Please login to the form below

Not currently logged in

Effective sales performance

The role of targeting


A sales force is the most expensive and long-term of the options that we have to market our product. This is therefore the most important activity to get right. Yet most sales forces deliver considerably less than optimum performance. Almost invariably this is because of one of two reasons.

Either the effort is too widely dissipated across non-responsive customers who lack the inclination or influence to affect prescription, or promotion is rarely aligned to the local market.

The first of these is due to poor targeting, where there are four common problems: target overlap, target creep, target gaps and/or failure to measure.

Target overlap occurs when your choice of targets matches and overlays those of your competitor. The net result is an excessive calling pattern applied to specific doctors who either switch their allegiance regularly or switch off. In either case leading to lower sales and rapid target wear-out.

Target creep is when you allow your representatives to change a proportion of their targets. Over time your targeting efforts get watered-down in favour of ‘convenience doctors’, ie easier access and nearby location.

Target gaps occur when you fail to address the hidden ‘iceberg’ of potentially productive doctors whom you have not called upon this year, last year and perhaps for a considerable number of years.

Failure to accurately measure your promotion thus ensuring that you deliver the right message at the right frequency delivered by the right promotional instrument. Here an assumption that digital calls are equivalent to face-to-face contact is rarely tested yet evidence suggests that in many circumstances these two forms of promotion are in no way equivalent and a carefully managed blended approach is the solution.

The traditional approach is based mainly on simple economics.

a) At a macro level select the bricks or practices with the largest therapy area sales and divide by the number of doctors. With limited resources this indicates ‘where’ to concentrate your efforts.

b) Purchase a list of doctors from an external vendor. Here individual doctors are often ranked by their prescribing potential perhaps tempered by a known ‘interest’ in a given therapy area or additional roles/activities undertaken.

Both of these approaches are essentially based on the same information, as leaving aside single-handed practices we cannot be sure of an individual’s true prescribing behaviour. In both cases competing companies target precisely the same individuals - due to purchase of a common list and following similar logical procedures. In effect our target list will overlap precisely with that of our competitors. This is the first and most common targeting error.

The net result - no competitive advantage is gained. Targets are subject to considerably higher call pressure while non-targets may effectively be ignored. This means that targets wear out more quickly, are subject to higher ‘switch pressure’ and may become more reluctant to see representatives. Under these circumstances non-targets may often be more productive to call upon. In effect the expected economic benefit of greater return per call is not achieved.

Commonly a further decision is made allowing the local representative to change up to 10% of the target list to reflect local knowledge and relationships. The net result is that difficult-to-see and geographically distant customers are excluded in favour of easier-to-see, more ‘convenient’ targets.

I recently carried out an analysis that looked at representative call patterns in relation to their geographic territory and home location. The results were fascinating, particularly when we took the day of the week into account. Good targeting chooses customers based on sound criteria. These criteria should be common across the sales and marketing divide so there should not be any difference of opinion. Once the target list is issued representatives should have their say but unless a sound validated business case is put forward the target list should remain unchanged. Target creep, for whatever reason should be avoided.

Effective targeting also manages the customer base significantly without unintended gaps. A good procedure is to take your customer universe and draw a Venn diagram comparing the customers seen this year versus those seen last year. The most telling statistic is the percentage of customers not seen in either year. This hidden iceberg is frequently very considerable and may represent a massive untapped opportunity for your brand. An interesting question to ask is: how small is your consistently managed doctor population and where are those doctors located geographically compared to your representative’s home? This is another very productive area to apply strong analytics.

Targeting is critical to managing an effective sales force. The key is to make informed sound choices driven by good analytic procedures. In short to take advantage of the depth and richness of pharmaceutical data to pinpoint who the right customers to call upon are and at what effective frequency. Here a common problem is to confuse optimal call frequency with effective call frequency. For a given product the range of call frequencies over which a call is effective will vary by type of customer and local conditions. Often this effective call frequency is a good deal lower than expected and certainly lower than that invariably advocated by contract team providers. In most field forces up to 50% of calls are wasted.

A common cause of this wastage is that either the customer has been seen at too low a frequency (below the effective call frequency corridor ECFC) or at too high a frequency (above the ECFC). Identifying the right call frequency is critical but this should not be applied at National level. When presenting these results to Regional Managers a common objection is that Oxford is different from Birmingham for example. This is quite true and call frequencies should be calculated locally. Promotion does not occur in a vacuum. In some areas the ECFC is much lower than in others.

Yet the biggest cause of wastage, in my experience, is failure to identify and target profitable customers. Non-responsive customers act as a major cost and time drain that saps the energy and resources of your representatives. This is a very common problem with specialist hospital products where often a large amount of time and effort is expended on non-productive roles or specialties that often divert attention to little benefit.

We should also ask ourselves at what level should we be targeting?

There are three key targeting levels; individual doctor, GP practice or hospital department and CCG or hospital group

Which of these is apposite for your brand depends upon the life cycle stage of your product and the aim of the promotion. To take two extremes:

1. New products are evaluated first by an individual trying a product. If the product performs as expected, trial may lead to adoption. Finally the individual may act as an advocate whereby colleagues are made aware and try the product themselves - a process of contagion. In short:

Trial -> Adoption -> Contagion

It is when this third stage is reached that a new product is likely to be proposed and successfully adopted into the practice ‘preferred list’, departmental formulary or CCG ‘green list’.

2. The second extreme is a drug about to come off patent in one or two years. Research has shown that most elements of product marketing fail to have little significant effect after a product has plateaued within the market. Despite this most companies continue to plough significant promotional resources into their established brands without considering that many elements could be withdrawn with little or no impact on sales. The key is identifying which customers still need support and which elements of the marketing mix are necessary. If properly analysed and the results acted upon these savings will drop right to the bottom line.

In either case the key is to get your targeting right - yet this is rarely implemented to maximum effect.

Good targeting aligns activity to the most productive targets and adjusts to local conditions. We are able to plot every surgery on Everett Roger’s diffusion curve by identifying which practices are most likely to accept a new product at that stage of the product’s life cycle. Sound analytics pinpoints every practice or department and can place them on this adoption continuum. In short it is of no value to pursue laggard practices when you launch a new product, your targets should match the promotional focus at that stage of the life cycle.

Another thing to consider is how you intend to treat individual practices or hospital departments? The key question here is do you believe the locus of the prescribing decision to be the individual doctor or via a consensus - at practice or departmental level? If the former, individual targeting is key while for the latter, identifying key practices or departments may be the key to success. This latter point is particularly important when separating those practices that are promotion responders from non-responders when pinpointing where to safely cut back promotion in the two years prior to product expiry.

Bruce Henderson, founder of the Boston Consulting Group, once said: “Any competitor with less than one quarter the share of the largest competitor cannot be an effective competitor.” What this means in practice is that many pharmaceutical products are net users of cash and will contribute little to their companies’ net profits. Our aim should be to achieve a relative market share above 0.6 in any GP practice or department. This will ensure that you are either market leader or second choice (the two most profitable positions). If your relative share languishes below 0.3 evaluate whether you can change the status quo or are best advised to place effort elsewhere. Good targeting strategy is about making effective choices that drive profits.

Article by
Dr Graham Leask

is an academic, consultant and writer for the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries,

13th November 2017

Article by
Dr Graham Leask

is an academic, consultant and writer for the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries,

13th November 2017

From: Sales



Featured jobs

Subscribe to our email news alerts


Add my company
Just::Health Communications

Just:: is a different kind of healthcare communications agency. Since 2006, we’ve been collaborating with clients around the world to...