Back before he got some field experience of his own, Mark Sales, senior territory business manager for Novartis, thought spending a day in the field with a sales rep was the golden bullet for understanding the market. Now, after several months as a rep, Sales has realized that the view he was getting was a little skewed.
In his presentation Practicing what you preach: how does a new sales rep with a sales effectiveness background see the strategies coming from marketing and sales now? at an eyeforpharma conference on Sales Force Effectiveness, Sales explained how his eyes were opened.
Sales asks, Does our message get delivered by the people who matter our sales teams? How can a company know that the message communicated to the sales force is the one that gets passed on to the customers? One common strategy for measuring success on that front is for a global brand director to accompany sales reps for an afternoon or two as they make their calls. How accurate are field visits as measures of communicative success?
Field visits: boon or burden?
When a rep hears that theyll have a guest with them on their visits, says Sales, theyll likely respond with Great, thanks! In reality, the rep is probably thinking that he or she will have to line up a day of sales calls that are relevant to the brand of the guest. So what benefits do reps get from having a brand director tag along?
There are some advantages, according to Sales: some of the reps key accounts who normally find it difficult to make time for a call might be more amenable to the idea if they hear a global brand director is coming along. And reps get to spend a little time with a successful member of the company, which can be beneficial both in terms of available learning and opportunities to impress the management.
On the other hand, reps can see these visits as unduly burdensome: they have to line up sales calls that are relevant, and those reps whose territories are close to the brand directors office may find themselves frequent field-visit targets. Field visits are stressfulreps feel theyre being assessed and that perhaps the assessment isnt entirely fair since field visit calls arent exactly representative of real life.
For the brand directors, field visits are a rare opportunity to connect directly with the target audience and to take advantage of a chance to coach the reps one-on-one. However, says Sales, if the brand director has never been a rep, his or her wisdom may lack substance and/or credibility. For some brand directors, field visits are little more than a chance to check off a box on their objectives list.
Field visits, while they may provide a glimpse into the world of the rep, dont really give an accurate measure of communication accuracy, Sales says. Especially now, when the job of the sales rep is changing and expanding, new measures of how well the rep understands and passes on brand messages may be called for.
Plugging communication leaks
Like a giant version of the childrens game telephone, when messages only travel in one direction, accurate message retention can become problematic. This is further complicated when the message delivery system leaves a lot to be desired.
Sales gives the example of being at a sales conference where the reps were simply told, Heres the message. Deliver it as Ive given it to you. Ive developed the brand, you dont need to do anything but parrot the message. Within minutes, Sales says, the reps had turned off and stopped listening.
We only get one chance to deliver our message, Sales reminds us. Face-to-face time is the most important, most effective way of passing on the brand message, yet the opportunity to speak directly with sales reps may only come at sales conferences held once or twice a year. If you dont grab the chance to do it right, says Sales, its a long time before the chance comes around again.
The reps are the direct link with the target audience; they communicate with customers four, five, six times every single day. If the brand message is not clear, concise and listened to, says Sales, then the message gets lost. Be sure that you use the right language when speaking to reps. Dont simply deliver the message; acknowledge and appreciate the very difficult job reps do, include and involve them in the project of marketing and the brand, and you stand a much greater chance of achieving message retention.
How changes in the industry impact sales
Recent and profound changes in the pharma industry have had dramatic impacts on sales forces. In recent years, companies have undergone sales force rationalization, resulting, often, in deep cuts in numbers of reps. The shifts to key account management and from share of voice to impact of voice have meant that fewer people are handling more sales. Theres been an integration of sales and marketing teams, a blurring of once-separate functions, and an increase in two-way communication. Where once there were directors of sales and directors of marking, many companies now have one director of sales and marketing. Sales forces no longer simply implement marketing strategies; they now often exert influence on how those strategies are developed.
This change, Sales says, doesnt affect only the bottom line. A lot of new roles have been created in the industry. Reps job descriptions have widened. Because of sales force rationalization, there are a lot of available sales people around, looking for jobs. But careful change management dictates that companies choose new hires carefully from among the talent pool and then work hard to train and retain the best.
Once the right people have been hired, they need the right tools. The change thats happening is all-encompassing, says Sales. Once, salespeople were like robotsthey were given the message and they delivered it. The job is much bigger and more complex now, and theres more accountability for performance.
Sales reps these days are more like micro-marketers, according to Sales. They know their customers and tailor their messages accordingly. Because access to customers is increasingly limited and the time they have with customers is shorter and shorter, reps have to prioritize competing interests to accomplish the greatest amount in the little time they have. When companies assess reps according to call rates, they need to be mindful that reps may only get two or three minutes with a customer.
Additionally, the reps understanding of their customerspayers, prescribers and influencers informs their use of materials and the local marketing mix. Says Sale, not only do the salespeople need to be up-skilled to take on more marketing functions, our systems for measuring their success on the job also need revising.
Measuring the measurements
Sales issues this challenge to providers of SFAs (sales force automation): can we accurately reflect and measure sales force performance, given the structural changes taking place in the pharmaceutical industry? Are we still measuring the old stuff like call rates and frequency and coverage, and are those measurements enough any more? Were all very comfortable with the classic, doctor-level targeting, says Sales. We give sales teams lists of targets and tell them to get on with it, then we measure how often they visit the targets on their lists. However, Sales asserts, with the customer base becoming increasingly complex, this is no longer the best way to conduct business.
Classic measures of sales force effectiveness, according to Sales, are coverage of target doctors, productive frequency, call notes, calls per day, products detailed, position on adoption leader, and so on. Such measures generate easily understood numbers, and therefore current SFA systems are perfectly adequate to handle them. However, new sales models are far more about influence, investment, relationships, referral networks and pathways, ROI, internal alignment and time spent with the different types of doctors. SFA systems may not be designed to handle these softer measures, Sales asserts, and so our measurements of our sales force may not be reflecting true performance.
We need to understand what is really going on with our sales teams, says Sales, because of the enormous impacts sales force effectiveness has on business. Communicating with the sales teams is key to the successful delivery of our end message to our customers. Those companies that embrace change and stay ahead could potentially enjoy great competitive advantages. Open lines of communication with the sales force could help direct and inform how companies go about handling the challenge of change.
Author: Shannon Perry, journalist, eyeforpharma
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