‘Sales’ is not a dirty word

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By Pf Editor Chris Ross

A few years ago, I saw an advert in the recruitment section of a national newspaper. “Wanted: intelligent salesperson.” It’s quite possibly the greatest oxymoron of all time (though if you work in sales, you might want to look that up).

OK, I’m being deliberately provocative and facetious, but in my profession, it’s par for the course. In the world of publishing there are few divides greater than the one that exists between ‘editorial’ and ‘sales’. Publically, the two parties seldom dine in the same restaurant – and if they do, it’s often only so that the former can explain the menu to the latter.

Editorial and sales people are ‘different breeds’. Editors will commonly profess “oh no, I don’t get involved in sales” – while salespeople will generally claim they leave the words to the “editorial types.” It’s an age-old professional rivalry and, from a publishing perspective, is driven by the need to provide readers with information in a way that doesn’t appear to have been influenced by the hand of the sponsor. When it goes wrong, editorial integrity is brought into question. Readers stop reading, and advertisers take their marketing budgets elsewhere.

But the editorial/sales relationship is built on the fundamental principle that neither party can survive without the other.

The divide is not restricted to publishing. It exists in pretty much every other industry – not least pharma. For example, the pharmaceutical industry is full of medics who, discretely or otherwise, distance themselves from the work of the sales force. The “I am not a salesman” approach ensures medics maintain their professional integrity – and, of course, keeps them within the boundaries of the ABPI Code. But sales reps are effectively selling science – and the two disciplines need to work hand-in-hand.

To many professions, Editors included, it often seems that ‘sales’ is regarded as a dirty word. But there is a difference between ‘selling’ and being commercially aware. And at the moment, no matter what profession you’re in, commercial agility is the most important skillset in town. The need to operate in a cross-functional fashion across companies is imperative.

The drug industry is unusual in that, largely speaking, its sales representatives never actually sell any products. They detail them to clinicians in the hope that when a patient presents with the appropriate condition, their treatment will be front of mind for the doctor. In fact the current direction of travel in the NHS is moving the medical sales representative even further away from the notion of selling products. Pharmaceutical companies are beginning to focus on the development of services, where products are wrapped up in packages of care. Engagement between medical representative and HCP is increasingly concentrating on patient pathways and effecting service redesign. It’s a sophisticated sale, and it requires the integrated and joined-up involvement of professionals from across entire organisations.

And so the marketplace is crying out for intelligent sales people. The question is: where are they? Pushing professional rivalries to one side, I’m not alone in thinking that there is a real dearth of sales talent in the employment market at the moment – across all industries. But that’s another blog for another day. In the meantime, I’m off to explain ‘oxymoron’ to our account manager.



Contact the author: chris.ross@healthpublishing.co.uk