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ROI & Evaluation: Salesforces

A pharmaceutical firm's core competence lies in the development and manufacture of life-enhancing medicines

ROI & Evaluation: Salesforces
A pharmaceutical firm's core competence lies in the development and manufacture of life-enhancing medicines, not necessarily in the deployment of the most flexible and efficient salesforces, says Steve Kerridge, managing director of contract sales organisation In2Focus SDS.

With an ever increasing number of hurdles to clear on what may sometimes seems like an uphill track, the pharmaceutical marketplace is perhaps one of the most complex and challenging sales environments to master. The era of extensive spending on sales and marketing in the `90s has been replaced by the more prudent approach we see today.

Marketing budgets are squeezed and the industry is operating in a goldfish bowl, under close scrutiny from the regulatory bodies and the general public. On top of this, pharma has undergone a number of changes in recent times which have resulted in a much sharper focus on salesforce costs and how to optimise the effectiveness of individual representatives.

Changes such as the 7 per cent price cut imposed by the PPRS, thinning product pipelines, fewer blockbuster drugs, generic competition and the trend for increasingly niche and specialised products are cutting pharmaceutical companies' revenue and consequently their sales budgets.

At the same time, changes to the NHS customer base make it increasingly difficult for drug firms to target and influence the new gatekeepers who make the decisions over the purchase of prescription treatments.

Salesforce downsizing
Salesforces represent the highest single cost to marketing budgets; RoI, therefore, needs to be the key focus. The old model, driven by share of voice, is evolving into a more cost-effective approach by targeting the correct gatekeepers for each individual brand. Both in-house and contract sales teams face the challenge of targeting their efforts at customers who are in a position to 'buy'.

The contract sales organisation (CSO) adds value by identifying and pinpointing healthcare professionals and decision makers in a particular geographical area (or 'hotspot') and then deploying the optimum resource to call on these targets.

Practice-level data is now available which lends itself to this approach and this emerging model means that sales resources are not wasted on customers who are unable or unwilling to change their prescribing behaviour, or who simply do not see the target patient group for your brand.

A significant number of companies in the last six months have downsized their salesforces, leaving them potentially less able to capitalise on new opportunities. CSOs can help by quickly flexing resource requirements to maximise opportunities that arise from additional Scottish Medicines Consortium/National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommendations, line extensions, seasonal changes or PR related issues, for example. This enables companies to maintain excellent RoI.

Stretching the budget
However, deployment is only part of the picture; ensuring that your representatives are effective in the call and that your brand's key messages are getting through is just as critical.

A relatively small improvement in 'In Call Quality' (ie, sales call audit and benchmarking) can result in significantly enhanced sales of a brand. CSOs strive continually to improve the quality and effectiveness of every representative, in order to maximise the resource deployed to drive sales and, ultimately, ROI for clients.

As specialists, CSOs take the lead in this area to identify sales hotspots and provide flexible, effective and efficient teams to help ensure pharma companies' ever-depleting budgets go further.

2nd September 2008

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