New firm woos reps with vision

February 1, 1997
Pharmaceutical Representative

The sales organization that Eisai built without product to sell.

How does an upstart pharmaceutical company reel in top-notch salespeople when it doesn't have a product? Eisai (pronounced "a-zeye") Inc. had to answer that question last year when it was charged with building a sales force for its Alzheimer's product Aricept,™ which was still being reviewed by the FDA.

Eisai, the Teaneck, NJ-based subsidiary of Japan's fourth largest drug company, courted quality salespeople through its promise of a new corporate culture and vision.

Dean Hart was one industry veteran who was lured by Eisai's focus on trust and commitment. Hart joined the organization as national sales director last March and was charged with hiring the company's salespeople, which they call medical sales specialists, and building the corporate architecture to support them.

"We use the term medical sales specialist because our people are more than reps," Hart said. "Eisai has very stringent standards because we market to neurologists, geriatric psychiatrists and long-term care facilities."

By June, Hart hired seven regional sales directors and started to interview potential salespeople. Of the 3,000 candidates who applied for the job, Eisai pared it down to 75 new hires by August.

"We hoped to hire people with at least three years of experience and a proven track record of success, meaning they won trips, President's club and other awards. What we came up with was even better: Our folks have an average of 6.5 years of experience in the industry and also have won about three trips or awards each."

Although the new drug application for Aricept looked strong, Eisai still didn't have a product at the time it was hiring. This can make it very difficult to hire the best salespeople, Hart conceded.

So how did Eisai lure these sales professionals to its company? Hart credits the corporate philosophy born in Japan by Haruo Naito, Eisai Co., Ltd.'s president and CEO, with winning over their new sales force. Called "Eisai Innovation," the vision celebrates teamwork, trust, loyalty and empowerment: "things that are often only talked about in other organizations," Hart said.

"Being able to work for a company with our vision was the No. 1 reason our medical sales specialists said they came to Eisai, even though we didn't have a product. I think that shows that a lot of people in this industry are looking for companies that emphasize trust and teamwork."

Aricept

This year, Eisai of Japan will keep a curious eye focused on the West: The company is very interested in how well its U.S. subsidiary markets Aricept (donepezil hydrochloride) in its first global launch.

The product received FDA marketing clearance in late November, and Eisai medical sales specialists launched Aricept to neurologists in December. Hart said the focus of their sales presentations is on building realistic expectations for the product.

Joining Eisai in launching Aricept is Pfizer, whose central nervous system sales force will promote the drug to psychiatrists and high-prescribing neurologists while two of its major sales forces market the drug to primary care physicians.

When Eisai completed Phase II trials of Aricept in 1994, the company began a search for an alliance partnership to market the drug in the United States and Europe.

"There was a tremendous amount of interest," said Ed Broughton, director of marketing. "Just about every major player in the central nervous system market was very interested in marketing the product. We considered them all very carefully, and Pfizer represented the ideal partner for us."

In 1994, Eisai and Pfizer formed a strategic alliance to copromote Aricept and develop new treatments for Alzheimer's disease and other cognitive disorders.

The companies worked in close cooperation to produce the promotion materials for Aricept, including a comprehensive disease management program that accompanies the launch. PR

For a look at an Eisai medical sales specialist, see the Rep Profile on p. 23.