ceo insights

Unlocking Sales Excellence in Life Sciences

Written By: David Manning

July 18, 2023 – 7 min read

Strong, sustainable sales performance is vital for the well-being of pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device companies. Yet, by some estimates, less than 25% of pharma field sales representatives hit their annual targets on a consistent basis. This leaves vast amounts of revenue unclaimed and potential missed clinical opportunities for patients and their physicians.

Something must change.

In this article—the first in a series—we’ll explore the diverse landscape that today’s sales reps must navigate and discuss the importance of providing strategic leadership development, support, and effective frameworks for continuous improvement. We tackle how growing clinical complexity influences sales strategies and underscore the need for sales leaders to ‘do more’ to set up their field forces for success. As you read this article, ask yourself: “Are you doing enough to support your field sales force, or are you leaving potential success unclaimed?”

Growing clinical complexity underscores the need for sales leaders to ‘do more’ to set up field forces for success. Ask yourself: “Are you doing enough to support your team or are you leaving potential success unclaimed?”

The Growing Complexity of Life Sciences Sales

The effort required by the field sales team for any branded therapy is shaped by robust regulatory frameworks and an ever-changing array of internal and external factors that cannot be ignored.

Parallel drivers are creating growing clinical complexity that directly impacts the sales team’s efforts:

  • Market access to medications can have an impact on the pharma sales rep’s efforts. From the sales rep’s perspective, market access is a formidable influencer on the sales trajectory of any given medication. The pharmaceutical landscape is competitive, and market access is tantamount to a first-foot advantage in any marathon. It determines the visibility a medication enjoys, and the degree of its accessibility for healthcare providers (HCPs). A sales rep’s credibility is often underpinned by how readily available and adoptable their product is. The easier it is for an HCP to prescribe and for a patient to procure the drug, the smoother the sales rep’s task becomes. Limited market access can be a dramatic bottleneck, impeding the frequency and volume of sales. Thus, in a nutshell, a stronger market presence often translates into broader selling opportunities and, ultimately, thriving sales performance.
  • Patient influence in prescribing continues to grow as today’s patients become more informed and sophisticated in their own research about diseases, conditions, and possible treatment option, they have more influence on decision making than ever before. As this trend influence the HCP’s thinking at the point of care, the sales rep must take this into consideration when crafting the messaging.
  • Changing business models continue to make it challenging to access HCPs and create limits on opportunities to engage in meaningful sales interactions. Today’s field sales reps must be creative and employ best practices to gain access to healthcare professionals and make the most of their limited time together.
  • Advancements in science bring hope to patients and prescribers across numerous areas of medicine. With this growth comes the complexity of groundbreaking therapy, each with its unique differentiators that must be effectively articulated to help educate providers.
  • Fierce competition plagues most branded therapies, not only from others in the same therapeutic class but also from generics and biosimilars. Today’s field reps must help HCPs fully understand the clinical and financial value proposition of the medication, how complex therapies perform, and how to blunt competition without crossing into a compliance issue. 
  • The need to work within a matrix to take advantage of all of the different touchpoints the HCP receives from the company and coordinating the overall pharma sales strategy and messaging efforts to ensure that the experience is seamless for providers.
  • Biomarker-directed therapies are becoming more common, requiring more nuanced messaging for providers, along with information about companion diagnostic testing to inform prescribing.
  • Increasing specialty biologic therapies and personalized medicine create significant complexity, requiring more sophisticated outreach from field reps to educate and support HCPs properly.

Building a Successful Sales Organization

Achieving sales excellence requires the right mix of people and processes and a top-down commitment from leadership at both the executive and business unit level.

Life sciences companies can’t achieve improved sales performance by relying solely on training. A conscientious effort requires a systemic focus on skills improvement with a commitment to accountability that radiates from senior leadership through field leadership and ultimately to every single rep. 

To achieve best-in-class sales performance, today’s pharma and life sciences companies must honestly assess their existing approach, identify shortcomings, and take steps to remedy them. This process involves examining hiring and development practices for field reps and executive leadership, and investing the time and resources needed to address any weaknesses.

To improve sales performance, leaders must examine hiring and development practices for field reps and executive leadership, and invest the time and resources needed to address any weeknesses.

An essential part of this effort is undertaking a rigorous program to identify, select, and develop the next generation of leaders from internal and external candidates. Consistent hiring processes, strategic hiring, and promotion choices, successful onboarding and training processes, and proper assessment tools can set up the workforce for success and ensure a strong leadership culture.

Today’s field sales reps must receive the tools and training needed to develop strong scientific acumen and articulate the therapy’s safety, efficacy profile, clinical benefits, complex dosing, market access navigation for the office and patient assistance programs, and administration requirements, all while complying with the prevailing regulatory and compliance requirements.

This doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

In addition to cultivating strong leadership involvement, life sciences organizations must identify and track relevant key performance indicators (KPIs). Celebrate leading indicators to motivate and boost morale, while addressing lagging indicators to foster a continuous improvement mindset among all stakeholders.

To navigate dysfunctional team dynamics and help individual sales reps overcome personal and business barriers, incorporate a professional coaching component to create lasting behavior change. A recent study found that 73% of pharma sales managers spend less than 5% of their time coaching their field reps, leading to significant consequences for bottom-line results.

Empowering and enabling a world-class sales organization is crucial in an era of low morale and ‘quiet quitting.’ Failure to motivate, incentivize, and empower field reps will result in low levels of HCP engagement and high levels of attrition and turnover, ultimately affecting the company’s bottom line.

Failure to acknowledge the internal and external issues mentioned above and failing to invest in the time and resources to enable and empower the entire sales organization creates a missed opportunity. This decision significantly impacts the bottom line in terms of revenue, ROI, market share, and worker morale. Don’t let this opportunity slip through your fingers—commit to building a successful sales organization.

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.

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