A day in the life of… head of Sales Academy at Merck Serono

Rebecca Aris interviews Ifti Ahmed

Merck Serono

pharmaphorum interviews Ifti Ahmed, head of Sales Academy at Merck Serono, on what a typical working day is like for him, what inspires him and where his career will progress from here.

As our ‘a day in the life of’ series continues we speak with head of Sales Academy at Merck Serono, Ifti Ahmed, on what a typical day is like for him.

Ifti has significant experience in both sales and marketing and spends his time understanding the needs of the sales team at Merck Serono. Here he explains what exactly that entails and the challenges he faces in his role.

Interview summary

RA: How did you come to be in this role?

IA: I was already employed by Merck Serono as a marketer responsible for fertility and dermatology for Central Europe. When the position of head of Sales Academy became available, due to promotion of the previous holder, I saw the opportunity to use my 12 years of marketing and 12 years of sales to develop the excellent work that had been done to date. My thinking was to create a more aligned commercialisation thought process that met the needs of not only our customers, but also the sales and marketing teams.

RA: What does a typical day / week at work look like for you?

IA: Firstly I don’t think there is such a thing as a typical day or week. It is always different and thus always new and exciting. On average my work is split into three categories:

1. Questions (from countries and business units) regarding new needs, problems and goals not addressed by current programs and offerings.

2. Questions regarding the implementation of existing programs and offerings.

3. Development of solutions (programs and offerings) for foreseen needs.

I spend about 40% of my time travelling to understand the needs of the sales teams (representatives, managers and trainers). I try to keep connected with the front line by field visits and delivering trainings myself!


“Merck Serono has had a challenging few years and there is a high-energy atmosphere in the company.”


RA: What are the biggest challenges you face on a day-to-day basis?

IA: Merck Serono has had a challenging few years and there is a high-energy atmosphere in the company. I am a believer that EVERYONE is trying to do the best that they can… unfortunately, on occasion, people feel that they are doing this alone! One of my key roles is to offer support and to make the links between different business units and countries to gain synergies and improve performance. This can be a challenge in difficult times!

RA What are the parts of your job that you find the most rewarding?

IA: I feel extremely rewarded when I see our teams making progress as a result of the programs I have built and the links I helped to create.


“The talent, energy and commitment required in pharma sales today is greater than it has ever been and it is truly inspirational.”


RA: What are the most important skills in doing your role well?

IA: Listening, understanding and the ability to put myself in the shoes of the person facing the challenge. Having held most of the sales roles, I am privileged to have gone through the challenges facing my internal customers. This ability to empathise is the single most important skill I have. Of course, it is also important to understand:

1. The different pharma markets (geographical and therapeutic), which can look very different and the underlying challenges can be the same (the basic challenge is almost always communicating value).

2. The sales processes and how they work.

3. The process of adult learning and how to make it work in the sales environment.

4. The tools and processes of delivering training.

RA: What is the likely progression from where you are now?

IA: There are many options and for myself, I will set up a service company offering performance development services in sales and marketing. We will offer the full range of services from diagnostic to delivery in local languages. A key focus will be on measurement to rationalise the services offered, the value they deliver and to meet the elusive “return on investment” that many feel is not possible with training!

RA: What advice would you give a job seeker looking to get into this role?

IA: Develop a deep understanding of what it takes to convince healthcare professionals and master the key thoughts on sales processes and educational design. A good source of training in this area is the ASTD, which offers a range of services materials and qualifications to get you started.

RA: Who inspires you the most?

IA: I am inspired by salespeople! The talent, energy and commitment required in pharma sales today are greater than it has ever been and it is truly inspirational to see our salespeople meeting the challenges and succeeding.

RA: Thank you for your time




About the interviewee:

• Ifti is a British citizen of Pakistani parentage and has lived in Switzerland for the last 12 years.

• Educated in the UK, Ifti has Qualifications in Pharmacology, Toxicology, Marketing and Training.

• Ifti has 24 years experience in pharmaceuticals and devices with 14 years in Sales, 10 years in Marketing with extensive international experience ( &gt,12 years) including emerging markets.

• Ifti has worked for Glaxo, Pfizer, Novartis, UCB, Medtronic, and Merck Serono in a range of sales and marketing positions of increasing responsibility.

• Ifti Ahmed is currently Head of Merck Serono’s Sales Academy based in Switzerland.

• Ifti is responsible for the development, implementation and elaboration of programs to deliver sales force excellence for Merck Serono globally.

Mobile: +41 795 931732



What is the biggest challenge facing pharma salespeople right now?