Pharmaceutical Sales: Optimizing the Sales Detail


Despite recent advances in digital marketing and DTC advertising, the HCP sales force remains the primary marketing channel for most pharmaceutical and biotech brands. For years, pharmaceutical marketers have been conducting market research to optimize their sales collateral. Most pharmaceutical marketers are all too familiar with ‘sales detail testing’ process: we put the doctor in a focus group room, deliver a flawlessly scripted sales detail and probe for input on improving the sales collateral. Based on this input, the marketing team revises the sales aid, passes it along to the sales team and exchanges congratulatory high-fives. But are the high-fives justified? Perhaps not. Too often, we see a gap between the marketing message and implementation of that message. Quite simply, what tested well in research is not always what works in a real-world selling environment. This gap begs a simple question about how market research affects our marketing decisions. Are we optimizing sales messages for a real-world selling environment, or are we simply optimizing sales aid messages for a sterile market research environment? To close this gap, we recommend several adjustments to the traditional market research approach to optimizing the detail:

Focusing on sales collateral and call script: Quite simply, pharmaceutical sales reps rarely use sales collateral in the way that the marketing team designed them (in many cases, this is for very good reason). More often than not, the rep follows their own script in interacting with the physician, and the rep may not use sales collateral at all. Knowing that this is the often case, we recommend that brand teams invest as much time in optimizing the call script as they invest in optimizing the sales collateral itself. This includes identifying common FAQs, objections and areas of concern and developing succinct responses to those questions.

Engaging sales training early: Too often, marketing simply provides collateral to the sales training team with little or no input from these expert trainers. Engaging sales training early in the detail development process enables the marketing team to infuse a real-world selling perspective into the detail. Furthermore, engaging the sales team also has the additional benefit of providing the sales team a stronger a sense of ownership in the overall sales message.

Creating a real-world detail: Traditional sales detail research typically includes a ‘mock detail’ in which the participating doctor receives the sales message in a focus group room. Unfortunately, the detail delivered in market research is often a far cry from a real-world detail. We recommend making the mock detail more of a ‘real-world’ detail by: 1) Asking the doctor how much time they typically give to reps for a sales detail and delivering the mock detail in that time and 2) Encouraging the doctor to engage the rep as they would in an actual detail in their practice (e.g., interrupting, asking questions, etc).

Dan Callahan is the Founder and President of Vivisum Partners. He specializes in creating multi-phase research programs that combine quantitative, qualitative and strategic facilitation methodologies. Email Dan at dan.callahan@vivisumpartners.com