Sales effectiveness in the pharmaceutical industry – meeting the challenges of an evolving industry

Training expert Shaun Thomson, CEO of Sandler Training in the UK, a leading sales, management and leadership training organisation, offers his top tips on how to make the most of your sales programme in time for 2014.

This year the pharmaceutical industry in the UK (and notably its sales arm) has dominated headlines, with recent scrutiny of sales practices both here and abroad damaging the reputation of the industry. This is compounded by the recent bad press across the industry, the continued healthcare budget cuts and the changing pharma sales landscape. As such, it is becoming increasingly hard to increase sales, even in a global industry worth $1‑1.5 trillion.

The pharma industry landscape has seen a dramatic shift over the last ten years, resulting in pharmaceutical companies grappling with changes in business practices and regulations, as well as the emergence of generic drugs and powerful lobbies for reductions in healthcare costs. This has forced many companies to scale back and re-align their sales forces in order to maintain and improve the effectiveness of the sales and marketing activities.

“…pharma companies that are faced with the challenge of doing more with less need to look beyond their traditional sales force.”

Historically, pharma companies employed large, non-specialist sales forces who called on GPs and hospitals to sell their wares. However, as companies continue to reduce their direct sales forces, this approach is no longer sustainable due to the tougher budgetary and decision-making environment, increased difficulty in gaining access to doctors or consultants and the changing product / data requirements needed to gain access in the first place.

Therefore, pharma companies that are faced with the challenge of doing more with less need to look beyond their traditional sales force. In order to achieve insights and techniques that can drive and improve sales force productivity, they need to ensure they adapt to the ever evolving marketplace. Strategic, intelligently crafted plans and sales strategies need to be put in place to ensure a welcomed boost to the balance sheet.

Here are some top tips on how to make the most of your sales programme in time for 2014:

Get organised – Setting yourself up for success is imperative in the sales process. Begin by defining who you want to target and what you want to say to them. Take time to look at the stages you need to go through in your sales process and try to quantify the activities you need to be doing to put yourself in front of prospective clients.

Business planning – this is critical to ensure your sales team and their skills are effective. Typically, sales representatives in the healthcare industry manage their respective territories as if they were running their own business. Therefore, it is essential that your sales force truly understand which customers drive their business, their buying style and potential customers to target.

“Setting yourself up for success is imperative in the sales process.”

Listen carefully – It seems simple, but the ability to listen carefully will set you apart from every other salesperson in the world. If you can’t act like a consultant, it is unlikely you’ll make the sale; the amount of sales you make is proportional to the amount of information you gather, not the information you give. Ultimately, acknowledge the physician’s and the patient’s need for information and improve your knowledge of possible treatments and drugs.

Be bespoke – The era of “quote and hope” is over, so it’s imperative to develop a tailored system which adds value to sales prospects. To do this, demonstrate an understanding of your customer’s problem and then develop a value-added solution. It’s important to remember that when presented with a choice, most people don’t want the cheapest option; they want the best option – one that adds value and provides an unparalleled solution. As healthcare insurers continue to become more influential, pharma representatives will increasingly require effective negotiation techniques to work with them. Educating prospects about the benefits of working with you and not just giving them product knowledge will foster long term relationships and reinforce the message that working with you means they not only get the benefit from your products, but they also get your expertise and added value. This makes negotiating easier, as you can lead your conversations with value and not cost.

Keep the end user in mind – demonstrating how your product or service will ultimately improve the patient’s health will also help the physician visualise which type of patient will benefit from your product. At the end of the day the most important task for any physician is to help the patient or to reduce pain and suffering, so providing adequate resources, knowledge and information to show how your product helps the patient is vital.

Consolidate your information – often in large organisations much of the necessary information and sales history is located in different departments, operating in silos which means integration and consolidation of your data remains elusive. By combining all your data from a number of resources including accounts, customer service, and business intelligence will allow you to analyse historic information and predict or verify market strategy, tactics, approach and tools.

“The sales process doesn’t have to be a battle…”

Track your progress – How are you supposed to learn if you don’t track your progress and amend your processes? It’s important to have a basic structure in place so you can monitor your progress in contacting key prospective customers and how the sales pitch went. Moving forward, you can begin to craft a pitch that really resonates with customers.

Go easy on yourself – The sales process doesn’t have to be a battle. While you need a strong work ethic and upbeat attitude, try to relax and enjoy it – it will come through in your presence. The transaction is all about you working together to satisfy a need – believe that you and your product are helping the client, not that they are doing you a favour by choosing you.

While giving your sales structure a jolt may seem like a daunting task, it’s important to remember that sales is a skill and thus can be taught and perfected. Pharma sales is a changing environment and no-one quite knows what an effective selling model will look like going forward. Ensuring you have the right profile of sales team who are able to do peer to peer selling to consultants, negotiate with savvy payers and build more consultative relationships with physicians can really pay off. The time for the pharma industry to grab the bull by the horns is now – change before it’s too late, because although change can be uncomfortable, these changes come with many opportunities for those willing to take them.



About the author:

Shaun Thomson is the Founder and CEO of Sandler Training in the UK, a leading sales, management and leadership training organisation. The company turns over £3million per annum, via its 26 franchised offices across the country.

Sandler Training in the UK is part of a global organisation with over 40 years’ experience and 250 centres of excellence across the world.

Shaun first experienced Sandler Training as a client. He was so impressed with the system and his company’s upturn in sales, that he founded the UK franchise in 2003.

He now splits his time between working with and growing the franchise network, as well as helping entrepreneurial organisations grow their businesses via delivering training at his own Oxford centre. His is also a frequent guest lecturer on university MBA courses, as well as speaking at many international and national sales conferences.

Shaun’s vision is to have 52 franchises right across the UK, with 10% market share of the sales training market by 2020.

How can pharma improve sales in 2014?