The days of the pharmaceutical detail are over. Gone are the days of the hand shake, dropping off a few samples and pens, delivering a quick product message while a doctor signs for samples, and considering that a job well done. Regulatory and healthcare reform changes such as PhRMA Code and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, have put those antiquated sales tactics out to pasture, and have indirectly changed the go-to business strategies of the life sciences sales professional forever.
Consequently, new strategies in the way life sciences companies access and sell to these customers have also had to evolve. Their salespeople have become more technologically advanced in order to attract the attention of the millennial healthcare professionals, and have transitioned from the typical feature/benefit discussion toward a “Challenger Sales” mentality that uses reasoning and consequential logic to determine patient needs. The idea is to create a more customer-centric approach, positioning products to a patient’s needs versus the physician’s, and preying upon their intellect, that by prescribing the product they will avoid negative consequences.
But, much like the days of the standard detail — physicians have caught on, and have figured out how to play the game, so the tactic tends to fall short. Primarily, because the game for them has changed, whether or not they want to write the product is irrelevant. Sadly, they are caught in a tug of war between the healthcare restraints that tell them they are damned if they do prescribe a particular product, and the pharmaceutical companies that tell them they are damned if they don’t.
It isn’t as simple as what plan covers your product on formulary anymore. Here are just some of the changes that affect their day-to-day operations:
Targeting — In fact, targeting strategies to establish reps’ call panels are often antiquated and weak. Such analytics are linear in nature, and don’t allow for the depth now required to do proper customer analysis. To get to the actual decision-makers in the prescribing process, you have go up the food chain quite considerably, which cannot be measured by traditional data sources.
Access — Several stipulations have been applied over the years, the most recent of which – the Sunshine Act – requires doctors and healthcare facilities to disclose the financial dealings with drug and medical device companies to ensure there are no conflicts of interest. This report, which is published annually, has healthcare professionals imposing moratoria on all lunches and dinner programs, and closing reps’ access to offices for fear they will be blacklisted.
New Hire Training — Initial home study training historically focused on disease state and product background (clinical studies, competition, etc.), which was helpful when you had twenty minutes to shoot the breeze with a physician over a catered lunch. However, with that type of access at a premium (see above), and it being very rare to get twenty minutes, let alone see the whites of physicians’ eyes – Harvard Medical School could train these salespeople and it wouldn’t make a particle of difference. Companies still build and deploy such training, and it has a very necessary place, but mingled in with the managed care and marketing messages, needs to be a new facet of learning: B2B skills. And no one is training it!
The same negotiation skills taught to managers and managed care specialists are now extremely applicable to even the primary care sales professionals. They need to have strong tactical skills, and marketing has to produce tools to support the needs. Forget the rebate coupons and glossy sales aids! Bring in the unbranded, business-oriented solutions that cater to a physician’s bottom lines — their reputation and their pockets. Tweet This: Without the necessary B2B skills, pharma reps will lack the strategic thinking necessary to influence the true decision-makers.
So why don’t companies train these critical skills? The reality is, training vendors usually can and do produce highly interactive training modules around business acumen: negotiation, business and strategic planning, account selling, and the like. Many companies know they need it, but with marketing and sales leadership so intent on product and competitive learning, little money is funneled into the essential foundational learning. Ironically, the very reason why companies seem reluctant to invest in this training (taking too much time out of the field and away from customers), is precisely the reason they sorely need it to begin with.
In order to get in front of the right people, salespeople need to have credible understanding of how healthcare organizations are structured, who the players are, who the decision-makers are, what the process is, and often their interactions need to be with people who themselves are more business-oriented in scope, rather than the physicians on the front lines. They have to be able to strategize, have solid business plans, and have a keen ability to navigate a strong negotiation that focuses less on disease state and efficacy, and more on the financial impact a product may provide. Of course, the clinical aspects of a product are important too, but in the end, success really depends on a salesperson’s ability to articulate the business end of a brand.
What do you think? Are you including B2B skills in your training? Does foundational learning end up taking precedence over the business skills when the time factor sets in?
Andrea H. Pagnozzi is a program design manager at CLD, www.cldinc.com, with 18 years of leadership experience in sales, marketing and training in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device industries. Read more on the CLD blog.