Managing Director & Senior Partner
The obituary of the traditional pharma sales rep has been written many times during the past decade. Why does the role survive? In our experience, the most effective biopharma companies have found a way to continually reinvent the role in response to changing market dynamics. For these forward-looking companies, the days of the one-size-fits-all sales rep are long gone. The ongoing evolution of providers, payers, and the drugs themselves has given rise to a new and more complex set of customer needs and sales challenges.
To meet those needs and challenges effectively, sales reps must develop a far broader set of skills—and learn to wear many different hats. On the basis of our work with dozens of sales forces in numerous therapeutic areas, we’ve identified six distinct roles: traditionalist, “sherpa,” economist, data maven, strategist, and conductor. Some of these are outward-facing roles through which sales reps help a wide variety of customers make better decisions. Others help the sales reps themselves do a better job of managing their territories. Let’s look at each role more closely:
Over the course of a product’s life cycle, each of these six roles can come into play, but not every disease, therapeutic area, or location needs all six at once. The right mix depends on the territory, strategic objectives, competitive landscape, and specific needs of different customers. For instance, one pharma company launched a number of new products in a short period of time while trying to maintain the lagging share of its flagship product. Analysis revealed that the company’s possible customers had a variety of needs. For the flagship product, customers needed an economist to explain the long-term clinical and economic benefits of the treatment. For the new products, customers needed a sherpa who could overcome the barriers to prescribing and product adoption.
These insights had far-reaching implications for sales training and development. By customizing training to specific customer needs, the company was able to stabilize share losses in the flagship product and double the sales of two new products over the course of one year.
Given the changes in the industry landscape and the need for sales reps to wear many hats, we recommend that biopharma companies rethink their overall approach to training. Since upskilling an entire field team in all six areas is infeasible, companies must prioritize the roles and upgrade the capabilities of the frontline sales managers to better coach their teams. Pharma companies and commercial organizations that see the need for new approaches and mindsets will be able to navigate the changing terrain more successfully—and gain a competitive edge.
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