Tapping Sales & Marketing Talent


Lessons learned from Medical Device and Pharma companies on how they identify, attract and retain the best commercial talent

With moderator NEIL GREENBERG Editor, Healthcare Sales & Marketing

Our panel of experts:

JEFF DOBBS Vice President, Human Resources Terumo Medical Corp.

ERIC FINK Vice President, Global Talent Management Jazz Pharmaceuticals

STACY MARKEL Senior Vice President, Human Resources Portola Pharmaceuticals

BRENDA VESEY Senior Vice President, HR Integration & Transformational Programs Teva Pharmaceuticals

It’s one of the most challenging tasks in our industry: finding the people who have the background, drive, cultural fit and other traits to be a valuable part of our organization. We acquire some of this information through talking to colleagues, fine-combing resumés, doing interviews, and other methods. In the end, how do we determine whether a prospective candidate has what it takes to exceed? Can they become one of the team, a member of the family? It’s a combination of all the above and more. We asked a number of executives who have been successful in attracting and building the best talent. Here’s their wisdom, for your benefit.

How do you measure the importance of sales and marketing talent in your organization? Can you share any measures you have or examples/case studies that you have used?

JEFF DOBBS: When Terumo thought about taking the business direct, we gave a lot of time and consideration to building the right skills and capabilities we would need to create and deliver the value proposition to our targeted audience. We needed the ability to re-introduce physicians to the importance of vascular access, as well as the ability to teach and influence the adoption of new points of access to the vasculature.

The ability to change the conversation with our customers, and then to deliver the technical and procedural education and technology to enable that “new” conversation, has driven the need to hire and develop sales and marketing professionals who “get it” and can deliver the suite of sales and marketing tools needed. The entire exercise of starting with the end state and then backing into what capabilities we needed to get there really helped build success.

ERIC FINK: Jazz evaluates sales leaders’ performance based on three metrics: meeting sales goals, people leadership, and culture fit within the values based organization: what people accomplished, how they accomplished this, which is conducted via peer review.

What is your philosophy on compensation for sales and marketing? Does your company pay over the industry standard? Under the industry standard? How did you determine your strategy?

BRENDA VESEY: There is a delicate balance. The company needs to attract talent, while staying aligned with the current workforce. We work together with a business partner and the compensation committee (with a cross-functional team). Together we set a strategy. For example a company may elect to pay above mid-point: 50-75% to attract the right talent and also pay current employee base competitive to the marketplace.

ERIC FINK: For cash (salary & bonus), we actually target the median on average and with equity we target the 60th percentile. However, all employees are equity eligible and currently receive annual grants in addition to new hire equity and any equity associated with President’s Club.

JEFF DOBBS: It’s important to understand where you play, and to understand the market. Be purposeful in setting the bar at the right level. Our bar is set at the 75th percentile. We purposely hire the right people at the right compensation level to retain them. We set the highest standards. Once we put the bar at the right level, we then aligned all of the compensation mechanisms (short term, long term) to reinforce this.

When designing incentives for sales and marketing, what types of plans have proven most effective and efficient? What is your philosophy on at-risk compensation versus base salary? Capped vs. uncapped commissions?

JEFF DOBBS: For our Direct Sales reps we have a highly leveraged compensation model that puts roughly 65% of pay at risk; for managers it is less so.

STACY MARKEL: It’s important to look at the behaviors you are trying to drive when setting up incentives. We need to be sure we are not incentivizing the wrong behaviors. There are different models and different components that can be utilized, depending upon thresholds. Different members of the leadership team have different philosophies on the topic, so first, they set a strategy and ensure alignment. Portola’s compensation is competitive with the market. It’s important to benchmark with peer groups.

BRENDA VESEY: Incentives need to be specific, based on role. Some people contribute more directly to pipeline development; they have their own timeline, which may not line up with the annual compensation cycle. Design a plan that is a fit for the purpose. This builds credibility and employee engagement. When employees feel that their work is acknowledged, and understood, they are more likely to be motivated by the plan. When benchmarking, be sure you are identifying your company’s peers. You’ll need an appropriate comparison. Look at the marketplace, but remember that things change rapidly. Everything is so dynamic. Update this information annually.

ERIC FINK: The company designs different incentives for different business units. The incentives should align with the work people are doing. For some brands, the focus is around education. Ensure that the incentive plan is aligned with the actions, otherwise the plan can be demoralizing and can create a disconnect. At risk comp: 70/30.

Where do you get your best sales and marketing talent from? How do you attract the best players? Do you have any interesting talent acquisition metrics that you use?

ERIC FINK: Jazz evaluates talent acquisition and new hires using a net promoter score and benchmarking. We have hiring managers rate new hires 90 days from their start date, and again after one year. They use a 10-point sliding scale to determine whether the “client,” or hiring manager, would “buy again” or hire the same person again. This has proven to be an effective measure of the quality of hire.

The company finds it effective to shift talent internally—thereby increasing the knowledge base of each person cross-functionally, leading to a broader base of knowledge. 28% of new hires are internal transfers.

STACY MARKEL: We generally start with networking. That said, we like to diversify, so different skillsets and talents are represented.

In your experience, what have you found creates the greatest success in the interview process? Are there specific tactics you have taken that have been most effective?

BRENDA VESEY: Behavioral-based interview questions. It’s good to provide interviewers with a certain level of structure, but you need to be flexible, to be sure everyone is asking different questions. There needs to be variation.

STACY MARKEL: We also use behaviorally based interviews. We build out a profile for a role, then refine the profile based upon success. For sales roles, we have people pitch products during interviews; candidates may be asked to deliver a presentation, or respond to objections. Technically speaking, we always ask questions to ensure that people did their homework, when it comes to the company, and the science involved.

JEFF DOBBS: Our sales leadership team has really taken competency-based interviewing to a new level. We use it rigorously throughout the selection process and have seen great results from it. It’s not uncommon for our sales leadership to spend 3-4 hours drilling down to one question so we know who is joining the team.

ERIC FINK: Behavioral-based interviewing. We spend more time on fit up front—it’s important to have the right cultural fit and technical fit.

What are your top interview questions? Do you have any interesting interview stories or lessons learned?

ERIC FINK: We ask people about their fondest memory; a time when they had to work hardest to get a product across the finish line. Here, people need to develop their own business plans; they need to have a plan and work their plan. They really need to be driven by success, even when it’s more of a challenge.

JEFF DOBBS: It’s not just about determining what a person’s skills and experience are. We really want to know that they will be a good cultural fit. Does the person work to help others? Do they coach and engage others? We want to know whether the person is going to be a fit with the type of culture we are building here, and how they can help the organization to be successful.

How do you assess, develop and measure sales and marketing leadership? Are there any processes or metrics you use that have been helpful?

STACY MARKEL: We track engagement and conduct leadership assessments, 360 assessments, identify gaps in leadership. We utilize nine boxes to identify people with high potential.

JEFF DOBBS: When we look at performance, we are not just looking to see if people are hitting their numbers every year. They also need to be developing KOLs, bringing on new talent, coaching others, helping others. If people are doing this, they are able to move up the career ladder. This is the culture we have built.

What are some of the most effective programs you have put in place from an HR perspective to drive sales and marketing performance?

BRENDA VESEY: A total comp statement. The value proposition goes above and beyond traditional comp and benefits. Communicate with employees: the company is investing in them: education, 401k match, medical.

What are your retention goals for sales and marketing? How do you set them? How do you measure retention? What are your metrics? Do you have any interesting retention strategies?

ERIC FINK: Jazz tracks retention and, more specifically, regrettable loss. Our board holds us accountable for this metric and our results affect company performance metrics and bonus.

JEFF DOBBS: We’ve built a career path and structure for our sales and marketing associates. The creation of that structure was led by our sales and marketing leaders and is reinforced throughout the lifecycle of an associate—what we’re saying matters is what we select for, coach toward and train against. Understanding how it all ties together, and ensuring the associates we promote reinforce the right behaviors, is key to success.

STACY MARKEL: We are always working to build a great environment, and develop leaders. We provide equity grants for retention. We conduct employee surveys and exit interviews.

What is something that your company does better than others, with regard to sales and marketing and human resources? What sets your company apart?

ERIC FINK: Training and development. Jazz focuses on education as a main component to our incentive package. We invest well above the average in each employee, sending them to top rated academic institutions to learn more about each therapeutic state.

JEFF DOBBS: Consistency. Our leadership team “walks the talk” when it comes to not just the results we want but how we expect associates to go about getting those results. Those expectations line up with our selection criteria, our competency-based interviewing questions, our promotional criteria, our performance appraisals, the reward and recognition we give out, etc. You get the picture—it’s all about being consistent in what we expect and pulling that through to all the mechanisms that reinforce those expectations.

We’re also consistent in ensuring we utilize the three pillars of effective strategy. One: define the strategic direction/vision for the organization. Two: assess the skills and capabilities we have in the organization, as well as those we need to build, to execute that strategy. We then determine how we’re going to build or buy the capabilities we need. Three: use the operational/ budget planning process to ensure we’ve got the financial resources lined up against what we need to buy or build, including the compensation mechanisms and targets we discussed earlier, to execute the strategy. The alignment of those three pillars is critical to success.

What practices would you recommend avoiding? What’s a lesson you’ve learned, through experience?

JEFF DOBBS: Avoid the dissonance created by systems that don’t line up. When an organization creates the alignment it needs to execute a well thought-out strategy, it creates a level of energy that is palpable in an organization. You can feel the energy people have for the organization and their contribution to it. It’s great to see.

STACY MARKEL: Include HR in strategic conversations regarding business. These conversations should include not just the commercial team—when HR is not involved in the planning phase, plans may be lacking in alignment. A cross-functional team can really speed up the process and ensure that the planning is comprehensive. HR should be looped in during the strategy, design and execution phases of a project. Get the right people in the right room.

BRENDA VESEY: Work to ensure clarity. Create models so that everyone is on same page and understands the best case and worst case scenarios. People should know what’s really involved. Avoid surprises.


Jeff Dobbs

Vice President, Human Resources Terumo Medical Corp.

Jeff has over 20 years’ experience in Human Resources, supporting a broad breadth of organizations across multiple industries and in various stages of business growth. Jeff’s formative experience was with Tyco International where he spent 10+ years in a series of increasingly more responsible HR leadership roles. Jeff is driven by the belief that “there are no HR initiatives, only business initiatives” and that by linking business strategy to individual goals and objectives, and ensuring associates have line of sight to broader business aspirations, organizational effectiveness and increased engagement will flourish.

TERUMO started in 1921 as a manufacturer of clinical thermometers, and has grown worldwide to a position of leadership in such areas as hollow-fiber technology, blood-management systems, and endovascular therapy. The high-quality medical products of Terumo Corporation are used in more than 160 countries and generate over $5 billion in global annual sales. Terumo Medical Corporation develops, manufactures, markets, distributes, and sells a diverse portfolio of medical devices, supplies, and accessories that generate $800 million in annual sales. Terumo Medical Corporation offers a wide range of products through its business divisions: Terumo Interventional Systems, Terumo Medical Products.


Eric Fink

Vice President, Global Talent Management Jazz Pharmaceuticals

Eric has over 18 years of global leadership experience in human resources and US commercial (sales, commercial operations, sales analytics, sales training and sales management) with companies such as Jazz Pharmaceuticals, Bayer HealthCare, and Glaxo- SmithKline. He started building out the sales function at Jazz and went on to the broader learning & development function, and employee engagement & communications and talent acquisition. He also serves as the HR lead on M&A activity and as Executive Site Leader for the Philadelphia office. His talent management efforts led to average 92% engagement score, less than 10% voluntary turnover and over 40% of leadership openings filled by internal candidates during a period of rapid growth (2015—2016), and other strategies led to a 176% increase in employee development scores. In addition, Eric serves as a member of the Senior Executive Board of the Best Practice Institute.

JAZZ PHARMACEUTICALS PLC is an international biopharmaceutical company focused on improving patients’ lives by identifying, developing, and commercializing meaningful products that address unmet medical needs. It has a diverse portfolio of products and product candidates, with a focus in the areas of sleep and hematology/oncology. It also supports commercial products in other therapeutic areas where it can meaningfully address serious medical needs. Jazz continues to expand its commercial product portfolio and research and development pipeline through a growth strategy of growing sales of the existing medicines in its portfolio; acquiring commercial products or product candidates that are in late-stage development; and pursuing focused development of its pipeline of differentiated therapies.


Senior Vice President, Human Resources Portola Pharmaceuticals

Stacy Markel has over 25 years of business experience in the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industry. Stacy began her career in sales and sales management with Roche Laboratories. She transitioned to human resources leadership thirteen years ago driven by her passion for people, culture and employee development as part of business strategy. Stacy served as the Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Professional Development at Actelion Pharmaceuticals, where she was a member of the Executive Leadership Team and Global Human Resources Leadership Team. She was instrumental in the successful growth of the organization and in positioning culture as a key advantage in attracting and retaining talent. Actelion was designated as a Bay Area Best Place to Work winner for seven consecutive years while evolving into an extremely successful mid-sized biopharmaceutical company. Stacy joined Portola Pharmaceuticals as Senior Vice President of Human Resources in 2015. She is excited to help build upon Portola’s passion for science while also preparing for the organization’s transition into a successful commercial company.

PORTOLA PHARMACEUTICALS, INC. was founded in 2003 and is headquartered in South San Francisco, California. It completed an initial public offering in May 2013 and is traded on the Nasdaq Stock Market under the symbol PTLA. Portola has approximately 150 employees. Its goal is to build an enduring biopharmaceutical company with a foundation of products and product candidates that significantly advance patient care in the areas of thrombosis, other hematologic disorders and inflammation. It is advancing its three compounds using novel biomarker and genetic approaches that may increase the likelihood of clinical, regulatory and commercial success of potentially life-saving therapies.


Former Senior Vice President, HR Integration & Transformational Programs Teva Pharmaceuticals

Brenda served at Teva as the HR lead on the efforts to combine the workforces and harmonize HR processes, practices, and systems after Teva’s acquisition of Actavis’ global generics business in mid-2016. Prior to her role at Teva, she and her teams helped support Activis’s strategic plan to expand its global business footprint and played a vital role in seven acquisitions and integrations over a three year period. She has directed the global Employee Relations Center of Excellence (COE) and was a member of the core management team for “Employee Connect Europe (ECE),” the European Works Council representing employees from 27 countries. Prior to her work at Actavis and Teva, she was at Allergan, directing a team of approximately 15 HR professionals across the globe. In that capacity Brenda held overall responsibility for HR business partner support for the company’s global functions, global employee relations, employment counsel, and corporate administrative services. She has also held HR leadership and finance management positions with Toys “R” Us, Inc.; and Chase Manhattan Corporation.

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