Pharma sales forces should act more like 'outcomes advocates'

Nearly one in four direct sales force interactions targeting doctors have been replaced with digital interactions.
Nearly one in four direct sales force interactions targeting doctors have been replaced with digital interactions.

The pharma industry's shift toward outcomes and accountability-based sales could be the catalyst for a new era of success for pharma sales forces, according to a report from consultancy Accenture.

“That inevitably becomes the opportunity for the pharma sales rep,” said James Crowley, managing director of life sciences for Accenture Strategy.

For many sales forces, this is not simply a new opportunity. It's a requisite for survival as access for reps to health systems and healthcare providers continues to dwindle. The proportion of rep-friendly physicians may already be as low as 51%, according to a recent report from consultancy ZS Associates. Accenture research found that nearly one in four direct sales force interactions targeting doctors have been replaced with digital interactions.

To reverse that trend, it may be time to change the sales conversation, Crowley said. Reps should avoid spouting product-centric presentations, which detail the latest safety and efficacy data, and instead act like outcomes advocates armed with information about relevant patient services.

“They need to lead with value and understand what value means for that practice,” Crowley said. “That requires an understanding at an ecosystem level, not an HCP professional level. It means knowing how that HCP operates within an ecosystem and then overlaying therapeutic and patient pathways on top of that.”

Recent Accenture research, which surveyed 10,000 patients, found that less than 20% were aware of services available to them. “But when they are aware,” Crowley noted, “utilization and satisfaction are really high.” About 85% of those patients expect to receive that information from their doctor.

To communicate the benefits of patient services and attempt to bridge the access gap, sales forces need to evolve their skills and realign their objectives. “Organizations need to get behind enabling talent with these skills and competencies—you can arm them with new tools and give them new information but it needs to tie into a core model, like tying incentives into enrollment with patient services,” he said.