Best practices in achieving sales force effectiveness

Rebecca Aris interviews Mohamed Khater

Bayer HealthCare

Pharma and biotech companies are adjusting their sales force model in line with changing customer behaviour and a highly competitive environment. What we are seeing emerging are successfully redefined relationships between Pharma, physicians, patients and payers.

We interviewed Mohamed Khater on his first hand experience of the benefits of streamlining a sales force to achieve a customer centric approach from his experience at Bayer Healthcare. He also shares with us how new digital alternatives are defining the new sales force in addition to how to measure sales force performance.

To listen to the full interview, please click on the play button below, with a shortened transcript of some edited highlights shown in print below.

Interview summary

RA: Dr Khater, thank you for taking part in this interview. Could you please start by explaining your background and your current role?

MH: I’m a doctor by training. After five years working as a physician in UK and other countries, I joined the pharmaceutical industry, where I have remained for 17 years. During this time I have worked at many international companies at different managerial positions. My current position, which I have been in for one year, is as head of marketing sales operation within the EMEA region EMEA in Bayer HealthCare. Prior to that I spent nearly four years working in the headquarters in Berlin at Bayer HealthCare as Commercial Excellence Manager, covering many of the mature markets.

RA: What changes have you noticed in sales force effectiveness during your career?

MH: There have been dramatic changes, which I could divide that into three stages. In the first stage we were merely concerned about the sales force sizing so we were concentrating on improving the authority methodology, how to try to optimise our sales force size, how to better train and put increase incentives.

“…becoming very customer centric is a key objective for our company.”

But the second stage came when we had already combined sales force effectiveness with marketing excellence, or customer excellence, that includes P &amp, I optimisations and new Segmentation &amp, Targeting methods in which we included customer behaviour and attitudes in KOL segmentation methodology.

By this stage KOL management has been initiated, as has implementing a customer relationship management system.

The third stage, which we started almost one and a half years ago, in which we can now combine both sales excellence and marketing excellence to form what we call the ‘new innovative commercial business model.’

The best example of that is key account management in which you are now targeting an account, instead of targeting only customers or just physicians. In these cases you have better defined accounts.

This key account management is a merger of the previous two stages.

RA: What are the benefits of streamlining the sales force to achieve a customer centric approach?

MH: We are now obliged to be very close to our customers, not only because of the new regulations, but also because of the limited access we have now to physicians. We are also facing very tough competition from generics, and so becoming very customer centric is a key objective for our company.

Streamlining the sales force matches the normal attitude of sales force effectiveness. Instead of working with thousands of sales forces, you are now trying to better optimise the structures, and that should be adapted to customer behaviours and attitudes and needs.

By being very close to your customers using, certain methodology processes and tools, you will better achieve your objectives and maximise profitability.

”…my advice is to ask your field force first, don’t depend on your gut feeling or the managerial attitude.”

RA: What have been your key learnings from implementing a customer centric sales force?

MH: At first everybody is cautious in adopting a customer centric approach. They’re reluctant to move away from the normal methodology, the old approach. They find it hard to accept that you could gain more than you could gain from that initial sales model.

But when you start to implement it you discover the huge opportunities available by being very close to your customers and additionally you gain a huge amount of support from your customers.

RA: How do you go about identifying sales tactics and tools that will result in greater cost effectiveness?

MH: I start with a deep analysis of a situation. In this case my advice is to ask your field force first, don’t depend on your gut feeling or the managerial attitude. Your sales force are already in very close contact with your key customers. Try to identify what needs to be done to improve the tradition model. By doing that you begin to incorporate managers and others.

The second thing is try to benchmark what you are doing by what is happening in the industry. Take the advice of your key customers and key opinion leaders in what you are going to do in advance. You should ask them how they think you can modify your approach to better achieve your results.

”I believe we should incorporate qualitative measures to measure the efficiency of our new commercial models…”

Even for identifying sales tactics, we are eager to ask our customers for a customer centric approach.

RA: What impact do you see e-communication having on how the sales force operates?

MH: A dramatic change actually. But the most important part is with whom are you going to use e-communications. At Bayer we started by first revising our segmentation priority methodology to identify which segment you are going to target or to tackle with e-communications. Instead of using e-communication with everybody, we reserve e-communication to a certain segment of customers who prefer this type of communication.

E-communications will, in the very near future, replace the traditional sales force, maybe by moving closer to the specialist field force in which you have one product specialist who covers a large area, and he may use many e-communications to deal with certain segments or customers.

RA: What are your top tips for measuring the efficiency of a new commercial model once implemented?

MH: I believe we should incorporate qualitative measures to measure the efficiency of our new commercial models, like customer acceptance, customer satisfaction, perhaps because I speak from realistic experiences.

But for the business side use top and bottom line improvement as the main KPIs, or as a measuring point to measure the efficiency for the commercial model.

RA: How do you see the sales force model evolving over the next few years?

MH: We are continuously moving towards a specialised sales force – key account management. Key account managers will be the key target, the key constituent of any company. I believe that we are going to completely move away from the traditional sales force towards key account managers, specialised force, even mixing product portfolios to have two separate ones, mature products versus newly launched products.

RA: Dr Khater, thank you for your time and for your insights today.

MH: You’re welcome, thank you.

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About the interviewee:

Mohamed Khater is Head of Marketing &amp, Sales operations in the EMEA region at Bayer HealthCare.

He is an accomplished strategist and Marketing specialist with 17+ years of experience in generating double-digit revenue growth in periods of decline, driving market leadership among very high profile global competitors, and developing industry-leading teams in fast paced international environments. He has a combination of medical expertise with exceptional business background to tailor innovative Sales &amp, Marketing excellence solutions to the unique needs of customers across wide range of specialties. Mohamed is a global player with broad experience in both mature and emerging markets. He offers business acumen with innate leadership abilities translating concepts into actions to maximize the business profitability, including maintaining full profit and loss accountability. He speaks four languages.

How do you see the sales force evolving?