Managing Sales in Disruption

2020 forced the world to make a jump to digital transformation. Businesses had to scramble to figure out ways to respond to the volatility and uncertainty in the environment. While the Pharmaceutical and healthcare industries have been one of the first to bounce back, chronic therapies, nutrition/immunity boosters, and COVID-19 related products have shown growth. In other therapies, brands leading the category have performed. Changes in practice, lesser number of prescriptions being generated, drop in patient footfall and older doctors cutting down on practice have all led to reduced opportunities for Field force to engage with HCPs and communicate brand messaging.

Positively speaking, this is an opportunity for us to be more flexible and use integrated marketing communication channels to supplement traditional channels to reach doctors and engage patients. To say the least Covid 19 led to a disruption in the sales process, supply chain issues, inability to meet HCPs, demoralization of teams. However, businesses need to deliver sales numbers despite the disruption.

Here are 5 keys to manage sales in disruption:

1.   Strong brands survive and grow

Interestingly, we see that despite the disruption, the brands which are category leaders have not merely survived but have grown. Even without regular promotion, doctors have continued to prescribe them while all the rest struggle to get in a reminder.

Product differentiation even in a commodity market situation, sharp target market segmentation, and positioning are age-old keys that must be used. To add to that brand strategy and communication have to take into account customer insights and challenges in practice.

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2.   Execution of strategy

However, no matter how good your strategy, the challenge lies in execution. How do we get our field force to communicate the strategy, especially now when getting a call is tough, and face to face calls are limited. The key will be to ensure that accompanied working by managers will create impact; that the MR’s will promote brands through a focus on ‘Science-based communication’ and not just rely on relationships and pressure on the doctor to prescribe because the MR is ‘regular’.

3.   Building confidence and skills of team

Emotional health is a factor we will have to deal with across the board. The confidence, motivation, and emotional well-being of our teams will play a role in achieving business results and monthly targets. Change creates stress and no one can dispute that this has been a period of extreme change and stress for all. The change also compels upgrading our skills lest we become obsolete. The new context necessitates that we focus on identifying the new skills that our teams need to remain relevant and competent. As I see it, some of the new skills include:

  • Science-based communicating and listening to customers
  • Brand building in the field
  • Leading and Managing teams remotely
  • Analytical skills
  • Data-driven decision making
  • Emotional intelligence
  • The discipline of execution
  • Omnichannel marketing/ integrated Phygital marketing
  • Leadership, Building resilience, and motivation of teams
  • Technical skills to leverage the digital platform

While the debate may be on ‘whether to conserve resources or spend on development’, the argument has to be for ‘investing in people and equipping them to navigate this new territory successfully – for in their success lies the organization’s performance.

Sales representatives today will need to upskill themselves in this digital era and will need to develop more value-based relationships to be able to meet HCPs, manage the sales process in disruption.

4.   Managing remote working teams

Remote working for field force is always a challenge. Remote managing of the field force is an even greater challenge especially since much of the sales management work was done during accompanied working. Field managers and Senior managers would work together with front-line salespersons and train, motivate, engage, and support them to build relationships with customers in search of the targeted number of prescriptions. With traveling being limited, we have to find ways to empower and equip line managers to manage and monitor their teams and guide them to deliver their numbers while managing their teams remotely.

5. Focus on Low productivity territories

Productivity and Salesforce effectiveness is a challenge even in normal times. Low productivity markets will tend to drop even more during disruption and the shift in prescriptions by customers will be a painful loss for organizations. Special attention needs to be paid to these markets so that we maintain the sales and increase them. This is also an opportunity to capture market share from competitors who may be focused elsewhere and may not be meeting doctors as frequently.

In every crisis lies an opportunity. Much as we would like to go back to the familiar space of the old normal, we must accept that change is here to stay. Disruption brings in its wake something new. We need to prepare for how are we going to ride the change and figure out how best we can improve the quality of our execution, build the confidence and morale of our people, and thereby deliver results.