Pf’s Iain Bate examines how contract sales organisations are taking their place among the industry heavyweights.
There can be little doubt that pharmaceutical employees – in particular sales and marketing executives – have taken some metaphorical hefty blows in recent times. All of pharma’s biggest heavyweights have announced ‘austerity’ measures as part of widespread job cuts across the majority of divisions in recent times.
Whilst pharmaceutical CEOs have enjoyed champion pay rises, the humble employee at ground level has been unable to duck and weave away from the dreaded knockout blow. As a result, the job market has been on the ropes. However, candidates searching for a career in the medical sales industry do not have to throw the towel in just yet.
The employment market has suffered many bumps and bruises in recent years – but Contract Sales Organisations (CSOs) are leading the fightback. Now regarded as a leading contender for those looking for a prolonged career in the medical sales industry, CSOs continue to punch above their
weight in a challenging environment.
Pf spoke to four leading CSO companies to provide a blow-by-blow account of how contract organisations have boxed clever in recent years. Why have they gained in popularity despite the employment market suffering a bloody nose? And what does the future hold for the contract sales movement?
The gloves are off
In the modern working environment, when uncertainty accompanies everyday challenges, the flexibility CSOs offer clients is a major attraction. “The fundamental driver is the requirement for an increase in flexibility from our biopharma customers,” says Helen Molloy, HR Director at Quintiles Commercial. “This is nothing new – but what has changed is the nature of that flexibility. It’s not just about numbers of people, it’s about expert teams with specific skill sets and evidence tailored address local priorities.
“Customers are increasingly looking to partner with us to help navigate challenges around proving cost effectiveness and long term value of a drug to a wider range of stakeholders. We are moving away from what has historically been seen to be the fundamental core of our services, and into much more specialised areas.”
Flexibility is certainly an attractive proposition for clients who have slimmed down sales teams yet still require the prowess to impress customers. However, flexibility isn’t the only factor driving CSO growth. Specialist skills are now required by clients to outwit the opposition. “Contract sales organisations are moving away from large-scale build, high noise proposition and are becoming much more specialist,”
says Emma Busby, Project Director at CHASE. “Organisations are demanding to have specialist skills and capabilities either to be equitable to their teams, or, in most cases, to offer more opportunity and more value within their teams. Their key objective is to heighten the level of capability that they have got on their headcount team.”
Pharma’s increased reliance on contract methodology is now reflected in the number of candidates turning to CSOs to develop a career in UK medical sales. “CSOs are becoming the only way into the industry,” says Emma. “We work with many blue-chip companies to provide an influx of trainees every year. Again those people go through organisations and develop. The trend went away from that for a few years, but it’s definitely coming back now. Companies recognise they need high-quality sales engagement. We can regurgitate skills but fresh attitudes and capabilities coming in will actually challenge the status quo.”
At a time when, as far as job security is concerned, pharmaceutical representatives fear the next barrage of punches, CSOs are doing more than ever to provide a shot at the big time in the industry. David Alexander, Contract Business Unit Team Leader at Star, says there are a number of reasons why CSOs have gained
in popularity recently. “Security, variety and skill development are key,” he said. “Working for a CSO
means people can move from one assignment to another and gather experience with different companies,
in different therapeutic areas and with different customers over time. Transferable skills and flexibility
are important qualities in today’s environment and working with a CSO will help people profile both.”
That value is also being recognised by clients seeking to boost sales at various stages of a brand’s life cycle. With the industry well on the way to manoeuvring itself away from the traditional sales model to a sophisticated fighting-fit key account approach, contract sales organisations are perfectly placed to augment teams or, in some cases, replace them. “A CSO can help do both,” says David. “It can either enhance a team or, if necessary, it can replace it. You can either have a bolt-on campaign, where contract reps target specific areas in fixed time periods, or, you can replace an entire team with a CSO key account team, enabling flexibility and resource in particular areas of the UK. This allows clients to be much more outcomes-focused.”
The next round
But what next for contract sales organisations? Will pharmaceutical companies decide to completely
shed their entire headcount and outsource functions to specialist organisations? Andy Holgate, Business
Unit Director from Ashfield In2Focus, believes this may be the case. “Contract sales organisations are expanding into new areas,” he says. “The model for CSOs in the next 20 years could be where pharmaceutical companies simply concentrate on research and development and strategic marketing and finance. Contract sales organisations will, potentially, then do all of the rest. I think that is the trend that CSOs are driving towards.
“We may be in a bit of a perfect storm at the moment where pharmaceutical companies, many of whom are being squeezed from above and are tinkering around the edges, are considering outsourcing services in areas where they would never previously have allocated external resource. Contract sales organisations are extremely good at being able to help pharma companies, and other clients, differentially resource people when and where they want them and when and where they don’t, be that in sales or other value-adding roles.”
In an austere environment when pharmaceutical companies are fighting against a whole host of external
pressures, it’s difficult to see how contract sales organisation will fail to grow in the coming years. The powerful combination of being an inviting proposition for individuals seeking a career in medical sales industry, and strategic allies for companies in need of flexible and specialist commercial expertise, CSOs are rapidly establishing themselves among the industry heavyweights.