focusing on specific products and indications.

While this kind of tactical deployment may indeed yield sampling consistency, it also feeds the reluctance of many offices to see more than one representative per company per month because of the time constraints imposed by managed care.

Time is money

Managed care stresses are changing the way that physicians use their office time, and they're doing it by limiting access more than ever. This means that physicians will be less likely to see representatives in the future unless they have something new or unique to offer in their product lines. Large numbers of sales people or multiple sales forces will not be a competitive advantage for long.

The old "bump and howdy" process is no longer unique. Physicians realize that sales reps use the sample closet to gain access - however limited - to their time. In fact, physician feedback reflects that some doctors actually thought pharmaceutical sales people were paid by the number of signatures they gathered!

Sales force automated information systems are as impressive as anything in the representatives' access arsenal today. Calls can be focused as specifically as imaginable based on total prescription volume, competitive product prescribing and managed care plan affiliation. Updated information is only a download away from the home office computer. Armed with this information, representatives know exactly where to spend their time and energy and how to use the data to gain access to physicians.

Who wouldn't want this data? It's tactically valuable for the sales rep and can provide valuable feedback on physicians. However, the inherent challenge with this double-edged sword manifests itself in the fact that, as impressive as sales force information systems data are, all companies have some form of the same data!

As a result, access to targeted physicians becomes even more challenging due to the fact that everyone is trying to see the same group of customers and taking up precious time they don't have. Tactical initiatives are useless unless the access they are designed to obtain culminates in satisfaction of the professional, business and personal goals of both the physician and the rep. PR