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Sales Force Effectiveness or Sales Force Excellence (SFE)


We at Zero Corporation.Com have spent the last 20 years developing tools for enhancing the productivity of Pharmaceutical representatives. Sales Force Effectiveness or Excellence is about maximising the performance of the sales team. The Pharmaceutical market is like a battle field and each sales force is engaged in a “military” kind of operation to win the “war”. Winning or losing can be measured in terms of gaining or losing market share. Just like the outcome of war is not only determined by the bravery of individual soldiers but by the clever strategies and tactics planned by the High Command, the effectiveness of the Sales Force in the Pharmaceutical war also depends on combined implementation of good strategies by the marketing and sales teams.

Systems like ETMS, SFA or CRM are only tools but they must be used by individuals as well as the whole sales and marketing team in synergising their individual and collective efforts to generate positive outcome for the company.

What factors contribute to Sales Force Effectiveness?

In the first place, the representatives must possess some Individual Skills, for example, product knowledge, selling skills, planning and ability to follow the plan, targeting, attitude, and building relationships. Secondly, there are factors to do with the Team, for example morale of the team, synergy between sales and marketing and knowledge sharing or collaboration. And thirdly, there is also the question of how do we measure Sales Force Effectiveness.

I would like start this discussion on what factors contribute to Sales Force Effectiveness by introducing the factors (one at a time) and let the group comment on the importance or merit of the factor as relevant. This I am assuming would help each individual develop their own strategies for SFE.

Let us start with Individual Skills, the first of which is Product Knowledge:

1. Product Knowledge: Product knowledge includes good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of not only one's own but also the major competitor's products. A physician in any context expects to gain something from an interaction with pharmaceutical representatives. As a general rule, the Pharmaceutical representatives become a conduit of knowledge for treating different disease states as new products become available. Amongst the claims and counterclaims made by representatives of competing companies, a GP has to decipher who is offering a better product. Good product knowledge always helps in winning and establishing a representative's integrity. Who should be involved in the training of Product Knowledge?

2. Selling Skills: Selling skills would differentiate a good sales person from the other. Good skills involve the art of communication, the art of being able to drive an interaction towards closing a sale. Words used in the exchange are the key. And equally important is the art of effective listening. What in your opinion is a good selling skills programme for Pharmaceutical selling?

3. Planning and following the plan: A good plan is about optimising allocation of time spent in the territory. Companies who buy data from IMS have Potential Index data which is an objective criterion for allocating the proportion of time one should spend in each Brick in the territory.
In countries where the majority of GP's see a representative by appointments (set for the whole year in advance) planning the strategy to spend time according to the potential of the territory may be challenging but there are tools which can not only calculate the proportion of time to be spent in each brick in the territory but calculate what proportion of the time allocated for the brick should be spent on the doctors in that Brick. This of course depends on the tools used for profiling and targeting.
For countries that do not require appointments to call on doctors, planning is largely process driven and often referred to as “Journey Plan”. There is a target group of doctors who are visited on a regular interval. This is effective if sales representatives follow the Plan. There are tools to monitor the level of compliance to plan. Contextually speaking, is there any planning system that you find effective?

4. Targeting: Identifying 20% of the doctors who account for 80% of business in a therapeutic class and investing time in them amounts to working smarter. Can you suggest a targeting system that is simple and easy to implement?

5. Attitude: “Selling is transferring of feelings” says Zig Ziglar. My mentor, the late Bill Rasmussen who was a training manager for Ciba-Geigy for many years used to tell us why so many of the new recruits to a sales role would out do their more seasoned colleagues. Their enthusiasm for the product they were selling was so infectious that the doctors were left wondering how they could use another product compared with what this representative was selling. The attitude of believing in what one is selling contributes enormously to the performance.
A positive attitude is perhaps the most important attribute in a sales representative. If one has a naturally positive outlook to life they would be positively inclined to their product. It is true that there are people who are pessimistic and not fit for playing the role of a sales person. The Internet has a lot of literature advising on how one can make a conscious effort to change ones attitudes to a positive one. Please comment on how to improve attitudes amongst sales people?

6. Building Relationships: A top performing Representative for a company in South Africa was consistently the number 1 performer until he was investigated for dumping samples in the council tip. It was discovered that he collected samples from the company and stored them in his garage as he never used these samples; in fact he hardly ever call on the doctors in his territory. How did he get to be the top performer? Apparently, he had 5 or 6 friends who were doctors. He would socialise with them and their family, play golf with them regularly and in return they would write prescriptions for his product for specific conditions almost exclusively. What this story demonstrates is the power of relationship selling in the Pharmaceuticals scene. Those of us who have been Pharmaceutical representatives in the field have developed friendships with doctors who we met in the field. And although they may not have written prescription for our products exclusively we did derive the benefit of their support.

How does a representative develop relationships? The main element that helps in establishing relationship is the transition from commercial to social relationships. It is almost invariably based on some shared values. It may take the form of the doctor or one of his / her family members may be on the company's product to having something in common like support for a team, interest in a game, food, wine, language, or ethnicity. Being able to invite a doctor to share a meal is a great equaliser; to be able to play a game of golf or tennis is another. Any comments on how Pharmaceutical representatives can perform better in building relationships?


7. Morale: Alexander H. Leighton defines “morale as the capacity of a group of people to pull together persistently and consistently in pursuit of a common purpose”. The results of High or Low morale can be seen in team games. Teams with high morale tend to win conversely teams with low morale tend to loose. In the pharmaceutical scene, the morale of the sales team is governed by four main factors, leadership, acknowledgement, remuneration and incentives. The common purpose is to achieve the revenue targets.
• Leadership: From the perspective of a pharmaceutical representative, the first line manager to whom he or she reports, is the most important leader. A good manager can help in keeping the morale of the team up.
• Acknowledgement: Acknowledgement for good work done is more important than high remuneration. A good system of acknowledgement for good results achieved, knowledge sharing and market intelligence goes a long way to improving the morale and performance of the sales people. The acknowledgement should be spontaneous and come from relevant officers in sales and marketing functions.
• Remuneration: Competitive remuneration with job security always contributes to high morale of the team.
• Incentive schemes: Good incentive schemes with individual and team component brings about good team spirit and contributes to high morale.

8. Synergy between Sales and Marketing: Pharmaceutical companies are either Sales driven or Marketing Driven. Marketing Driven companies are more strategic while sales driven companies are more tactical. A good compromise would be Marketing and Sales driven company. In order to comply with the ethical standards, Pharmaceutical companies should be driven by good strategies compared with, being driven by tactics. For a sales force to be effective, the selling strategies should be based on research and analysis at a national level. The resources required for the research and analysis are best handled at the head office level. Good communication between sales and marketing would help in not only improving performance but boosting up the morale of the whole team.

9. Knowledge sharing: In the last 15 years, the Internet has transformed the way people think; the paradigm has shifted from keeping the knowledge private to sharing. I recall speaking at the APMRG conference on the topic of Future of Information Technology and its implications to the Pharmaceutical Industry in Melbourne in 1995. At the time there were only 2 companies in the world who had single page web sites. Today it would be very rare to see a company which does not share a large amount of information about their products and services along with their future plans. While Internet has become a platform to show case who we are, knowledge sharing has become part of our culture. One cannot have an effective sales force without the capacity to share knowledge within the company. Sales Force effectiveness will jump with some mechanism to share knowledge as often as possible.


Sales Force Effectiveness would become meaningless unless one had some objective criterion to evaluate effectiveness. What variables should be taken in to account to evaluate effectiveness?
1. Comparing actual against Budgeted Sales.
2. Market Share and Performance Index (IMS Data)
3. Average revenue per call along with Performance Index.
4. Effort vs Result Analysis.
5. Planned vs Actual Call Analysis.
6. Reach and Frequency of Call Analysis.
7. Participation in Knowledge Sharing.
8. Participation in Market Intelligence Reporting.
9. Call Averages.

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