Sales Force Optimization in the New World of Healthcare: Four Keys to Success

Pharmaceutical sales used to center around modeling and analyzing the allocation of reps, territories, products and time. With the demise of blockbuster drugs and the shift from selling “product brands” to selling “corporate brands,” sales force optimization and analytics are changing. Now, it’s about whom the sales force represents and less about the drugs-and-related-benefits they sell. It requires better analytics in classifying and targeting customers, better application of time/rep/territory algorithms, and a selling experience that supports and builds the corporate brand. Smaller sales forces mean that allocating the right amount of reps, targeting the right customers, detailing the right products and designing the right territories are all more important than ever.

For the past 20 years, sales forces were analyzed and optimized around products, and more specifically around blockbuster drug launches. The faster a manufacturer could get its new product into market and make money before the patent expired, the better. From there, it was about selling in the balance of the product portfolio to bolster top-line sales and promote diversity in the sales base. The equation came down to bodies and geographic allocation. The demise of the blockbuster drug pulls that lynchpin out of the model, and an increase cost focus has started shrinking sales forces. Sales force optimization needs to be revisited.

Both sales reps and buyers are becoming increasingly time-strapped. Pharmaceutical manufacturers must leverage robust customer segmentations that allow firms to efficiently identify and meet the unique needs of their customers. This isn’t just segmenting by descriptive attributes such as for-profit/non-profit or large/small. These segmentations need to go beyond product needs and help provide guidance as to what their customer organizations are trying to accomplish. All healthcare providers want to provide the best care. That isn’t unique. Sales forces need to understand what else is important in motivating their buyer. Some are willing to invest extra to set their organization apart. Others need to provide great care but need to be more cost conscious. Sometimes cost is just about price, but other times providers are receptive to a health economics and outcomes research (HEOR) project. Sales forces need to be able quickly identify the type of customer they are calling on so that they can quickly get the attention of the customer and demonstrate a genuine understanding of their needs. This elevates the dialog well above a “product peddler” and establishes the sales person and the corporate brand he or she represents as a valued partner. Servicing customers how they want to be serviced, plus lower ROI means that face-to-face sales reps will no longer always pay back. It is important to plan a multi-channel sales solution that combines key account managers, sales reps, digital detailing, social media, call centers and web ordering (not to mention demonstrators, online help, and helpdesk for devices, etc.).

Once you understand the motiving needs of the customer, you can craft holistic selling experiences. Overall, who the sales force represents is more important than the individual products they are detailing, because in the absence of new blockbusters, all the products are pretty similar in their efficacy. And while no one can dispute the skills of a good sales rep, he or she needs to be armed and supported by the firm they represent. The rep is no longer the sole owner of the relationship. Customers interact with pharmaceutical brands via multiple channels such as websites, webinars and professional communities. Corporate brands must show up in a consistent way across all of these platforms—and the sales rep represents it. As a result, sales and marketing need to be more integrated. By knowing the motivations of prioritized segments, an organization can align its messaging all around them so that it resonates and reinforces its ability to help its customers achieve their goals.

To do this successfully and at scale, you need sound analytics in four areas:

1. Needs-based customer segmentation: Pharmaceutical firms need to conduct an extensive survey of their customers to understand what motivates them. These motivations should be used to create segments of “like minded” buyers and organizations. It’s important to have these segments mapped to the organization CRM system and be part of the evolving CRM strategy. How customers want to be serviced matters as much as size and opportunity when we are looking at complex sales forces. And representation of the corporate brand and corporate brand story should be more integrated into the product sell.

2. CRM analytics: The CRM system is the backbone of sales force optimization, particularly with large global pharmaceutical firms. Not only should you understand key customer segments, but you need to be able to find them and manage them over time. You need to know what you’ve already sold them, who (and where) the real buying centers are and ensure you are as customer-centric as possible. Sales and marketing should intersect and allow for tailored, digitally-enabled selling tools as well as smart and relevant direct marketing efforts.

3. Sales force sizing and allocation: While the way to optimize your sales force is drastically changing, you still need people to sell products and drive revenue. With the above pieces in place, you can then begin to model the size and allocation of your sales force. You’ll know not only the size and number of accounts in a given territory, but you’ll also know the type of customers and the benefits they’re looking for in partnering with a pharmaceutical firm. This allows you to go beyond reps, products, territories and time. It also allows you to account for the type of selling story you need to bring to be relevant and the type of rep you need to deliver to be credible. Optimal territory design and customer-centricity is at the heart of the new planning regimes you need to employ.

4. Complex sales forces: The move from product (how many rep equivalents do I need) to customers (what is the optimal blend of products to detail to them) is crucial. This is especially important with falling sales force numbers. You need to optimize the allocation of precious sales force resources. You need to employ a multi-channel service solution to optimize ROI by most efficiently servicing healthcare providers and commercial partners/customers.

In the end, the sales force is still on the hook for selling products and allocating their time efficiently. Sales force analytics and CRM isn’t anything new, but it now must tie together a conversation between two organizations’ needs: What the customer’s organization is trying to accomplish, and how a pharmaceutical firm—as a whole—can help. It’s no longer just about products and buyers. These analytics approaches help drive deeper insights and scale customer-relevant selling experiences.

  • James Walker

    James Walker is a Senior Partner at Prophet, a brand strategy and marketing consultancy. For more of Prophet’s thinking on pharmaceutical sales and marketing and other industry-related issues, visit healthcare.

  • Paul Schrimpf

    Paul Schrimpf is an Associate Partner at Prophet, a brand strategy and marketing consultancy. For more of Prophet’s thinking on pharmaceutical sales and marketing and other industry-related issues, visit healthcare.


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