Your sales force is the front line of your sales and marketing strategy, so how can you ensure maximum success from your sales teams in the field?
When budget cuts are forced on sales and marketing teams, everyone fears the sales force being cut. This is for good reason – they are the front line of the engine driving revenue. It doesn’t matter how many issues there are in the effectiveness of the sales force, the concept of cutting them is something that inspires dread. Yet, in the past few years, many companies have been cutting sales forces to chase that elusive increase in profit and trim the high sales costs.
Sales force costs are undeniably one of the largest sales and marketing budget lines, and the effectiveness of these does not always stand up to scrutiny or we would not be seeing the cuts we have seen. So, given how important the sales teams are, how can we get more from them to improve their results?
Focus them on Messages that Drive Prescribing
In so many cases we see that the message focus is not quite right. Yes, it does differentiate the product; however, it is not based on what is driving prescribing the most. The sales team must be focused on the messages that will drive prescribing the most in their target Physicians. Differentiation is great, but if the differentiator is not the thing that is driving prescribing, then why only focus on that? We have analytics on numerous brands that show the teams focused on messages that are not driving prescribing.
For example, say you are focused on the fact that your brand has less pill burden and, therefore, better compliance. Great – definitely differentiating it. But…is it driving prescribing? I could show you data in which we segmented non-prescribers and high prescribers of a product and both groups equally got that message strongly – but it was not moving the non-prescribers to convert at all. Other messages would, but not that specific one. It is critical that you get the message focus onto the messages that will drive prescribing rather than merely the ones that are easily differentiating you.
I can cite numerous client analytics projects wherein we managed to refocus the messages to the ones the analytics showed were the key drivers. Lo’ and behold, in every case, the market share increased and, in several recent examples, the market share doubled magically. Don’t underestimate the magic of focusing on the key driver messages for sales force effectiveness. Without giving the sales force the right driver messages to focus on, the results will always be less than optimal.
Tighten Targeting and Segmentation
Why are many of the target list Doctors the same for all brands (at least in Primary Care) leading to the problem of all reps visiting the same Doctors and causing the issue of overload for the Doctors? Why is it that we think all high decile Doctors who prescribe in our Rx area should be our targets? One reason could be that most pharma companies buy their targeting data from the same sources, so that makes some sense that it would then the same. But really, does it make sense to assume that just because the physician prescribes a lot of drugs in your Rx area, they will be a perfect target for your sales force and respond how you want them to i.e. increase their prescribing of your brand?
People (and Doctors are people) respond differently to different kinds of sales and marketing based on a host of psychographic and demographic issues. Clearly volume based targeting and segmentation does not take into account other types of key differences in Physicians that can often make a large difference to your results. To improve targeting, rather than target the same Doctors as your competitors, consider being smarter about this. Why not use analytics to look at different groups of Physicians segmented on a host of key variables and understand drivers based on sub-groups of those Physicians. This will show you what the levers are within each sub-group that would convince them to change to your product. Consider ways you could do this for your brand.
Integrate ‘e’ into the Sales Force Mix
Many reps visit offices of both low value Doctors and "no-see" Physicians, neither of which is likely to produce much in the way of bottom-line results. If we can change the way we measure and compensate the sales force to discourage this kind of behavior, then we don’t need to avoid these Doctors completely as in small ways they can slowly add up to increased sales; however, they should not be targeted with an expensive method such as sales force. Would they not be a prime candidate for an inexpensive ‘e’ solution? Once that grew them to a sufficient level (as long as it took their segmentation drivers into account in order to do so), then when they were financially viable to do so, the real sales reps could become involved in direct selling.
Help your Sales Reps Spend Most of their Time Selling
One issue we see with sales reps in most companies around the world is that they spend a large amount of their time doing things other than selling (e.g. admin, travel, expense reporting, etc.) We need to ensure that our sales reps are able to minimize their time on non-sales activities and maximize their time selling. Obviously the adjunct tasks are important, but how can we make them more efficient. You may hire more back office staff but that might increase costs while productivity remains flat. One company created a section of back office that was devoted specifically to supporting the sales force admin, at the same time they increased their sales quotas and coverage rations, and increased each sales rep’s territory to ensure the additional time was spent selling.
Examine Your Sales Force Selling Models
I’ve heard Sales Directors argue that sales effectiveness diminishes when reps are required to detail Physicians on more than two or three products. But is this actually true? In many complex sales industries (e.g. high-tech, etc), professional sales people sell a wide range of highly specialized products and services….so why do we assume that pharma sales reps would be unable to do so also? Additionally, if we are restricting the number of products the rep can detail maybe they are going to be limited in terms of offering the Physicians the product mix that best suits their individual needs. And let’s not forget the cost advantage of multiple products and one rep.
But would it work for your product mix and country? By employing analytics, different sales force selling models can be compared and contrasted to see which one is having more prescribing impact, and then the relative costs can be taken into account and the cost benefit can be assessed accurately. Are you doing this?
Plan Incentive Compensation for Maximum Incentive
The way a sales person is compensated can be a potent tool for driving their success. A well planned and structured compensation package communicates corporate and personal objectives to the sales force, while a poorly structured compensation program can actually push sales people to work against corporate goals. A recent discussion with a sales rep from a top pharma company in the USA revealed a disturbing fact – he did ‘just enough’ to meet his numbers and be on the golf course by afternoon. His compensation package was tied to measurement of activity, which he met, but his bonuses were not set up in such a way as to motivate him to really move his sales dramatically. He said he had a good life, good package….why bother? Very alarming indeed! How can you motivate the sales force to really maximize their sales and efforts?
One way is by analyzing compensation packages that offer significant benefits for results. This must be considered carefully. In order to keep the best performers, and lose the poor performers, companies need to reassess their sales force pay packages. Using a variable pay package is one way to keep the base cost under control while implementing a motivating factor to drive a sales team towards fulfilling corporate objectives. An incentive compensation program also provides Sales Managers the metrics they need to monitor the performance of their sales force - including revenue and quota attainment. This can also prove beneficial in providing the information required to measure the effectiveness of compensation plans against strategic objectives.
Selling versus Account Management The whole area of account management was pioneered by Takeda pharmaceuticals in the UK many years ago. However, it is a concept worthy of consideration if you are not already doing this. These days, the concept is widespread. Given that there are increasing numbers of group practices, hospitals and integrated health systems, as well as the increased influence of Managed Care organizations, PCO’s and other payers, the Doctors that reps traditionally called on have lost quite a bit of their decision-making power.
One option being employed by some pharma companies is moving to an account management sales model that segments customers and matches the appropriate sales approach to each account's strategic importance and buying preferences. This can be enhanced even more using the segmentation analytics described earlier in this article so that the real drivers for each group are taken into account. This approach can significantly cut sales related costs (by around 20%) while increasing sales effectiveness.
Performance Measurement and Optimization
Part of the problem with sales force effectiveness is how it is measured. Common methods of measuring sales force effectiveness revolve around frequency of calls made by reps to target Physicians, with the underlying assumption that higher numbers of sales calls will equate with greater product sales. Such data is relatively easy to collect and can be measured directly against sales and market share data. Unfortunately, this is not effectiveness but efficiency.
By having this as a metric, sales reps feel compelled to see as many Doctors as they can to reach their call targets, but the calls are less productive and often to the wrong Doctors. The result is that the call does not seem effective and yet the “calls per day” target is being met or exceeded. This highlights a key area for improvement but also shows that the call rate per day, in itself, is not the best metric to use. To improve sales force performance, Sales and Marketing Directors need a more in-depth understanding of the complex and dynamic interplay among the various elements and activities involving the sales force, and how much these various activities are driving prescribing. They then need a way to translate these understandings to strategies that flow seamlessly into sales strategies and sales tactics.
Sales force effectiveness is a multi-faceted issue, but one that can be dramatically improved with judicious use of analytics.
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