What lies beneath the surface?

CMR ponders the challenge of understanding how truly effective a medical device sales force is in today’s healthcare marketplace.

If you can’t measure it, “don’t do it” was the mantra of my colleague’s mentor back in the 90s. As an ambitious, newly appointed Pharma sales manager my colleague followed his guru’s advice to the letter. In that world reputations were built and careers destroyed on the crudest of measures monthly IMS brick data. Sales teams were awarded hero or zero status through a barometer, which as many people who have worked with such data will agree, was at best a frequently disputed indicator of true performance.

Looking back, the types of customer engagement strategies and measures that were being employed to understand the true effectiveness of a company’s sales force seem quite prehistoric. Key account management models were in their infancy and market access was just hitting the industry as the next big thing. The value agenda was not yet born and the culture of 3.5 GP calls a day still rang true. Whilst detail follow-ups (DFUs as they were affectionately known) gave the industry some kind of line in the sand, understanding how efficient your multimillion pound sales machine truly was proved a difficult ask.

Fast forward 20 years and whilst pharma and medical device players have moved to a far more customer centric mindset be that patient, healthcare professional, regulator, or payer the challenge of understanding how effective the single largest cost line in your commercial overheads is, still brings with it significant challenge. As the conversation has moved to demonstrating added value, understanding and measuring how well your sales force key  messages resonate with a growing plethora of stakeholders has become even more difficult.

Conducting a frank inventory of a sales division’s strengths and weaknesses allows medical device companies to pinpoint areas where there is waste or where there is room for growth. It has become increasingly important to focus on the bigger sales environment. They say you can only control the controllable so what do you do when the biggest influence on your sales line might actually lie beneath the surface? competitor’s activity, unforeseen regulatory developments or the reputation of an acquired brand perhaps? What if your future sales force performance is at the mercy of the FDA or policy makers responsible for health service redesign?

These are the same challenges that customers we sit in front of every day face. To paint a clear picture of the rationale for a dramatic dip in the sales line, or an MAT market share gain in today’s commercial environment, requires a lot of time, effort and expertise. Attention needs to be paid to more than just call rate and customer targeting strategy. That is where research can play a role. Whilst your med device company continues to focus on what you do best, allow the research industry to fill in the knowledge gaps. That is after all what we do best.

So next time you’re grappling with questions around the sales force performance iceberg, beware. The answers almost certainly lie beneath the surface.