The seven steps to selling in pharma

Chris Rose of ProStrakan offers advice on selling in the pharmaceutical industry.

The 80’s and 90’s spawned a host of selling models and most of us in the pharma business have been trained to use one or multiple different selling models. However, how many pharma executives working in sales or marketing are taught to understand buying processes?

The biggest single change in pharma over the past decade has been the change in buying. The change has involved the evolution of new buying influencers and more importantly a significant shift in the power of those influencers. Payors at different levels (national, regional, local, personal) have risen to become the dominant force in a cash strapped world. The influence of patients is also on the increase as a simple “Google” search provides more information on a disease or therapy area than the average GP can hope to hold at their fingertips.

Despite most pharma companies recognising this change little has been done to change the focus from a sales model to a buying model.

One of my old colleagues, an extremely successful SVP in commercial operations, always insisted that any strategy started with the buying process. He came from sales but realised that “pushing” products to customers was no longer the key to success rather facilitating the flow from factory to patient was the key. A thorough understanding of the decisions that were being made, the choices that were taken by all the customers in the chain and how those choices were influenced is critical to ensure customers “buy” your product rather than a competitors.

To be fair many sales models do seek to identify needs and the more complex models do seek to identify influencer networks however few take into account all of the parameters which come into play in a complex buying decision.

Is there a simple “7 step model” for buying? I’m not sure but let me see if I can create one!

1) Map out the process.

This is an obvious first step. You have a product how does it get from the factory door to the end user?

2) At each stage how “complex” is the decision?

Going from factory to warehouse may be a “simple buy” whereas for a physician to prescribe the product to a patient it may be a “complex buy” (the big challenge here is that for each customer the complexity of the “buy” will vary and will change depending on the frequency of the decision, the amount of effort to implement the decision and the “cost” to the buyer of making the decision)

“…little has been done to change the focus from a sales model to a buying model.”

3) Who will influence the decision?

Understanding who will influence the decision and what role they are playing is key. In pharma we have worked the KOL model however how many KOLs truly influence the buying process? Are the payors the true KOLs in your buying process or are the patients (or patient groups) leading the opinions?

4) Understand what motivates the buyer to buy.

Very little is done in pharma to understand motivations to buy. Is the buyer motivated by ego? Or do they want to follow the crowd? Are they a maverick or driven by pure science? Segmentation of customers based on motivation to buy may lead to far quicker and profitable results than the traditional functional segmentation still employed in many pharma companies.

5) Understand what happens after the “buy”.

What support does each of the buyers in the process need to ensure lasting satisfaction with their buying decision? Patient support programs are the current vogue to reflect the increasing influence the patient has on the buying process (and certainly the “post-buying process”!)

“One business transaction is nice but multiple transactions are needed for lasting success.”

6) Are repeat buying decisions the same as the first?

One business transaction is nice but multiple transactions are needed for lasting success. Sales reps will all be familiar with the adoption process but rather than “pushing” the customer up the ladder should we be focusing on “pulling” them up through increasing levels of satisfaction with their buying decision?

7) The process is unlikely to stay the same.

Keep remapping and reanalysing to stay on top of any changes that occur. At all levels from global to an individual prescribing decision the influencers and motivations are likely to change as competition and different pressures come into play. Keep on top of these and you should be able to adapt your tactics to keep ahead of the competition.

Seven steps! Not a simple process, have I missed any out?

Buying is the new selling, as consumers we have become cynical to the constant push of the old selling models and our customers are no different. Understand what makes people buy and you should see your sales increase!



About the author:

With 11 years in global marketing, an active imagination and a desire to continually question and challenge convention Chris Rose has worked in Sales and Marketing roles within the Pharmaceutical Industry leading the launches of primary care and specialty products.

With a real passion for insight led medical marketing please feel free to contact for discussions, debates or comments on anything pharma marketing related!

What other steps are there to selling?