Finding the right approach to supporting “special” field forces can promote overall efficiency while providing metrics useful for management.
For companies with specialty field forces there are a number of important nuances to supporting speaker bureau activities. There is often a tendency for “special” to translate into unique; meaning everything they want to do is different and potentially more expensive. But does this have to be the case?
Defining a specialty field force and how they fit into your organization is the first task. Most have or claim to have a unique customer base. While they could potentially share resources they may have a different management and reporting structure, and that further encourages their differentiation. And that’s where most organizations leave the subject.
However, what if those field forces weren’t so unique, just “different”? Such an approach would imply commonality as the first principal; special, unusual and more expensive could be dramatically reduced. At AHM we have found that customer organizations can succeed in this approach by clearly identifying the potential differences in the needs of the specialty field force and then identifying where there is overlap and where there are similarities.
Because we believe consistency of processes drives efficiency we have generally advocated for a standardized approach, informed by metrics, so that the specialty field force gets what it needs rather than simply what it wants.
For a pharma company, how they choose to support a specialty sales force can vary depending on company culture, organizational structure, and how costs for supporting administration activities are allocated.
At one company with which we worked, management took the approach of standardizing services across the entire sales force, regardless of area or specialty. In this particular case, one specialty sales force reported up through a business unit that was almost a company within a company. So, they were accustomed to doing things their own way. The field force was no exception and was not initially inclined to appreciate the effort of standardization.
We had to find a reasonable middle ground that would appeal to them as well as everyone else. We had to work hard on communication and on how support decisions are made, making sure stakeholders were aware that they really aren’t that different from each other across business units and the company as a whole. In particular, what we had to do was tailor common support, not necessarily money and services but communications and support.
Making it work
Internally, working with stakeholders, we measured how we were managing our services for the company as a whole and for this particular group.
The questions we asked include:
- Are tasks properly aligned and consistent across the board?
- Are some areas lacking?
- If we are not meeting certain metrics for this group, why and how can we get back within range?
- How can we reduce “noise” and increase satisfaction?
External perspectives are similar. There are multiple customers we had to please, speakers being one. So, we surveyed them to take a measure of how quickly and effectively they felt we communicated, and handled travel and logistics. Were we consistent across different types of speakers? We surveyed them and presented the results to management. Then, as a group, we looked at what we could improve.
We did similar things with field and field management.
We also measured the specialty sales force compared with others within the same company. We found they did have lower metrics but we came up with an improvement plan based on measurement of results. We made sure to follow up with dissatisfied customers and we got in front of all the groups with regularly scheduled status call to show them the improvement processes we implemented and to share the survey results to track our success over time.
Most crucially, we showed that it worked. A standardized approach is efficient and effective and can still accommodate the small variations needed by specialty groups. The critical factor was that it needed to be a collective initiative with customer buy-in; otherwise, it would not have worked.
If the pharmaceutical company received negative feedback, it would have been easy to just blame our group. They recognized that before pointing fingers, we could work to solve problems together. And, if you don’t have that partnership approach, it won’t work!
Jason Bogdan, Vice President, Account Management, AHM
Jason has over 13 years account management experience in the pharmaceutical industry. He has extensive experience working with multiple channels within pharma including; marketing, sales operations, IT, compliance, procurement and finance. He has experience in strategizing, planning and managing all aspects of content development and program execution for both launch and commercialized pharmaceutical products. He also has vast technical experience in understanding client needs and working to develop and deliver software solutions addressing the needs of sales, compliance, finance and marketing professionals.