Kantar Health Blog

Should we really still be talking about sales-force effectiveness?

by Mark Sales | Dec 8, 2011
Mark Sales

The pharmaceutical industry is often portrayed as some sort of lumbering beast that is slow to change, lagging behind other service industries in terms of customer service and innovation.  Due to recent market challenges and spate of patent expirations, its focus seems to have been on achieving quick gains through sales and marketing without taking the longer term, relationship-building approach taken by more profitable service-driven industries.

But is this perception still a valid one? Recently, it seems to me that pharma Key Account Managers are taking a much more customer-focused approach, building relationships with multiple stakeholders and holding their own in negotiations on everything from reimbursement to funding. The results of our annual survey  on stakeholder effectiveness, , conducted with over 500 webinar participants from leading pharma companies around the world plus over 1,500 European and US physicians and UK payors , would seem to prove my point. This most recent survey showed that a dramatic shift in opinion on sales effectiveness has occurred over the course of just a couple of years. In the survey’s first year (2009), 98% of respondents said traditional sales measures were the sole measure of success and few multi-stakeholder engagement programs were in place.  This year- just two years later - over 66% of our webinar attendees felt that success was not just about instant or traditional sales success. Key stakeholders are also voting for less hard sell and more relationship-building.  Novartis – a company that creates-long term educational programs to ensure strong engagement with key stakeholders across its broad portfolio -- was rated the strongest overall performer in terms of ongoing relationships with physicians in four of the six countries surveyed.

While pharma is coming around to the fact that it is not just all about sales, money in the bank is an obvious and necessary measure of success. So how exactly does one measure the success of actions that don’t directly and immediately impact prescriptions or sales?  The PCPs and specialists in our survey were voting using a TRI*M™ Index, a system used by many of the world’s leading companies, to show how relationship building can positively benefit the bottom line.  The particular combination we used monitors the benefits and sustainability of the relationship over time, looking at factors such as, “likelihood to see again”, “likelihood to recommend that others see”, and “benefit to the practice” . Relationships with multiple stakeholders can be mapped against revenues to provide a strong indication of how ‘retention’ programmes benefit the bottom line.  We like to think of this as monitoring stakeholder effectiveness, the modern equivalent of measuring  prescription sales.. Find out more about the TRIM aspect of our survey.

Another facet of achieving stakeholder effectiveness is ensuring the right communication channels are used for tailored messages   As online communication can be extremely targeted and also because pharma been accused of being a laggard in its use of online channels, we set out to look at how physicians engage with the internet and their digital habits in a “survey within our stakeholder effectiveness survey”. Using the TNS-owned Digital Life, a methodology specifically designed to build distinct consumer segments in the digital world, we ranked the EU and US physicians within our main survey. We looked at frequency of online usage and common online activities, their agreement or disagreement with statements relating to online usage, ranking of online activities in terms of personal importance, as well as age and gender. We then compared the segmentation achieved with TNS’s 2010 consumer Digital Life study, which covered almost 50,000 interviews throughout the world among the general population in 2010. This gave us a sense of how physicians differed from members of the general public in their digital habits. The results showed that effective online communication with physicians is important now but that it is likely to be vital to medium to long term success in the not so distant future. Find out more about the study.

So to achieve sustainable sales growth and to get ahead of the competition, we’ve seen from the survey that it’s important to measure the success of your stakeholder engagement programmes against tangible metrics. It’s also critical that the right channels are utilized to communicate and that pharma companies constantly assess how effective these channels are.

Do our results tally with your experiences? It would be great to hear from you on this.

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