“Sales at Any Cost” is Not Sustainable in the Long Run

Sales pressure

The recent suicide by 27-year-old Ashish Awasthi, a Medical Rep, brings much sadness to the pharma professionals fraternity. A detailed investigation by the New York Times points to sales pressure as the cause for taking the extreme step.

At MedicinMan, we are of the firm belief that pharma field sales is a stepping stone to a successful career. Nearly all our speakers at FFE, BrandStorm and our article contributors began their careers in field sales and moved up to senior positions – including CEO.

It is important that now, more than ever, industry leaders reevaluate their approach to the field force – the last and most important link in the pharmaceutical business. In this article, K. Hariram – former MD (retd.) at Galderma India, who started his career in field sales, urges a to return to the fundamentals of field sales as a way forward. – Editor

In the recent past there has been a couple of reported instances where the Pharma sales persons have taken extreme steps. The reasons cited include ‘sales pressure’ and the inability to cope with the pressure.

While the exact cause may include several other factors, sales pressure could have been the ‘final nail in the coffin’.

It is a well understood fact that the ‘selling’ profession in any sector is a demanding job requiring timely deliverables in the form of target achievement. Other factors like erratic time schedules, bracing the vagaries of weather and facing customer rejections compound the pressure. This is especially true of the pharma industry in recent years due to generic competition and certain unhealthy practices that have crept in.

In light of the recent unfortunate events, maybe it is time to revisit the basics and reinforce the fundamentals of pharma sales management:

  • The Sales Management process should be tuned to ‘demand creation’ and based on that the ‘demand fulfillment’ cycle. Definitely not ‘selling at any cost’.
  • Data and predictive analytics should be used to set realistic targets. Sales leaders need to be in touch with the ground realities before setting targets. This involves having empathy for the field force.
  • Promotion or selection for the job of Front-line Manager needs careful attention and should focus on managerial and leadership skills including attitude.
  • More importantly, after promotion as a Front-line Manager, besides the induction learning programs, they should be trained in other skills like ‘on-the-job coaching’, ’emotional intelligence’, ‘redirecting behaviors for improving performance’ etc., on an ongoing basis.
  • The above skills should be integrated into the performance assessment system of all the line managers and enough emphasis should be given on these becoming an integral part of the sales management process.
  • Sales teams should be put through series of workshops to equip them with stress management skills.
  • In pool territories the focus should be on ‘CLEAR’ goals – Collaborative, Limited in scope and direction, Empathy, Appreciable and Refinable.
  • Technology should be used to keep teams connected, not just for reporting but also to foster team spirit and facilitate ‘on-the-go’ learning.
  • Line managers should foster a ‘team culture’ thus inculcating a sense of belonging and the ‘team glue’ should be strong enough to provide an emotional connect.

Moreover CEOs, the marketing teams and the HR heads should find ways to be visible, periodically, to the sales team at all levels.

Their visits should include building inclusiveness and reinforcing the values and ethics of the company. Apart from this, ‘open forums’ should be encouraged to understand on-the-job difficulties and obstacles and prompt efforts to mitigate the same should be undertaken. 

Equally important is learning to live the vision and mission statement of the company without them becoming empty slogans.

For commercial organisations, profits are important. But it cannot be ‘at any cost’ and certainly not at the cost of human life. 

I recall Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda‘s statement:

“Every human life outweighs the earth.”

As healthcare providers helping to mitigate the pain and misery of millions of human beings, we need to remember that charity begins at home – with the sales force, the REVENUE GENERATING TEAM of the company.

About K. Hariram

K. Hariram is the former M.D. (retd.) at Galderma India. He is Chief Mentor at MedicinMan and a regular contributor. Email: khariram25@yahoo.com
  • Chandrashekar r

    Great insights, that really work in a progressive pharma company and needed to be adopted by every one in pharma marketing.
    Today empathy for the PSR is lost in many companies, right from target setting, training on the job, equipping with knowledge and holding hands to solve problems.
    The only thing taught is how to rope in a customer thru freebies

  • Shubhro Banerjee

    In my opinion, Generation of Sales should be the responsibility of the Marketing Head and PMT, pressure of sales generation should be on them and not on poor MR. They should be accountable for their strategies.

    • Nitesh Kumar

      Am in agreement.. Pharmaceutical sales in India have become commodity sales.. Strategies are revolving to Trade the products, hardly any company believe in “Making the Brands”.. All are in race to be number one by hook or crook, no matter what would be the long term results of such myopic efforts..

  • Dr. Rahul Sawakhande

    I personally think too much is said about selling pressure. In today’s world where is job without pressure. We want even government job to have similar parameters of assessment and KPI,’s when we see sorry state of affairs. In today’s world there is choice to change your job or industry or do something of your choice more than ever. Who said marketing team is not under pressure of performance. Everyday they are under direct supervision of boss’s. They suffer equal if not more pressure. Companies donor want to invest money in all these analytics and research. Companies want more sales with less marketing spend and better bottom line. Then there is pressure on bottom line from local competitive players in market. Unfair trade practises is wrong word used in business as ultimately we all want sales at end on any activity. With MCI and UCPMP compliance how much pressure is in marketing team for innovation a word used by people who hardly give chance and funds to innovate. Every life is important but there multiple facets to such grave step. Sales pressure is just one. Also hypocrisy is order of day and people come out give views as if everyone just did perfect. We all want perfect world and perfect leaders. Have seen leaders take credit of success and in failure tell you to put blame on team or colleagues. Budgets of employee development is only a budget we allocate every year and then add it to bottom line as is. I personally feel we need good leaders first who understand good and healthy business. Not some one in mad race of personal growth at cost of people around and down the pyramid.

  • Bhupendra Pal

    .In today’s Era MR doing there own job along with different other so many other responsibilities given by management and sad part of management is that they think, since they are on field they bound to do that , i think this is a reason MR now a days over burden with different work , Sales is a team work and every body should contributed

  • Nitesh Kumar

    Recently, I came to know that a leading company set a target for one of their brand as 100 Cr from 47 Cr in current accounting period(the brand was launched in 2011) Its obvious fact that marketing strategies would be on expense of “Trading of Brand”. We understand that price control and eroding bottom line are creating challenges, but thats the Job of a marketer to bring innovative plans to build brands fr long run and on the same time facilitating sales team for smoother, complaint & consistent sales.
    Most of the times in our Industry, marketers fail to make the Sales Force understand what exactly is the expectation from the Brand(s). Marketers couldn’t explain clearly their strategies overviews & expectations to the Sales Team. It would remain happening untill Marketers wouldn’t take onus of this and make plans to imprint their expectations from Brands to the Sales Team..

  • Mansoor Khan

    This is really traumatic, guy when U are in Sales, than don’t get disappointed ever, life is blended with good & bad, favourable & unfavourable, desirable & undesirable. And life must go on till the last breath and enjoy every bit of it. Happy selling and Enjoy selling……..

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