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Role & Responsibilities of Salespersons in Pharmaceutical Industry

Business organizations have evolved through the successive stages of

  • Production orientation, and
  • Sales orientation

In the production orientation stage, the business decisions are predominantly guided by the production requirements and constraints.

With growing industrialization, the number of producers offering the same or similar products increased thereby increasing the competition in the marketplace. Mere production of quality products could not ensure results by itself and the focus now shifted to aggressive salesmanship supported by the sales promotional activities to convince the customers.

By the end of last century it became clear that a broader marketing orientation and not mere sales orientation was necessary not only for success but for survival in the cut-throat competition in the marketplace.

The fundamental principles in marketing are:

  1. Customer orientation – identification and satisfaction of customers’ needs & preferences and their satisfaction
  2. Profitable sales volume
  3. Systems approach – coordinated or integrated management efforts

Personal selling and Pharma industry

Personal selling is one of the oldest and most reliable methods of business promotion. Although expensive, it is often indispensable due to increasing competition and growing sophistication of both customers as well as products.

In a fiercely competitive market, such as the Pharma industry, where many companies offer same or similar (‘me-too’) products, it is often the person behind the product who makes the difference!

The fact that personal selling is the single most important promotional method used in the Pharma industry has resulted in a unique situation as far as the marketing orientation in Pharma industry is concerned.

As someone who is in constant contact with the customers, markets and competitor activities, a salesperson in Pharma Industry is in the best position to effectively incorporate the marketing orientation in his or her sales function.

Role and responsibilities of Salespersons in Pharma Industry

Generally speaking, a ‘Medical Representative’ is someone who conveys information about Company’s products to the doctors, ensures their availability in the market and is expected to ensure timely payments from the marketing intermediaries.

The job profile of a M. R. can be covered under three categories, namely

  • Prescription generation
  • Customer coverage, and
  • Market intelligence

Prescription Generation

The most critical activity of a M. R. is to generate sales revenue and the most effective way to do this is to generate prescriptions for the Company’s products from the doctors he meets.

A prescription is a written instruction given by a doctor to a patient that tells him which medicine to take at what dosage, how frequently, and for how long. The patient takes this note to a chemist shop where he purchases the required medicines.

When the prescription is for your product (or ‘brand’) the amount paid by the patient to the chemist (or ‘retailer’) for purchasing the same is routed through the stockist (or ‘wholesaler’) and distributor to reach the Company.

Thus, generating prescriptions for your product is the only force (or ‘pull’) that results in stocking and selling of your products by the chemists and generating revenue for the Company.

Remember this is a challenging task that calls for sincere efforts, regular visits to doctors and chemists / stockists, proper use of promotional inputs including literature & samples of medicines and strict adherence to the work norms laid down by the Company.

Customer coverage

The M. R. has to meet the doctors regularly. He usually has a list of doctors (‘Standard Visiting List’ or SVL) that he is supposed to call on at appropriate frequency as per the pre-approved ‘daily work plan’ and communicate to them the relevant medico-marketing information.

M.R. has to be aware of the different specialities of the doctors and promote right products to right doctors.

He also has to collect feedback about the products used by the doctors and satisfactorily resolve any complaints or concerns related to products with help from HO as and when necessary.

M. R. has to meet the chemists in his territory to ensure free availability of his products. If required, he can also personally book orders from chemists and forward them to the stockists / distributors and follow them up. Issues like products nearing expiry or breakages / leakages during transport and credit / debit notes arise often and need prompt & satisfactory resolution with guidance from superiors wherever required. One has to ensure that each and every call made on a customer results in a productive output.

It is obvious that only by creating a strong working relationship with one’s customers based on mutual trust and respect one can achieve the desired results for self as well as for the organization.

Market intelligence

The success or failure of a business is decided by how well prepared it is to satisfy its customers’ needs in light of the competitors’ efforts and prevailing market conditions. And who else is in the best position to provide this information but the M. R.? Identifying right customers, selecting right products to be promoted to them, and overcoming competitors’ attempts to target the same customers for their products by prompt intimation to superiors so that right marketing plan can be evolved is an important aspect of a representative’s job profile.

A ‘prescription audit’ or ‘brand audit’ carried out at chemist level is a very useful tool to generate valuable information about the prescription habits of doctors, stocking patterns of chemists, slow- and fast-moving products, and promotional activities conducted by competitors.

Role and responsibilities of Area / Regional Managers in Pharma Industry

Area Managers and Regional Managers ( also known as First Line and Second Line Managers, respectively) primarily supervise or control the Medical Representatives working under them in the given geographical territory or for the specific product range. The transition from a Representative to a First / Second Line Manager involves some important changes in the role & responsibilities of a salesperson, such as:

  • Change in Perspectives
  • Change in Goals
  • Change in Responsibilities
  • Change in Satisfaction
  • Change in Job skill requirements
  • Change in Relationships

The key to making a successful transition includes:

  • Learning attitude
  • Realistic expectations
  • Need to make the initial adjustments
  • Learning new job responsibilities

Job Responsibilities of Area / Regional Sales Managers

The key result areas for Line Managers are:
  • Deployment & control of M.R. & their activities
    • SVL and Daily Work Plan
    • Input utilization
  • Customer coverage
    • Joint working
    • Independent customer coverage
  • Communication, and
  • Meeting business objectives

Deployment and Control of M.R. & their Activities

A line manager has to ensure effective deployment of his sales team in the given territory. Thus he may be involved in the recruitment & selection of M.R., their on-the-job training, supervising, and evaluating their performance.

It should be remembered that a line manager usually spends not more than five days in a month with each of his team members by way of joint working. In other words, a representative remains on his own for the balance working days of the month.

The manager therefore must have an effective system to ensure that the M.R. adheres to a predetermined customer coverage plan. For this purpose, the M.R. is provided a list of doctors (‘Standard Visiting List’ or SVL) that he is supposed to call on at appropriate frequency as per the pre-approved ‘daily work plan’.

A Daily Work Plan has the following advantages:

  • It gives clear-cut direction for a day’s work to the M.R.
  • It ensures complete customer coverage.
  • It minimizes deviation from planned working.
  • It minimizes risk of missed calls.
  • It can be correlated with the daily call reports to verify compliance.
Input Utilization is another aspect of M.R.’s activities that requires control by superiors. Promotional inputs viz. literatures, samples, or gifts are well-designed tools to help the promotion of a given product to target customers. They are to be used judiciously in a cost-effective manner so as to generate desired prescriptions and achieve revenue targets.

Customer Coverage

A Line Manger has to ensure that his M.R. is aware of the different specialities of the doctors and promotes right products to right doctors.

The M.R. is expected to meet not less than 90 % of the doctors in his SVL, including repeat visits, in each month. Further, the Area Manager is required to meet not less than 90 % of the doctors in the list of all his team members at least once in a Quarter. The manager has to plan his joint working with his team members in consultation with his superior and prepare a ‘Tour Program’ so that his movements are known to the superiors, the subordinates and the sales administration team.

Remember, joint working is not ‘policing’ or ‘fault-finding’ of M.R. Indeed, it is an opportunity to motivate the M.R., demonstrate key communication & selling skills, increase call effectiveness, improve customer relations and enhance Company image.

Whenever desired, the Line Manager must cultivate his own select group of important customers for independent calls as per the Company policy. The Line Manager also has to ensure that the M.R. collects feedback about the products used by the doctors and satisfactorily resolve any complaints or concerns related to products with help from HO as and when necessary.

Further, the Manager has to ensure that the M. R. meets the chemists in his territory to ensure free availability of his products. Whenever required, the M.R. must personally book orders from chemists and forward them to the stockists / distributors and follow them up. Issues like products nearing expiry or breakages / leakages during transport and credit / debit notes arise often and need prompt & satisfactory resolution with guidance from superiors, if necessary.

Communication

Communication between a Line Manager, his team and his superiors is vital aspect of successful sales performance.

Communication, however, is not limited to tour program, work plan and call reports alone. A letter of appreciation after excellent joint working achieves a lot by way of motivation and encouragement. A written communication has far more retention value than oral communication, which is often forgotten.

When an area for improvement or correction of a work practice is required to be sent it should be worded properly so as to avoid any negative impact.

Meeting Business Objectives

The annual sales forecast is carefully prepared at HO based on previous performance of the territories, inputs from sales force, and growth aspirations of the Organization. Based on this, the sales targets for each territory are communicated in terms of unit sales and rupee value for each quarter and month.

The Line Managers have to ensure that their team has a clear understanding of the targets, products, and promotional strategy so that the growth and profit objectives can be successfully achieved. Moreover, they have to ensure that no short cut methods are used to attain the short-term targets jeopardizing the long-term goals.

When a team member has difficulty in achieving sales targets the Manager has to use his knowledge and experience about markets and customers to help overcome those difficulties.

Remember, a Line Manager is perceived as a friend, philosopher and guide by the M.R. in his team and eventually he becomes a role model for them. His actions, behaviour and body language are keenly observed and often emulated by his team. It is his ethical responsibility to give right advice and guidance to his team, motivate team members and achieve Company objectives.

In conclusion, the Line Manager should possess right attitude, good communication skills with leadership qualities, and should be capable of building an energetic team with a competitive edge and ability to execute the plan for achievement of pre-decided organizational goals.

References

  1. Prasad LM, Principles & Practice of Management. New Delhi: Sultan Chand & Sons; 1997
  2. Darryn Severyn, Introduction to Pharmaceutical Sales Industry. Pharmacareer, Available from: http://www.pharmacareer.ca/pharmaceutical-sales-chapter-2---career-progressions.html , downloaded May 15, 2013
  3. Introduction to Healthcare Selling Skills. Pharmacareer. Available from: http://www.pharmacareer.ca/pharmaceutical-selling-skills-chapter-4---post-call-analysis.html Downloaded May 15, 2013.
  4. Charles M. Futrell, Sales Management Teamwork, Leadership and Technology. Texas A&M University, Mays Business School Marketing Department. Available from: http://people.tamu.edu/~c-futrell , downloaded May 15, 2013
Dr Vijay Sohoni (June 2013)

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Pharma industry, Personal selling, Customer coverage, Prescription generation, Market intelligence, Communication, Business objectives,
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