It's not a shrinking role for the rep─it's an evolving one.
Technology has dramatically changed our perception of the world. It has affected how we navigate our environment and consume information, and has changed our expectations about how quickly information should be made available. The new norm for all of us is about immediacy and relevance.
In healthcare professional (HCP) offices, it's about providing new ways to share information─when it's needed. HCPs seek information so they can achieve better treatment outcomes─but again, only when they need the information. They want services and products that enhance their ability to take care of their patients.
The rep who can play the role of business owner─coordinating activities that solve the problems an office faces, and assuming responsibility for deciding when and where to expend resources for the best return on investment─will excel.
To meet these new demands, reps will need to develop skills such as strategic planning, data analysis, and business acumen, which will enable them to deploy their resources in the most effective way.
Training will be important, but hiring people who have the natural talent for these new responsibilities will be even more important. The future rep will need a broader understanding of the company than in the past, as well as a clear understanding of strategic territory planning.
A Shift in Thinking
We need to change our understanding of sales reps as deliverers of “the message.” Message delivering is a push strategy─and physicians are rebelling against being pushed. Instead, pharmaceutical sales representatives need to be conduits to the multitude of services, products, and programs that pharmaceutical companies have to offer physicians and their patients.
What if a new role were established for reps─one of being great listeners and communicators who establish, coordinate, and enhance the relationship with the company. Let's put them in charge of the business relationship and give them responsibility for driving results in a new and better way.
With this shift in thinking the sales rep is empowered to focus on building trust and earning respect by truly understanding the pressures that HCPs face.
Within the current structure, and with what HCPs are currently being asked to do, I don't think sales reps can change the relationship much. Some are better than others at building relationships with physicians and their staffs.
A busy primary care physician's office may prefer to have a rep filter information to physicians through the office manager and staff. The constraints of traditional measures for performance don't encourage a strategic approach; they reinforce a more cookie-cutter approach. Devising a unique plan for each office's characteristics and needs is a great first step in building trust.
Obviously, the talents, skills, and experience needed for this new role are significantly different from those in the current hiring profile for new sales reps. Ultimately, companies must create comprehensive strategic plans that “just say no” to the pushed message.
Part of that strategy is to elevate the role of sales reps, to give them more autonomy in making decisions about using resources to influence brand loyalty. Following that, companies will be charged with finding and hiring people who are a good fit with the new role.
Once the right candidate is found, training will need to evolve as well. This new rep will need to build skills in business management, analysis, decision making, and strategic thinking. But, that's a discussion for another post.
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