There has been a lot written about the industry’s apparent move to Key Account Management and its impact on call rates and targeting. David Round provides a welcome break from the rhetoric and concentrates instead on the facts.
Mark Twain famously said that people often use statistics as a drunk uses a lamppost: for support rather than illumination. But when used properly, data can be incredibly illuminating – not least for the UK pharmaceutical industry. And analysis of pharma’s ongoing modification of its sales and marketing model is well worth putting under the spotlight.
In the past few years, experienced pharma commentators have looked in vain for evidence to support an inexorable, yet often anecdotal, march towards Key Account Management (KAM). The rhetoric said that pharma was taking a more sophisticated approach to sales and marketing activity and, in the process, delivering a more efficient and effective commercial model using a targeted KAM methodology. But the reality, and indeed the numbers, seemed to suggest otherwise.
The UK pharmaceutical industry may have taken the surgeon’s knife to its collective sales force and cut back on the volume of field-based staff. It may also have rebranded its sales representatives as ‘Account Managers’ and encouraged them to take a more measured approach to targeting key customers. But, until very recently, the number of GPs being seen by medical sales professionals across the year remained as high as ever – belying the claim that companies were moving away from the apparently inefficient ‘share of voice’ model that had served them so well in the past. Critics claimed that the traditional sales rep had simply been issued an Account Manager’s business card and given the accountability and autonomy to be more selective in targeting key customers – as well as a call rate target that was directly at odds with the KAM philosophy. And the statistics did little to quell the debate.
Data from Synmetrics, Cegedim Relationship Management’s activity benchmarking tool, shows that between December 2009 and December 2010 – and in the thick of widespread opinion preaching the gospel according to KAM – 92.7% of UK GPs had a face-to-face call or meeting with a representative from a pharmaceutical company. This indicates that, far from adopting a more considered approach to targeting its customers, the industry was still carrying out almost blanket coverage of GPs. What’s more, the 2010 data merely continued a similar trend from the years that preceded it – with annual industry coverage in the past decade consistently reaching over 90% of the total prescriber population.
But the past 18 months seem to represent a watershed for pharma sales operations in the UK. Something, it would appear, is happening. In the 12 months from July 2010 to June 2011, Synmetrics data show that the number of GPs who have had a face-to-face call or meeting with an industry representative has dropped to 85% – a fall of some 7%. Alongside this, in the first six months of 2011 the total number of GPs who have had a similar contact has slumped to 73%.
Whilst the half-year figure may not be wholly indicative, the July 2010 to June 2011 full-year data appear to represent a trend. And upon closer scrutiny, it’s a trend that’s been developing incrementally over the course of the past decade. Figure 1 shows that the total number of contacts on GPs has, apart from an uncharacteristic spike in 2008, been gradually declining since 2001.
Contact is classified as either a traditional face-to-face call or a meeting, and analysis of the contact rates for each of these methodologies is equally revealing. The number of face-to-face calls (per rep, per day) has been steadily falling year-on-year. Conversely, the number of meetings (per rep, per day) has gradually risen – and in fact grew disproportionately between 2007 and 2008. The Synmetrics data show that there are more meetings taking place today than at any point in the past ten years; and that, crucially, in 2010 the number of meetings per day overtook the number of face-to-face calls for the first time.
Significantly, the number of face-to-face calls being made each day has halved over the course of a decade. That’s a pretty spectacular statement. So spectacular that it’s worth repeating just to reflect on it: the number of face-to-face GP calls, per rep, per day, has halved since 2001. This has nothing to do with field force size and the fall in the number of representatives – it’s literally the number of calls per rep.
Moreover, data shows that 17,000 GPs – around 35% of the total population – have not received a face-to-face call in the past twelve months. In truth, this is another staggering revelation: the bread-and-butter, conventional pharma approach of face-to-face engagement between GP and representative has reached a point where more than a third of GPs have not received a call in the last year.
And so the ‘real world’ data are piling up. There are now fewer representatives, who are collectively making fewer calls. There’s an increase in the number of meetings, but a significant drop in activity, with daily call rates halved and over a third of pharma’s traditional customer population not receiving a single face-to-face call. It is a breathtaking decline, but it has not just happened overnight.
So what does all this mean? Does the 7% drop in GP coverage over the last 12 months provide the first conclusive evidence that Key Account Management is beginning to take hold in the UK? Or does the incremental decline in contact activity over the course of the past decade merely confirm that customer access, for reasons that are well documented, has shrunk considerably? Have GPs increasingly decided to close their doors to industry representatives, or have pharmaceutical companies taken a more measured approach and chosen not to target them? Drawing a distinction between the two is difficult. It’s most likely to be a combination of both factors.
What we do know, of course, is that the industry’s customer-base has broadened extensively in the past few years with the emergence of a new breed of decision-makers – loosely classified as payers. As a
result, pharmaceutical companies have been forced to balance activity between traditional customers and more influential stakeholders in medicines management and commissioning functions. With GP call rates
falling by half it would be easy to assume that sales professionals are spending up to half of their time refocusing on payer engagement. But this may be too simplistic a conclusion. The payer population has rapidly earned a reputation for being difficult to access, and building relationships with the new stakeholders is widely accepted to be a long-term process that will take time and effort.
However, it would be disingenuous to conclude that half a sales professional’s day is being spent calling upon payers, and to use this presumption as the ultimate proof that Key Account Management has finally
established itself is probably a leap too far – it would perhaps be more realistic to assume that the effort and preparation required to see these payers is what is taking up a greater part of the sales professional’s day.
Yes we KAM?
It’s still too early to make definitive claims that the KAM model is firmly embedded in UK pharma. The indications are that the approach is beginning to take shape, but there is perhaps still some way to go before companies finally feel confident enough to entirely let go of the traditional share of voice model. But while that transition continues, the need for a more sophisticated approach to targeting customers remains as strong as ever. Pharma companies need to use all of the available data to drive their promotional plans, and use every available channel to reach their customers.
The industry needs to be as targeted as it can be, and sales professionals must be as smart as possible in their approach. Quantity is being replaced by quality. As the number of daily contacts being made continues to decrease, it’s vital to make sure that every face-to-face call or meeting actually counts. As
Account Managers are encouraged to develop their own call plans and become more accountable for their
own business, the need for robust and effective data to help make informed targeting decisions in the process is paramount.
Statistics can, of course, be used to provide reassurance and justification for a decision; but when considered more carefully, robust data can stimulate much greater illumination. For UK medical sales professionals, gaining access to information that enables you to shine a light on all of your customers and establish which ones provide the greatest potential, could make the difference between staggering around in the dark and giving your sales figures that extra spark. Don’t allow yourself to become the drunk at the lamppost – it only ever leads to a headache the following day.
David Round is UK General Manager, Cegedim Relationship Management.