“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