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It's All in the Details


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-10-01-2004

Brand managers assume that more information leads to more effectiveness. Unfortunately, the reverse is true.

Benjamin Franklin once said, "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest." Pharma companies are investing in knowledge, with the aim of reaping big returns, by purchasing tools that analyze physician, prescription, and marketplace data for their sales forces. But the declining productivity of pharmaceutical sales forces indicates that there are opportunities to increase return on investment (ROI) by giving reps "actionable knowledge," information they can actually use in the marketplace.

Average number of samples per month

With the advent of market saturation, sales call frequency, duration, and productivity continue to diminish. Although the number of reps in the field has increased approximately six-fold in the past 20 years, the number of doctors called on has stayed about the same, while the time they can expect to spend with each has decreased. G&S Research just published RepReview, outlining findings from surveys of 4,570 pharma reps. According to the report, 78 percent indicated they do not get enough time with physicians to adequately detail them, and 77 percent said that their time with physicians had either remained the same or decreased from last year.

Integrated segmentation addresses this challenge by enabling sales reps to "personalize" their outreach to physicians. As a predictive model that analyzes prescribing behaviors, demographics, and psychographics, integrated segmentation can drive tailored brand messages and strategies that resonate strongly with physicians.

But such sophisticated analyses deliver little value if sales reps can't (or won't) access and apply them. This can happen because prescriber, sales, or market information is difficult to access, too general, overwhelming in volume, or unclear in its applications. By not serving their intended purpose, these analyses fail to have an optimal impact on sales force effectiveness and ROI.

This article demonstrates how brand and sales managers can avoid this problem by ensuring that sales team members are both able and motivated to use the data analyses they receive. By analyzing the specific roles, goals, and needs of each member of the sales force, managers can customize the content, format, timing, and delivery of data analyses to fuel positive results.

Information Overload

Most brand and sales managers provide their reps with a "Swiss Army knife" approach to reports—a single tool designed to serve several functions. They tend to package many data views, trends, perspectives, and comparisons in one report, hoping that the more they send, the more effective their reps will be.

Unfortunately, the reverse is true. By packaging too much information into a single report, these documents become cumbersome and many reps are not likely to use them at all. The manager's challenge is to determine which information, delivered how and when, will optimize sales force effectiveness. This is a two-step process that requires knowing who is going to use the information and what they will try to do with it.

Customization Case Study.

Understand users' tasks. First, managers need to understand the discrete tasks that each sales rep must perform to meet multiple goals. For example, to meet sales goals, a rep needs to see current results, understand which strategies were (and were not) successful, learn how to adjust tactics in response, implement those changes, and then assess how the changes affect performance.

Automate users' key processes. Once an individual's tasks are identified, the information he or she needs to perform those tasks should be designed and delivered in a way that requires minimal analysis and supports timely action. The end result is to decrease the time and effort (and human error) involved in understanding and deciding how to apply information to a weekly call plan, for example.

Ask the Right Questions

Employing this approach calls for a multidimensional view of the roles, goals, and needs of the sales force. The most effective way to access this complete picture is by running through a series of questions with sales reps.

Determining what information an individual needs to perform a job requires looking beyond job titles to job roles. One person can play many roles, and different people can play the same role.

Who on the sales team will use the information? This question looks beyond defined job titles or functional segments and examines the roles played by various people involved with sales: reps, managers, sales coaches, and analysts. Roles define a generic group of users with similar key attributes, performing a common function toward a common goal. One person can play many roles, and many people the same role. (See “The Sales Team and Its Many Roles.”)

What goals does each role have? For each role, an individual will need different information to meet different goals. A district manager, for example, plays several roles, each with distinct goals. As manager, his or her goal is to ensure that the sales team meets or exceeds area sales goals. As coach, a manager works to ensure that reps understand what they have to do next to improve performance and reach compensation goals. As analyst, he or she evaluates a territory's performance relative to other districts and competitors to identify opportunities. As a salesperson, a manager works toward meeting or exceeding territory sales goals, often jointly selling with a representative on a call.

What key tasks do these roles perform? Each role requires the team member to perform multiple tasks. For example, an individual who plays a salesperson role performs weekly tasks such as creating a call plan, visiting doctors, monitoring individual performance against a plan, identifying any problems that may arise, diagnosing the cause of those problems, and taking actions to eliminate them.

What information do salespeople need to perform these tasks? Answering this question calls for the manager to first assess what the salesperson already knows. For example, he or she knows that individual compensation is based on meeting or exceeding a quota and that meeting a quota depends on visiting selected doctors often, delivering an appropriate promotional mix, and communicating appropriate messages.

Data, Insight, Action

The next step is to determine what the salesperson needs to know. This refers to understanding rather than data or information. The distinction between data and knowledge—and the conversion of the former to the latter—is critical. (See "Data Into Knowledge,".) Data consist of raw but organized input—total or new prescriptions in a month, for example. Information is data processed to reveal significant patterns, such as how a representative's total prescriptions compare to his planned sales goals. Insight is the fruit of information after it is interpreted, for example, whether a rep is on target and how performance will affect his or her bonus. The ultimate incarnation of data, combining insights with recommended actions, is knowledge. Knowledge is what answers a rep's two most important questions: (1) How much am I getting paid? and (2) What do I need to do to make more money?

If, for example, a rep sees that his projected sales show his quota won't be met, he needs to know:

  • which doctors to visit more frequently or less frequently
  • which promotions to deliver more often or less often
  • whether there is a competitor issue
  • whether there is a managed care issue
  • what the right message should be.

When sales managers provide data instead of knowledge, they rely on each individual's willingness and ability to process the data, interpret it accurately, and develop a successful action plan. But this is expecting too much—too much of their time for one thing—and allows too much inconsistency in interpretation and action. A better solution is designing a reporting system that processes data and converts it into usable knowledge, with embedded rules for interpretation and best practice action plans. This decreases reps' time and effort, decreases the risk of misinterpretation, ensures action plans with a high chance of success, and fuels continuous increases in sales results.

Clear Presentation

Once sales managers know what to deliver in the way of knowledge, they need to figure out how much of it to present. The adage "less is more" applies. As a rule, reps require less of the data not needed for a task and more, or at least the minimal amount, needed to accomplish it. Studies have shown this should ideally add up to no more than seven pieces of information in a like format. For example, while integrating data is a good thing, and many in the industry have built data warehouses, it is just not helpful to show all available data on the same view. Any report that tries to address more than one task is not likely to be effectively applied.

Another consideration for reports is determining the best format. Form should follow function. Accordingly, sales managers must clarify the purpose of what they are trying to depict, and then use the most appropriate format for that kind of analysis.

Consider the case of a sales rep seeking to monitor quarterly performance. A manager who wants to communicate the rep's sales trend over time, compared with expected sales, should depict the dollar volume of sales visually, graphed over time (at least three months), compared with a visually adjacent depiction of expected sales. Adding an interpretation of the data—such as how the current trend compares to expected sales and to past performance—and actions required to improve performance make this form even more functional.((See “Visual Motivation.”)

It's also frequently not enough for salespeople to be simply told what action to take. They need to see a convincing illustration. A report should clearly demonstrate how the number of visits to a given physician correlates with prescriber activity, showing cause and effect. (See “Rx for Dr. James.”)

Remember the engineers of the ill-fated Challenger space shuttle? They had the data to prove it was too risky to launch it in cold weather. Unfortunately, they didn't present it in a way that "made the case." They faxed 13 reports to senior management, but:

  • few focused on the real issue—the correlation of O-ring performance to temperature
  • those that did presented the data ineffectively
  • they spread their data presentation across several reports
  • reports didn't provide enough data to show a clear pattern
  • the relevant data was buried in a clutter of less important data.

Delivery Options

Timing is everything. When do reps need information? Just in time to complete the task at hand. Providing it too early forces the rep to commit out-of-sync data to long-term memory and retrieve the content later, or to hold it in working memory, blocking out new data until the stored data is needed. Alternatively, providing information too late creates a situation in which the rep either fails to perform the task or uses guesswork based on prior data. Neither approach is likely to be successful. Instead, a report that combines a rep's activity data with sales data from the previous week, delivered on Sunday, provides a just-in-time look at the opportune moment for weekly planning.

Once sales managers determine the content, quantity, format, and timing of the knowledge reps need, they must identify the most effective device—desktop computer, laptop, or personal digital assistant—and medium for its delivery.

Many factors should be considered when selecting the right device. It must be:

  • user-friendly and accessible when and where the user needs it
  • convenient, based on the quantity and frequency of input and output
  • able to provide appropriate triggering of a recommended task (such as e-mail notification)
  • compatible with the content it needs to deliver (paper, visual, aural).

The volume of data to be communicated is also critical. High volume is best communicated via a computer with a high-speed connection. Once the device is determined, the medium must be identified. Information accessed on a personal computer may be delivered through an e-mail workbook or over the internet. The recipient's day-to-day access to a high-speed internet connection would be one limiting factor.

Investments in technology and sophisticated data analyses will have a significant effect on sales force effectiveness only if the sales team can access, understand, and apply the insights gleaned from the data. So, when designing information tools to help reps meet their sales goals, managers must take care that those tools match the tasks at hand. Sales managers must know their users' goals, support the key tasks that meet individual and business goals, and ensure that information supports those tasks.

By adhering to these guidelines, product and sales managers can determine the report content, format, and delivery that will help reps make the best use of information and time. And by deploying resources more efficiently, managers should see significant improvements in sales force effectiveness.

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