Specialty Pharma’s Hiring Challenges

By Malcolm Fleschner

Within the realm of professional selling, pharmaceutical sales has always stood apart, offering a unique set of challenges, whether in the nature of the product, the unusual customer base or the sales process itself. Even within pharmaceutical sales, however, specialty pharma companies have carved out their own niche, frequently defined as the expanse between big pharma and biotech.

Recently Specialty Pharma Magazine convened a panel of experts to discuss strategies for finding, assessing and hiring ideal candidates for this particular sales subspecialty. The panel included Jean Male, president and CEO of Emp-Higher Performance Development, Craig Eberhard, VP of sales for Amylin, Ginger Graham, president and CEO of Amylin, and Matthew Witte, VP of sales with Ligand. The following are some of their key observations and suggestions.

1. People make the difference. Hiring is not a mundane task. Going through the motions usually is not sufficient. Attracting and retaining effective sales talent is arguably more important than any other aspect of the sales endeavor. By hiring and promoting the right people, specialty pharma sales organizations can generate revenue well beyond the projected market potential.

2. Your reps are your brand. Specialty pharma companies don’t have the budgets for high-profile advertising, so the sales representatives they deploy are defining the brand for virtually all their customers. The question then becomes: Is that brand going to be represented by highly polished professionals, therapeutic area experts or Ken and Barbie clones?

3. Know who you seek. Before the first interview, bring together the entire recruiting team, including HR, to determine a talent profile. For example, one critical characteristic is that prospective hires share the values of the organization. Unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, how will you know when you’ve found it?

4. Remember that motivation springs internal. With so many organizations focused on de-layering and empowerment on the front lines, it’s absolutely essential to hire sales professionals who are self-directed, self-motivated and self-managing. These are the kind of high performance individuals who crave accountability and need management more for facilitation than inspiration.

5. Prioritize the science. More so than with other areas of the industry, specialty pharma’s customers look to sales reps to apprise them of new science and its application to medical situations. For this reason your salespeople need to exhibit a breadth and depth of understanding of the science and medicine far beyond what might be expected from more mainstream pharmaceutical reps.

6. Experience isn’t everything. Specialty sales forces should look more for talent than experience. Otherwise they risk hiring jobbers who likely will begin looking for their next position soon after arrival. You also might find that these veterans soon become prima donnas, resistant to learning and coaching.