Event echoes – SFE Europe 2011

Paul Tunnah


Every now and then at pharmaphorum we like to get out of the office, away from the realm of social media on our screens and into the world of proper face-to-face socialising at the occasional conference. We know how hard it can be to find time to attend these events, so when we do get chance to go along we like to report back on what we’ve learnt!

At the end of March, I managed to get along to eyeforpharma’s SFE Europe 2011 conference in Düsseldorf, Germany to find out how the world of sales force effectiveness (SFE) is shaping up in the face of a changing customer landscape, increasing cost containment for medicines and the storm that is social media. Below are my top five takeaways from the two days I attended, but I also managed to grab the cameraman and do some ‘roving reporter’ style interviews with a few folks.

You can watch this video below by clicking on the play button – you might even recognise one or two of the faces from your business life or the world of pharma social media!

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1. Evidence, evidence, evidence

It’s clear that healthcare cost containment has now become a global issue, but Europe’s been a key front-runner when it comes to restricting the price that can be charged for medicines. Traditional SFE measures have historically focussed on identifying the right target physicians, seeing them the right number of times and using the right channels. Whilst these still have a part to play, the message you are now taking to the market is clearly the most critical ingredient and if you can’t demonstrate the value of your medicine then the rest of it becomes irrelevant.


“…if you can’t demonstrate the value of your medicine then the rest of it becomes irrelevant.”

Ken Jones (recently appointed as President and Chief Executive for Astellas Pharma Europe) made this point clear in his presentation, stating that producing the right clinical evidence has to be at the heart of pharma company culture, from early development right through to launch and beyond. As such, expect to see good SFE starting in earnest many years before product launch in the future.

2. Collaboration is key

We’ve been hearing about collaboration and joint working for some time now, but it’s too often been a mish-mash of “you scratch our back and we’ll scratch yours”. Now, the game has moved on and collaborative initiatives have to become more than simple PR exercises. As healthcare systems come under increase budgetary pressure, pharma has a very real role to play in bringing its commercial knowledge to bear on improving the processes. But the common goal of any joint working initiative now must be on improving the efficiency of healthcare delivery to the patient.

However, Leandro Herrero (CEO of The Chalfont Project) made a very valid point during his presentation about how pharma approaches this. It’s not so much about new structures or new roles (more sales reps transmuting into KAMs anyone?) but more about a fundamental change of behaviour across entire pharma companies. You’re not selling to physicians anymore, you have to be a partner that really helps them deliver healthcare.

3. Learn from your successes and failures

It was great to hear from Mark Bradley, winner of the eyeforpharma “Pharma Idol” competition at the conference. Unlike most speakers who are well away from the front line, Mark is an experienced territory manager who is facing the challenges of promoting pharma brands out on the market day in, day out. His message was clear – having a great strategy is just one piece of the puzzle, but getting a varied sales force to deliver that is the bigger picture.


“Share best practice from the high performers and learn from your failures where performance has not been so stellar.”

The advice – to constantly assess what is happening on the ground and not just through simple metrics (or KPIs as we love to call them). Take the time to look at where your brands are performing well and where they are performing badly and investigate what’s going on. Share best practice from the high performers and learn from your failures where performance has not been so stellar. As the saying goes “once is a mistake, twice is a habit” so encourage internal learning to avoid ingraining bad habits.

4. Social CRM is here

Well, we couldn’t really get through a conference these days without at least one mention of social media, could we? However, putting aside all the buzz at the moment about whether pharma should or should not use social media to engage with patients and prescribers, another very valid role is emerging for this area – customer relationship management (CRM).

Most of use social media on a daily basis because it’s become so familiar and simple. The biggest challenge identified (and discussed by the panel at the conference) about CRM is getting your customer facing people to actually use it and keep it up-to-date, mainly because it’s seen as dull admin and not intuitive. So why can’t social media play a part in CRM, argued Michael Murray (Roche) in his presentation. Internal Twitter networks allowing your sales people to talk to each other in real time? The technology is there, so watch this space.

5. Put patients at the heart of everything

There’s a common thread to the above highlights, one which was very succinctly pointed out by Rob Halkes (Van Spaendonck) when we spoke. Pharma has to put patients at the heart of everything it does. Of course, the industry will say the patient focus has always been there, but somewhere along the way SFE got distracted by the healthcare providers as gatekeepers and the focus turned more to getting close to the doctor and keeping the competition out.


“Pharma has to put patients at the heart of everything it does.”

But now the pressure is on these gatekeepers to deliver the best solutions for the patient – the right treatment to best manage their disease, resulting in reduced hospitalisation, increased quality of life, improved survival and a consequent decreased burden on the healthcare system. Don’t expect doctors to be wowed by free pens, pleasantly turned out reps or fancy detail aids – if your sales team can’t communicate the immediate and long-term product benefits to the patient and healthcare system then you’re out the door.

So perhaps the term SFE is on its way out too, maybe next year we’ll be talking about OCE – outcomes communication effectiveness.

About the author / interviewees:

Paul Tunnah is Founder and Managing Director of www.pharmaphorum.com, the dynamic online information and discussion portal for the pharmaceutical industry featuring news, articles, events / company listings and online discussion. For queries he can be reached through the site contact form or on Twitter @pharmaphorum.

The interviewees were (in order):

• Charlotte Sibley, formerly SVP at Shire Pharmaceuticals

• Leandro Herrero, CEO at the Chalfont Project

• Michael Murray, Manager, Strategic Initiatives at F. Hoffman-La Roche AG

• Rob Halkes, Managing Consultant at Van Spaendonck

• Thibaut de Lataillade, VP Global Marketing at Cegedim Relationship Management (see www.cegedim.com/ipad for more details)

• Mark Bradley, Experienced Territory Manager

• Allan Mackintosh, PMAP Performance Coach at Grünenthal

For the professional finish of the final video we offer our thanks to Stanton media.

Has the concept of SFE outlived its usefulness for pharma?