From our last post it should be apparent that successful pharmaceutical companies will move to a considerably more complex product sale than a simple discussion about indications for use and potential side effects or adverse reactions. The technical depth of the science, the volume of data, and breadth of expertise required (basic sciences, therapeutics, diagnostics, pharmacoeconomics, and new quality metrics and outcomes) will require a level of scientific and technical expertise beyond that required or expected for most traditional sales presentations. Success for pharmaceutical representatives will also require a much broader understanding of market dynamics (government, insurance, payers, and managed markets) and enhanced territory management skills beyond physician call scheduling.
I’m sure some readers are saying they already do these things and this is not new. I am going to make a point here that might irritate some readers but it needs to be made. There is a difference between being a sales representative and being a professional representative. I believe sales representatives have little opportunity in the future of the pharmaceutical industry while professional representatives will be in high demand.
Being a true professional is more than just getting paid to do something. So what’s the difference between being a professional and not being a professional? One way to distinguish a professional from others is that they works so hard at being good at something that they can even make difficult things in their profession look easy to do.
I know you have seen it. There are those who always have perfect scores on package insert tests and always win the product presentation contests. They even know stuff you don’t need to know. They are also the ones who know every office staff person in their territory and have more access in their territories than most of their competitors. They are always in their territories until late, sometimes even after most sales representatives would consider beyond a reasonable time to call on an office.
Professional representatives are frequently the ones who volunteer to help or mentor new representatives. Probably most interesting is they are also the ones that seem to complain the least and accept regulatory or market challenges as something they just have to deal with. And, while they may be critical of marketing materials, they offer constructive feedback and find ways to work with what they have. They also welcome skillful manager coaching and performance reviews as ways to get critical feedback on how to get better rather than looking at them as their manager checking up on them and a scorecard for incentive compensation.
For every job there are different levels of performance and expertise. If you are a sales representative you do what needs to get done, make the calls you can, learn enough about your products to deliver the marketing message and answer the important, high probability questions, and in the end, hopefully you’ll deliver the sales expected. You give the company a full day of “work stuff” and maybe even do some “work stuff” at home to make you feel better about being committed to your job. Again, there are varying degrees of performance and expertise in being a sales representative.
If, on the other hand, you are a professional representative, you commit to a much higher level of job performance and expertise than merely going through the motions and doing “work stuff.” You research more, study harder, practice often, and try to reach a level of job performance and expertise beyond the expectations of others. You are doing it not just to increase sales in your territory. You are doing it not just to be the smartest person in your district or to garner favor with your District Manager. You are not even doing it just to please your customers. You are doing it because it is your profession and you are committed to being a professional representative.
Today both types exist (pharmaceutical sales representatives and professional representatives) but I believe you have no choice in the evolving new healthcare market. If you want to be employed as a pharmaceutical sales representative, your days are numbered.
If, on the other hand, you are committed to being a professional pharmaceutical representative you have a much higher probability for being employed and having a positive impact on patient care. And while you may find the market more complex and products more technically difficult, you will find that overcoming those challenges will be even more professionally satisfying. You will also find that patients in your territory who should be on your products will have a higher probability of that than if you are a pharmaceutical sales representative in that same environment. Professional representatives will be in demand because, while there are plenty of people who can be pharmaceutical sales people, there are far fewer people who are ready, willing, and able to commit to the hard work and effort required to be a professional pharmaceutical representative.
In our next post we will discuss how the corporate mindset and expectations must be aligned to support professional pharmaceutical representatives in the evolving new healthcare market.