Words by Louise Rogers
“Why are we still calling it ‘the sales rep’?”, questions Dirk Abeel, Global Director, Medical Sales, Rickitt Benckiser: “Let’s change that.” Such a plea by Abeel and several others at this year’s eyeforpharma Barcelona, heavily signifies the recent drastic transformation of the pharmaceutical sales force. For years, reps have used a uniform approach, a tried and tested method of selling to HCPs that works through drug education and brand choice. But the dawn of technology, speciality care, and decreasing budgets (to name but a few factors), are heralding an end to the reign of the rep, and on the horizon a new breed comes to light.
“Doctors don’t want an interaction with an MSL, a sales rep, a marketer… – they want to be seen as a genuine partner to the industry and want interaction with a company, a philosophy, and a vision. The new rep must be an intelligent project manager who can take all the different platforms available and, with that, create a win for the HCP”, says Patrik Grandits, Managing Director, Head Commercial Operations EAME, Oncology, Daiichi Sankyo Europe.
Will there be interaction with industry on a human level? – Definitely. Will it have to transform? – Absolutely
Alongside this, digital has stepped into the doctor’s office. Research shows that one in four face-to-face sales interactions have been replaced with technology; no more can pharma so heavily rely on the sway of the sweet-talker. But digital’s convenience doesn’t override the fact that, at the end of the day, doctors are still human. Grandits believes that the human touch will be unceasing, albeit changed. “It’s important that we create a relationship with our stakeholders built on trust, and trust is not only driven by having a digital tool. So, will there be interaction with industry on a human level? – Definitely. Will it have to transform? – Absolutely. Our partners are demanding it and we are slow at serving them.”
Pharma have been slow to act towards better serving their stakeholders as they’ve been lost in the details of trying to perfect the recipe for excellent customer experience. Grandits highlights this with a common challenge from the marketing division: “The question always asked is ‘what channel should we use?’ The answer is ‘we shouldn’t care!’ We spend too much time thinking about what channel and which AI to use, when really, we should be trying to deeply understand what the customer needs. The needs are the basis and then whichever channel follows will be the right one.”
Abeel echoes these sentiments, acknowledging that utilising the channel is the easy part for him. The hard part? Determining the purpose. “Here, we need to develop the right insights”, voices Abeel. “I would like to see the rep not only as a communication vehicle, but as an inside gathering vehicle tool – it’s about being genuinely interested in what an HCP is facing when dealing with his or her patients, because we don’t have direct access to them.”
Role-playing has always been a part of the sales force job: stepping into the shoes of the HCP or patient to see the world from their perspective. However, as Abeel expresses: “For many years, we’ve seen it from our angle as a company and what we want to achieve. At the highest level, we still focus our objectives around net profit. [...] our mission is to improve the health of patients – that’s an objective and how do we measure that?”
The needs are the basis and then whichever channel follows will be the right one
Daiichi Sankyo ask themselves the same question, as Grandits tells the panel: “I recently met with our CEO and he asked me – ‘Do you want to measure your entire success on sales, or shall we do something different?’ – I said – ‘let’s do something different’.” So, Daiichi Sankyo added new metrics of success to their commercial matrix and began measuring their organisation on Net Promoter Scores and customer impact. “These are absolutely critical measurements. Perhaps not very traditionally pharma, but it is important that we transform this thinking and create an environment that will allow our reps to embrace this new vision.”
He concludes: “I am really looking forward to the impact we can achieve with this transformation and defining our clear motivational aspect. One vision, one company, one purpose – the joining of people to deliver excellent customer experience, where
you will be measured on whether you have made an impact, and not on whether you have hit your sales target.”
Many roles and capabilities within pharma are demanding change; the role of the sales rep, for lack of a better name as yet, is no exception. Skilled multi-channel communication and the ability to put HCP preference at the heart of every decision among the force seems to be sales’ Holy Grail.