Mahesh a diligent sales representative working with one of the renowned Indian pharmaceutical company is working hard to meet his sales quota by adhering to his assigned call plan. He makes about 9-12 calls per day but with increased doctor access restrictions, many of these calls follow the script below.
Mahesh: Hello Sir! How are you?
Doctor: Hi Mahesh, I am very busy right now. Let’s plan to catch up some other time. BTW, is there anything ‘new’ that you would like to share with me in a few seconds?
Mahesh: Nothing new sir. Just wanted to share drug details with you.
Doctor: Ok. I am sure I’ll be able to get that information from the website of your organization. Thank you!
Mahesh: Thank you sir! Have a wonderful day!!
To a lot of us, who are aware of the pharma sales cycle, where every single minute with a doctor is a huge opportunity, this may look like an opportunity lost and the blame goes to Mahesh. Natural question that arise is “Oh! Why did he give it up, why couldn’t he engage the doctor when doctor asked if he has something new? After all he is a sales guy and should know the tactics to sell”. Is he proactively preparing for the call by learning from his past interaction with the doctor and tailoring his pitch to accommodate customer’s specific needs and preferences? Does he plan for the list of questions that should be asked to help him better understand the customer profile and build emotional connect with him?
This is not just one off case; a whooping majority of sales reps in India are not able to capitalize on the opportunities and convert it into relationships resulting in more prescriptions and this is a worrisome trend.
On the oust it seems that Mahesh could have done something different and is failing in taking advantage of favorable situation. From his point of view, at the end of the day he has option of telling his front-line manager that doctor didn’t have time and it still counts for a call. However, there are various factors working in synergy that leads to these kinds of missed opportunities (large part of the blame goes to the organization itself as well) and its worrisome because of the sheer scale at which this is happening.
Some of the major factors that are leading to lack of emotional connects and missed opportunities:
1. The Digital age: with almost all the information going digital, doctors are now equipped to pull the information that they need on the internet and with smart devices this becomes even easier. This leads to doctors saying NO to meeting sales reps and eventually with sales reps not having any new information to share on an ongoing basis results in this “NO” becoming a regular feature with negligible emotional connect with the doctor. At times, even when they agree to meet, doctors know that they can pull the general information on their smart devices.
2. The Performance push: every sales rep has a target to meet and they rely more on traditional call approach in absence of support ecosystem from the organization side. Many a times sales incentives for medical representatives are qualified based on adherence to their aggressive call plans so they take an easy route wherever they can and log their call in with a status as “doctor was busy”. Qualification based on adherence to call plan essentially shifts the focus from quality of call to the count.
3. The Skill Gap: while there is, a significant effort made by lot of organizations to train their field force the impact has not been significant. There are three primary reason to the same i.e. the content, the approach and the mindset.
4. Ineffective frontline manager: the front-line managers in Indian context are those medical representatives who were star performers and with tenure and performance based on goal attainment they get promoted to be the first line managers. Yes, the experience at the ground level counts. However, the role of frontline manager demands a lot more than just being a good medical representative. Based on the activities the frontline manger’s role demands them to deliver effective leadership to create a motivated field force under them, effective task management for playing a broader role of that of a manager, coaching and mentoring their reporting representatives and client engagement role (primarily for key opinion influencers) to ensure execution of the business strategy on ground. Unfortunately, these require developing the skillset, mindset and toolset and the current programs to develop frontline managers have not proven effective.
5. Lack of on the job, Coaching skills: Most of the FLMs assume that ‘telling’ is ‘coaching’. Hence, often they would give the feedback that they told the Sales person about something. Mostly, it sounds like a fault-finding exercise. We can't entirely blame the FLMs as they are neither trained when promoted, nor coached by their reporting managers. Also, undue pressure of PUSH approach to performance, they have less inclination towards ‘on the job’ coaching. So, the joint field work tends to become a ritual, monotonous and with no significant value addition towards developing the sales person.
The problem seems to be huge but there is a hope for a solution. Instead of addressing the individual problem one by one there is needs of a consolidated effort where effective use of learning, data, psychological principles of memory enabled by the technology can be used in conjunction to up the game of the salesforce.
First step towards building a credible ecosystem is to provide platform for healthy information exchange and increased collaboration between headquarters and feet-on-street field representatives. Many a times data collection and analytics are functions of the headquarters where they either use in-house secondary data sources or third party data sources to perform analysis, share market insights and create an action plan for the field representatives without necessarily any direct involvement from the salesforce. Once the information is received by the field, they distrust the data due to sometimes perceived / sometimes real reasons resulting in hesitation to take any relevant actions. In such scenarios, the best practice is to develop and deploy a platform to gather field intelligence and to acknowledge the wisdom of the feet on the street. This not only provides credibility to the whole exercise but also helps in collecting nuggets of information based on specific interactions or customer preferences (marketing channel preferences, sample needs, preferred level and type of information etc.) which can support design and development of realistic actionable plans resulting in:
Currently, Indian pharmaceutical companies hope to get through this need with the use of CRM systems but field representatives see that more as administrative burden rather than something which is empowering and engaging.
There are several crucial elements which should be part of comprehensive sales coaching model.
In addition to building a credible platform, it’s also important to make their sales performance information available timely using reports and dashboards. This helps field representatives have visibility into their productivity metrics (based on their past performance) and allows for course correction if required. Access to performance what-if calculators help them view different scenarios and motivate them to develop action plan for short-term future. Coaching must be a part of the KRAs in helping managers to improve the performance. With Indian pharma on the aggressive path to become one of the largest markets of size $55Billion by 2020, the key players of its value chain, the sales reps and front line managers need to evolve to be more relevant in their role. It seems possible only with conglomeration of Technology to bring about accountability and context based learning and the providers are ready as well. The million-dollar question is, are the decision makers listening?