The Enduring Value of Pharma/Biotech Hybrid Sales Teams

In pharmaceutical, biotech, diagnostic and medical device companies, the hybrid sales model combines the elements of virtual (inside) sales and field sales to best meet company goals and the informational needs of HCPs. Hybrid reps do much of their selling via traditional inside sales engagement methods—phone, email, video conferencing - while also meeting with HCPs and their staff face-to-face when it is most appropriate to the specific selling situation.

There isn’t one standard formula for the design of a hybrid sales team. To achieve maximum success, each team must be “built for purpose” and have a high degree of flexibility to address the situation at hand (e.g.; product launch, change in formulary, new indication, loss of exclusivity) and challenges (rare disease with minimal targets, geographic location of targets, limited access for face-to-face meetings due to COVID-19 or other issues). The company’s overall business strategies must also be considered in the design of every hybrid sales team.

A few examples:

  • Selling a “buy-and-bill” product to targets with differing buying potential. Five of the 20 virtual sales reps selling a buy-and-bill product were designated as hybrid reps. Three weeks a month, they engaged with customers with lower sales potential via virtual methods. One week a month, the reps “took to the road” to meet with high potential customers face-to-face. Follow-up was made via virtual methods, and new face-to-face appointments booked.
  • Launch of a new oncology product to a small audience over a large geography. Eight field-based representatives were deployed, each covering approximately 100 practices. Their goals were:
  • Two face-to-face and 1 virtual interaction/quarter for each high decile target
  • One face-to-face and 2 virtual interactions/quarter for each low decile target

Overall, approximately 65 percent of all engagements were face-to-face, supported by virtual interactions.

  • Emerging biopharmaceutical company building national team. The company deployed 25 hybrid representatives with a face-to-face territory of approximately 100 targets. In addition, each representative was assigned 150 white space targets with whom they engaged via virtual methods.
  • Small hybrid team selling a medical device. A 10-person team was deployed nationally with the strategy of meeting face-to-face with HCPs once per quarter. The team supplemented their in-person visits by interim virtual engagements to office staff and influencers.

Because of the pandemic, hybrid teams have become more common and more highly-embraced by manufacturers. There’s an increased interest by physicians to meet virtually but there is also significantly more competition. To be successful when creating and deploying a hybrid team in this changing environment, it is essential to focus on four key areas:

  • Recruiting, hiring and retaining the right representatives. In addition to expertise in traditional selling skills, a successful hybrid rep will have a high-level of comfort and agility with technology and are equally able to build effective relationships both in person and virtually. Hybrid reps must be flexible, adaptable and embrace change. They are strategic in how and with whom they invest their time.
  • Training. Existing training modules designed for face-to-face sales must be modified to reflect the unique challenges of hybrid selling; these modifications include providing training on:
    • Establishing virtual relationships with gatekeepers and other office staff; taking specific actions (e.g.; asking for a transfer to the HCP, making an appointment for a call back).
    • Delivering impactful virtual presentations, seamlessly blending the use of technology with virtual selling skills.
    • Understanding purely verbal queues—key words and phrases that signal a change of direction or approach is needed, without losing sight of the overarching message to be delivered.
    • Maintaining an optimal tone, inflection, and pace.
    • Knowing when it is time to ask for an agreement or commitment from the HCP.

As with any trained skill, there must be extensive practice and feedback prior to engaging with customers, as well as frequent refresher skills training.

  • Coaching for Performance. The effective front-line management of hybrid teams is both a science and an art. To provide relevant and applicable guidance to the reps, the manager must be skilled in both virtual and face-to-face engagements. And they must have the leadership skills (and the strong natural inclination) to make observing and coaching a continuous endeavor. Such an approach will drive sales results and ensure the reps are appropriately supported.
  • Technology. Field CRM platforms are typically designed to capture basic information following face-to-face engagements. They often lack the functionality to track and report on the elements and nuances of virtual interactions. Hybrid teams require a CRM that captures additional actionable data and insights; for instance, any ongoing interactions the HCP has with the company through its online resources, topics covered that were not directly related to the purpose of the engagement, and the length of time that the HCP was engaged virtually. To produce the most comprehensive reports, it is best that the CRM is integrated with the telephony system used by the reps for virtual engagements.

While the training time and compensation for a hybrid rep—salary, benefits, incentives—is equivalent to that of a field rep, the travel costs associated with being in the field full time are reduced. The biggest cost benefit, however, is in the alignment of reps to targets; a hybrid rep can often manage a target audience 30 to 40 percent larger than a rep based solely in the field.

A hybrid sales model should never be static. It is a strategy designed to achieve business objectives, whatever they may be (reduce costs, extend reach, deliver a different message, prepare for the next event that limits face-to-face access). The model can and should evolve as objectives are refined or change altogether.

Susan Beach, Vice President - Commercial Solutions, Diligent Health Solutions