woman scratching her head while analyzing data
Ceo insights

Bridging the Gap: From Data Analytics to Sales Performance Impact in Pharma

Written By: Dave Manning

October 23, 2023 – 7 min read

Life sciences companies heavily invest in advanced systems to enhance their modeling, simulation, and data analytics capabilities. Using data coming from a growing number of sources, these systems develop insights and predictions to improve all types of business activities and create a competitive advantage for the brand and the company. But what happens when field sales reps don’t understand the benefits or resist adopting these new capabilities into their day-to-day activities? The truth is, to get the most from your investment in these capabilities, your sales team needs to understand how to translate the insights gained into actions and behaviors that will improve HCP interactions. First-line leaders need to coach their teams on how to do this and hold them accountable. And, second-line leaders need to “coach the coaches” and hold them accountable for driving success within the new model.

In this article, I will dig into how to leverage data/insights gained from technology in order to drive higher HCP engagement and improve interactions and effectiveness. I offer a few ideas to help overcome common stumbling blocks of implementing technology and discuss how to get better pull-through from your data and systems.

Turning Data into Action Starts by Breaking Down Barriers

Historically, sales reps relied primarily on third-party data sources that characterize physician prescribing behavior such as prescribing volume related to specific medications. However, the pharmaceutical industry landscape has significantly changed. Today, pharma companies can tap into an unprecedented wealth of real-world data. This data arsenal includes diverse sources like managed-care organizations, high-touch specialty pharmacies, digital data from electronic health record (EHR) systems and customer relationship management (CRM) platforms, and product registries, industry market research, historical sales figures, and beyond.

Leveraging state-of-the-art data analytics tools and sophisticated approaches, pharmaceutical companies can mine these information resources to unearth insightful revelations. These advanced data analytics afford pharma companies potential opportunities including how to:

  • Enhance the precision of physician profiling and prescribing segmentation
  • Understand HCP preferences and behaviors to inform and prioritize field rep next best action with their customers
  • Target marketing content and timing for email campaigns and other forms of omnichannel outreach to engage HCPs through their preferred channel
  • Enhance demand forecasting for products
  • Strategically optimize sales territories

However, the avalanche of data can be empowering and paralyzing all at the same time. Without effective pull-through among sales reps in the field, these technology investments will never deliver their full ROI. To break down the barriers, you must start by addressing a couple of proverbial “elephants” in the room: 

pharmaceutical professionals reviewing data on screens

Without effective pull-through among sales reps in the field, technology investments will never deliver their full ROI.

Recognize Data Overload. Without sufficient context and coaching, the tsunami of data that is available today can easily leave busy reps feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed. You must find practical ways to help them make sense of it all, develop business acumen, make intelligent decisions, and develop account plans using their business intelligence toolbox.

Confirm Potential Threat from Technology.Field reps are knowledgeable professionals who often feel like they must demonstrate their relevance. It’s easy for them to feel threatened when corporate management is loud and proud about big investments in digital capabilities—particularly those that are promising the sky by leveraging artificial intelligence (AI). You must emphasize that embracing data-driven insights will complement, not replace, the role of the field rep in your organization.

Affirm Sales Rep’s Autonomy. It’s easy for seasoned reps to find it professionally insulting that “some computer out there” is robotically telling them what “next best action” to take for each sales interaction. This is where business acumen is key—savvy reps are able to understand the story behind the data and use it wisely to drive real world results that no computer can. Reinforce that these systems (and corporate management) are not suggesting that field reps operate on autopilot. Rather, continue to convey the importance of both the human and digital contribution to the overall sales effort.

Reinforce the Importance of Nuance and Intuition. Pharma field reps are highly trained, highly skilled knowledge workers. Many question the validity of data from third-party sources when it conflicts with their own experience. For example, while third-party aggregated sales data is very accurate at the national level, due to data projection it may be considerably less accurate at the territory level (as it often relies on projections)). It’s easy for reps to discount a data source that suggests that their HCP has written no prescriptions for a given product while they know from regular visits that this is not the case.  

Mitigate Cynicism. Anyone who has been with a company long enough has lived through multiple waves of technology innovation—each one broadly celebrated by corporate management. We’ve all seen that some of these new systems quickly fall out of favor and are replaced by the next best thing. Explain how the current systems are able to impact day-to-day operations to help dispel this resistance and close the gap.

Steering Data Insights to Performance Impact

One critical determinant for the successful translation of data into actionable outcomes involves leadership. The level of involvement of your senior sales leadership in this process can have significant implications. An ideal situation would have the commercial leader closely involved in the evaluation and selection of data analytics systems in the early stages. A common practice is for sales executives to be “informed” about a new system and then “mandated” to have their sales team use it. Early involvement will encourage better buy-in across the sales organization. If sales leaders at the front line are not well-versed in how the new tools support the field, the adoption of these tools by reps is likely to be ineffective.

man presenting data to three individuals around table

If sales leaders at the front line are not well-versed in how the new tools support the field, the adoption of these tools by reps is likely to be ineffective.

Meanwhile, breaking the logjam requires a critical ideological shift. What do we mean by that? 

Too often, the rollout of any new modeling, simulation, and data analytics system is managed as an information technology (IT) challenge. The truth is, your organization must also view it as a change-management challenge and implement a thoughtful strategy to: 

  • Identify gaps, cultural barriers, and other issues that are hindering uptake
  • Provide sustained coaching, mentoring, monitoring, and feedback
  • Build skills, trust, grit, and enthusiasm among the field force
  • Share how it improves engagement for the customer

Clear communication is critical—to clarify not just what these systems can do, but how they can be used on a day-to-day basis and why it matters. Ongoing communications must be relentless over time. Without a concerted effort to create sustained attitudinal and behavior change among the reps, your data analytics investments will likely be ignored as the latest flavor of the month.

In Sum

Leveraging technology and data analytics is critical in maximizing life sciences sales efforts. However, the power of these tools can only be effectively harnessed when sales reps understand and embrace the benefits of these technologies. Sales leaders are the key to breaking down barriers to technology adoption and addressing concerns and possible misconceptions. Only when there is a system of accountability to create effective pull-through of knowledge from the technology, will performance change and business be truly impacted.

CEO Insights Article Series

PDG CEO Insights is a monthly article series that provides a deeper dive into some of the most pressing challenges commercial leaders in the life sciences sector face in developing effective sales teams. The series will discuss strategies and recommendations to help commercial leaders foster and empower a more tightly integrated sales organization—one that is able to create a competitive advantage in the field and deliver a demonstrable return on investment for the company.

July 2023: Unlocking Sales Excellence in Life Sciences

August 2023: Embracing High-Touch in Our Tech-Driven Sales Landscape

September 2023: Beyond Numbers – Reshaping Pharma’s Measure of Sales Success

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