Are you a Pharmaceutical Sales Representative or a Professional Representative?
Ok, this will be a little controversial and I will probably touch a sensitive nerve or two but I am trying to help identify a way forward for the industry that will ultimately restore business viability while reestablishing trust and credibility. You also have to be thinking 3-5 years from now when you have an even more managed market where there are far more influences on physician prescribing than sales representatives. Which means representatives will have different, more analytical target audiences (think insurance company Medical Directors and their staffs , technology and product review committees, etc). If you are thinking in today’s world this may not will make no sense to you.
So here goes.
When it comes to skills and expertise each of the following representative profiles has its strengths and these strengths may or may not be a good fit for a particular industry or job function. Here is how I see the two profiles:
Traditional Pharmaceutical Sales Representative:
- Strong interpersonal and social skills help build rapport and establish relationships
- Exceptional selling skills and persuasive techniques
- Tactically oriented, relying on sales materials, promotional programs, and samples
- Customers are seen as prospects and a source of sales revenue
- Selling is seen as a competition (if I get more prescriptions I win, you lose…even if my product isn’t as good as yours)
- Sales numbers are a scorecard for incentive compensation
- Work Objective: “get the doctor to prescribe your product as much as possible”
Future Professional Representative:
Has many of the skills of the sales representative including interpersonal, social, and selling skills but…
- They have a patient-oriented focus around meeting or exceeding customer and market expectations (want the best product for the patient)
- Rely heavily on technical and scientific expertise as their base of confidence to establish rapport and build credibility and trust
- Sales numbers and incentive pay are not performance motivators
- Work Objective: “make sure patients get the right product and customers realize the maximum benefit from your products”
The biggest differences between these two profiles for selling pharmaceuticals are the level of expertise and the mindset about their jobs. The professional representative goes well beyond the company training and resources to understand the science around their products and diseases. They pride themselves in staying current and knowing more about their products, the diseases being treated, and competitive products than anybody in their territories, including the physicians. They base their knowledge, presentations, and conclusions on data from the literature which they can quote objectively and accurately. They do this because they see this not just as their job but their responsibility.
The professional representative has a different motivational mindset. They are motivated more by personal performance excellence and expertise than sales numbers and incentive pay. The reason they like and do their job goes well beyond making the sale. In fact you might even think the sale is a collateral benefit of their work. This is a very hard attribute and concept to describe because it is inherent in the thinking of a professional representative. This is one of those “you know it when you see it” type things. Their drive and motivation may not even make sense to the hard core traditional sales representative and certainly isn’t compatible with most traditional pharmaceutical sales management thinking or expectations.
There is nothing wrong with being a traditional sales person. This profile drove sales in the pharmaceutical industry for decades. And, there are industries , especially retail and consumer products, that require a sales mentality to succeed. And, you can be a professional sales person, mastering the skills and acquiring the expertise related to sales of the products you are selling. But if your mindset is still that you are motivated by making the sale and the only reason for your interaction with a customer is to generate a sale, you are a sales person.
The healthcare market has changed however, and one of the changes that the pharmaceutical industry must accommodate is the declining effectiveness and diminishing tolerance for the traditional sales representative role and profile. Declining physician access was perhaps the first indication of this market change. State legislation to restrict sales representative activities followed and intensified regulatory scrutiny has now made for a much more challenging environment for pharmaceutical sales representatives. As a result, I believe that a professional profile as described here and in a previous post is the only hope for pharmaceutical companies to have a local “in the field” presence in the evolving new healthcare market.
I can hear it now….but the regulatory and legal constraints won’t allow for this profile. I’ll address that in the next post. Stay tuned. firstname.lastname@example.org