Do You Believe In Magic?

By Malcolm Fleschner

Attendees making their way to Paris for eyeforpharma’s recent conference, Sales Force Effectiveness Summit 2005, were undoubtedly enthralled by the many wonders offered by a stay in the legendary City of Lights. But inside the conference walls Martin Armstrong, head of Global Sales and Marketing for Novartis Opthamics, had many attendees enthralled with his expert opinions on the shortcomings facing today’s pharmaceutical sales forces and strategies for improving what he calls reps’ executional magic. Here are a few of the topics Armstrong addressed.

Use the data. The first issue Armstrong addressed involves the effective use of data. He pointed out that pharma companies frequently use collected data to select the right customers to target. Yet because much of this information is publicly available, multiple competitors typically wind up targeting the same customers. To gain an advantage, he said, companies should tap into their frontline reps’ local knowledge to create a more distilled list of ideal customers to target.

“If you shift the focus slightly away from what the industry sees as the best customers to who your best customers are,” he explained, “you might have a better chance of gaining market share in a market that has a slightly lower overall share of voice.”

Determine frequency. Having created a list of ideal customers, pharmaceutical sales organizations must next decide how to go after targeted individuals. This boils down to frequency, which is simply a matter of applying a scientific approach to turning nonprescribers into prescribers. Too often, Armstrong pointed out, sales organizations simply divide capacity by the number of targets to arrive at a frequency number. Instead, he suggested, targets should first be assessed for the ideal frequency needed and then that number should be divided into available capacity.

The key, he added, is to understand that nonprescribers rarely, if ever, become prescribers after one call. Customers need to be moved through what he called the adoption ladder – a series of calls during which skilled reps change customers’ prescribing habits.

Go beyond the average. Armstrong suggests that information about existing customers be used to quantify future opportunities. Data on where reps have been successful, how long it’s taken and why they’ve succeeded should be correlated, run through spreadsheets and examined. But bear in mind, he reminded attendees, that averages can be misleading.

“For example, I’ll hear: Don’t worry Martin, our average frequency is 10. That’s great,” Armstrong recounted, “one guy could be visited 901 times and everybody else once, but the average frequency still is 10. At the average level, it looks great. At a customer level it can be awful. No wonder we’re failing in execution. Get below the average. Get into the data, do something about it and measure it regularly.”

Factor in skills. All this number crunching will, of course, only have a marginal affect if salespeople don’t use effective selling skills – the executional magic Armstrong talked about.

“Selling skills make the difference in front of the right customer,” he explained. “Good reps actually can reduce the frequency needed to change prescribing behavior, which increases their capacity to see more customers in the next few tiers in the targeting process. Getting the right sales skills aligned with good frequency assures you’re getting it right in terms of the number of customers.”

Performance measurement isn’t something just for reps, said Armstrong. “That should be something the whole company embraces. If the whole company is looking at this, then the whole company will move it forward.”

Ultimately, Armstrong admitted, there’s little magic involved in the process. Sales organizations need to begin with the end in mind by determining goals and then adjusting targets accordingly. From there it’s simply a matter of constant monitoring to make sure salespeople are delivering the expected results. This, he suggested, comes down to checking targeting, coverage and the measurements your team is taking.

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