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Enhancing your salesforce effectiveness Pharmafocus March 2006

Binley's looks at the role of market intelligence in managing effective salesforces.

For most people an effective sales force is one that drives up sales year on year and helps a company to maximise its market potential – easy to say, but not so easy to achieve.

In all the sales training courses I have attended, there always seem to be four key aspects to sales excellence. Who will buy it (finding the right customers)? What will they pay (selling price)? How will we sell it to them (features)?  Why will they buy it (benefits)? In our industry we do not have much control over the price for an individual sale, and most medical representatives receive exhaustive training on the features of their products.

That leaves the important questions of finding the right customers and understanding their needs and motivations.

The days of absolute clinical freedom are over. We are now in an age where the buyers or influencers are spread out across the NHS. They may work for the PCT and have enormous influence over which products are included in the formulary, or they may be very respected GPs whose word is law in their own practice. The emerging GP Commissioning Groups will reveal yet another layer of important decision makers in the complex path to changed prescribing habits. How do we know who these decision makers are? An accurate and comprehensive customer database is an obvious essential part of the toolkit.

Sums of money ranging from large to staggering are invested in CRM systems to carry messages to and from the sales interface. These tools will claim to improve effectiveness and sales team performance, to save you millions and pay back the cost of investment in years. Anecdotally we know though that most people who manage these systems are frustrated at how difficult it is to make these systems deliver on their promise.

I am not suggesting that you can do without them or that the systems are not good. However what seems evident is that benefits from CRM can be held back if tactical plans are not underpinned by a strategy based on a thorough analysis of the customer base.

 With sales-force size remaining under pressure in the UK , an effective sales team will need to concentrate their efforts on the areas where the potential for greatest and quickest growth exists. This potential will be influenced by:

Epidemiology What is the likely size of the local population needing your product, and is that growing or shrinking?

Local policy How is a PCO likely to respond to a recognised health need? What weight is given to national vs local policies?

Local resource availability What financial and staffing resources are available locally?

Accessibility How accessible are local practitioners and managers compared to national trends? Which marketing and sales tools are likely to be most successful?

Selling in the field is difficult, and whilst many people try very hard, only some are truly successful and ultra motivated on their own. Most need help and assistance to understand their customer.  Market intelligence services, like Binley’s Insight, can use aggregations of relevant data to help establish just which of the many organisations in the NHS have a positive outlook for particular products.

I work very closely with a doctor who was a GP in a rural Primary Care Organisation. I remember with interest his stories about his time on the other side of the desk. When faced with visits from medical reps his key observation was that during the "detail" the reps only ever gave him information they wanted to make sure he knew. Not once did they ask him what he wanted or needed to know to help him do his job. Surely these are the benefits to him that he needs to know to make his decision; but if they are missing, or confused, then how will they help him to make his decision in your favour?

It seems to me that if we want medical reps to be effective they need to provide high quality information to the right healthcare professionals. Information which they will find useful, which will benefit their patients and the organisation that they work for, and which will help them make their decisions.

I don't pretend to have all the answers. I still don't know how to persuade a busy GP to give you more than 2 minutes at the expense of one his patients; however, but I do know that by finding the right person to talk to, and having something to say of interest to him when you finally get to see him, is vital. Then maybe the rate of calls becomes obsolete, with the timing, relevance and incentive to act counting for much more.

The Binley’s syndicated database of activity in our industry provides a current national figure for face to face contact rates of 2.2 GP calls per day per rep. This equates to just over 3.9 million calls on GPs each year.

I wonder how many were truly “effective”.

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