How to find hidden opportunities in your current sales accounts

Dr. Andree K Bates


Effective salespeople can help your company stay strong. However, they must be given the right strategies, targets, tools and processes in order to do so.

What are your top sales force challenges — setting a sales strategy, increasing productivity or identifying the traits of top performers? How do you know your sales strategy is the best? How can you ensure the targets have the most chance of reaping rewards? How can you know how to increase sales force productivity?

Should you invest in increasing or changing your target list? Or is it more productive to seek out hidden opportunities in your current list? Is the strategy right? Are the right incentives in place to motivate your team?

Critical success factors with your sales strategy

One of the mistakes we see marketing managers make when planning their strategy is doing it solely around the unique differentiator for their brand. Of course you need to find a unique differentiator and use that in your marketing campaign, but it should not simply be the easiest differentiator –it should be related to something that will drive prescribing. So, your product lasts a lot longer than the competitors…great! Is that driving prescribing? Maybe, maybe not. How can you tell?

“One of the mistakes we see Marketing Managers make when planning their strategy is doing it solely around the unique differentiator for their brand.”

We see marketing messages (e.g. increased duration, no weight gain, etc) that are easy but simply not driving prescribing. The product is much differentiated on them but the market share and sales are not growing. What is going wrong?

Well, for a start, the marketer took the easy way out and looked at the obvious. This may be right but you need to be sure. Secondly, the marketer may have looked at research wherein the doctor stated their key concerns but, again, how do you know that they are right in what they are saying – despite, I am sure, not intending to mislead. Human beings like to be rational. Nevertheless, complex mixes of rational and emotional factors go into any decision, including drug choice.

Also, no physician would like to admit (often even to themselves) that emotion plays a role in their drug choice decisions, so they justify their actions with rational arguments. For example, I can bet that if asked, very few physicians would admit that advertising plays any role at all in their decision-making for a drug choice, however, when you conduct analytics, you can see that it does.

The sales team needs to be focused on the messages that will drive prescribing in their target physicians the most. Differentiation is great but if the differentiator is not the thing that is driving prescribing, then why only focus on that? Find another way to differentiate your product on what actually drives prescribing.

We have analytics on numerous brands that show the team is focused on a message that is 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. However, is it driving prescribing? I could show you data in which we segmented non-prescribers and high prescribers of a product and the non-prescribers as well as the high prescribers equally got that message strongly…but it was not moving the non-prescribers to become prescribers at all.

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.

Let’s take a non-pharma example to illustrate this concept – washing powder. Recently I saw a very expensive TV ad campaign for a washing powder that focused on the lovely smell. Great – nice differentiator. But…does it clean? We need to know it does the fundamentals first, and then we can go into the nice differentiators that are outside that scope.

“We see marketing messages (e.g. increased duration, no weight gain, etc) that are easy but simply not driving prescribing.”

So, for a drug this is likely to be around efficacy (which efficacy message is the issue), safety, side effects or cost/access. Some marketers argue that the fact the drug is approved and on the market means that efficacy, safety and side effects are covered. That is not the case as everyone knows some drugs are more effective or safer than others. Physicians know that and that is something they will consider.

Don’t assume…. you know the phrase. In one client’s case, after a spirited discussion, we managed to refocus the messages back to the basics. Lo’ and behold, the market share doubled magically from around 4% to 10%. Don’t underestimate the magic of focusing on the key driver messages for Sales Force effectiveness.

Identifying the right target physicians

People (and, after all, doctors are people) respond differently to different kinds of sales and marketing based on a host of psychographic and demographic issues, and yet it seems that one of the main ways that doctors are targeted by pharma is by their prescribing volume alone.

This leads to the unfortunate situation in which the same doctors are targeted by all brands in their therapy area leading to an overload of calls on these doctors and staggering reductions in effectiveness of sales calls ( And this is what is happening!

Clearly, this type of targeting and segmentation does not take into account key differences in physicians that can often make a large difference on your results. To improve targeting, rather than target the same doctors as your competitors – so everyone is targeting the same physicians who, in turn, are not wanting to see sales reps – consider being smarter about this. Apply analytics to your physicians to divide them into sub-groups of ones that you can actually change the perceptions of rather than blindly wasting money on every high decile prescriber.

What selling model is best for you?

I have 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 salespeople sell a wide range of highly specialised 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? We can find out!

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?

“We need to know it does the fundamentals first, and then we can go into the nice differentiators that are outside that scope.”

The payoff: new growth opportunities

By knowing the right sales strategy and messages, the right people to target and the right sales model, it is entirely possible that your product sales could double within 6 months, depending on the base.


With the ever-increasing pressure to ensure maximum return on investment, sales force effectiveness is becoming a high priority area.

Sales force represents the largest spend in sales and marketing and is only second to R&amp,D within a company, and yet, similar to R&amp,D, study after study shows that the returns gained from this spend are not particularly strong.

Research by IBM found a 22% drop in pharmaceutical sales force return since 1996! IMS Health reported a similar figure, i.e. that there was a 23% decrease in productivity per detail in 2005 compared with 2004 (measured as dollar growth/detail for all products recording over 10,000 details in the U.S. each year), even excluding the impact of the Vioxx and Bextra withdrawals.

The pharmaceutical industry, as a whole, is well aware that although 70-80% of promotional investment is spent directly on Sales Force, the environmental changes mean that this investment is not paying back as much as it used to, leading to Sales Force cuts. 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. They then need a way to translate these understandings to strategies that flow seamlessly into sales strategies and sales tactics.

By running appropriate sales force analytics regularly (every six months), sales directors can better monitor performance as well as target group influencers more effectively and align sales metrics in accordance with what is having the most impact to achieve brand objectives. This approach is also used to examine regional differences in sales force quality and impact which can then be utilized for greater top and bottom line return.

About the author:

Eularis’ 94.8 Sales Force Analytics provides a complete overview of how the sales team is performing as well as the reasons underlying this and what needs to be changed. It diagnoses, tests and validates what is required to achieve sales and marketing excellence by providing an accurate assessment of the dynamics involved.

For more information on this topic, please contact the author, Dr Andree Bates, at Eularis.

Do your marketing messages drive increased prescribing?