The Rep of the Future

BMS, Daiichi Sankyo, Sunovion and Qstream Draw the Picture

To complement our roundtable discussion on sales strategy and challenges, here are some further prognostications gathered by eyeforpharma Chairman Paul Simms from a webinar discussion with commercial leaders. We’ve excerpted some of the wisdom provided by them. You can read more from Chris Gish in our roundtable here.


Enterprise Accounts Director, Pharma, Qstream


Former—Vice President Sales US, Sunovion


Managing Director, Head of Commercial Operations EMEA, Oncology, Daiichi Sankyo Oncology Europe


Head of Worldwide Field Medical & Medical Effectiveness, Bristol-Myers Squibb

Paul challenged them to give their views on what the rep of the future will be like. He pointed out that reps are going to be the “trust creators, the data sources, the educators, the fonts of the patient’s insight that we’ve been able to generate as well as, obviously, being entrepreneurial in terms of their own management and keeping a keen eye on customer experience as well.”

Michael Connolly kicked off the discussion by describing Qstream, a micro-learning platform that helps sales teams deliver to customer needs and meet quota by reinforcing key knowledge and shaping the behaviors they need to be successful in the field. He said “The solution was founded on the basis of 20 clinical studies that were carried out by the Harvard Medical School. The outcome of those clinical studies brought out two things. One is that it is possible to reinforce knowledge of key information that professionals need to have in their field so that they are credible in front of their customers.

“More importantly, it also showed that you can actually change on the- job behavior over time. Our customers have been telling us that they need to move their sales reps in a different direction. They want to move them away from the transactional model, the old model of ‘Buy three of these drugs and you can get the extra one free,’ to a more value-add model providing value to the customer with the patient in mind. The conversation that the new sales rep would have would go along the lines of ‘This particular drug lowers glucose by this amount.’ So the sales rep is actually providing information about how the drug actually works, providing value to the HCP who can then share it with the patient.”

Michael noted that it’s not necessary to change the sales force and bring in people with a new mindset, because you can change the behavior of current sales reps. He says the top 20% of sales reps get it, the bottom 20% don’t, and the middle 60% can be moved from the transactional model to the value-add model.

He offered some feedback from Qstream customers, “The one constant is that unique relationship between the sales rep and, let’s say, the doctor. That is not going to go away.” But the nature of the relationship will change, because doctors today feel that they’re not learning from the reps. The Qstream training helped the reps increase their number of calls by orienting their message to value.

Michael pointed out that medical science liaisons, MSLs, are also a critical bridge between the commercial model and the sales team, the marketing team, and the R&D side. “So, we have actually helped the MSLs retain key knowledge on the same side that they need to have to be able to share with the customer. Now medical affairs and the MSLs are actually getting more actively involved with the sales teams, either going on calls with them or helping the sales teams better understand the signs behind the products as well as the disease area.”


Patrik Grandits noted that customers want to be seen as partners, people whose needs are understood and intrinsic to the value proposition that is presented. “What I try to do in Daiichi Sankyo is to connect all the dots with our customers, put them in the middle and then have not only sales reps or MSLs, but the entire organization focusing around those needs. The rep of the future will have to be not only an educator and a good listener but a partner of our different stakeholders. So payers, regulators become even more important for all of us in the industry.”

He indicated that this would necessitate prolonging the selling cycle to make sure we are impactful by truly having the customer needs at the forefront of what we do.

Ludovic Hacopian said that, in addition to investing in the right talent, the industry needs to work on talent retention and development. He said BMS is already thinking about what they’ll sell in 2050. “This is just a theoretical exercise but I found it quite exciting. I personally think that from more personalized medicines to commodities in 2050, companies will not be selling just a simple medicine. We are not just offering a therapy. I think that companies will be co-packaging diagnostic options, personalized medicine, and support program.” This model would put the patient at the center of everything. “We don’t have a crystal ball today. So those skills may be cognitive, different than what we know today.”

“I think it comes all down to being very also open-minded and entrepreneurial in the approach that our customer-facing roles will have to take,” said Patrik. “I think having only true value-add medicines that will be reimbursed will also really drive the access component.” He listed some attributes that Daiichi Sankyo looks for: entrepreneurship, scientifically educated people, those who can make fast decisions. “We also put down P&L responsibility even on a key account manager level so they can really make fast decisions for the customer, and understand the value chain.”

What this also affects, added Patrik, is the rep-to-MSL ratio, which is shifting from one-to-three to one-to-four or even -five. He said “One key account manager (I would not even call them sales reps) will face probably six MSLs. They will be part of the value cycle, not the selling cycle, enabling top class science discussions and peer-to- peer exchange. In the future, the scientific level of expertise will be much more critical. We will also need to be able to sell to new customers and the activities of the sales team no longer will focus on visiting doctors and on medical information. The focus is on addressing the needs of a broader network of buyers and influencers, and all the stakeholders will expect to be part of the conversation.”


Paul asked the panel if we’re trying to put too much on the reps—to ask that they become superhuman, with an unrealistic array of knowledge. “If we’re expecting these people to be able to do so much, are we willing to actually make that investment in a smaller number of people perhaps, but more able?”

Chris Gish suggested that there is a coming disruption in the nature of the reps, and it would likely come from the emerging companies rather than the established ones. “I think the disruption is also going to come as you see devices become part of the package and the people who come from the device world, the tech world, the software world are going to demand a new different type of model. But it’s going to come from a company that we may not have heard of today. It’s going to come from a company that’s starting from scratch and it’s choosing to do things differently.

Ludovic responded that “We need to think about ourselves as IBM was 15 years ago. They were selling computers and they realized that it wasn’t working anymore. So they had to sell the services and the product was embedded into the services. I think this is really where it needs to be more ambitious than only thinking about the new rep, or the new MSL, or whatever we call it because I also truly believe that there may not be a clear separation. But we need to think about what type of business model we want to have and based on this business model then our world will evolve.”

Patrik’s view was “We’ve been talking about individualized onboarding, personalized training for a long time. I think it’s really time that we take that seriously and make sure that the individual feels that they have a purpose, a clear understanding of what needs to happen, and then feels empowered, and feels well supported by the organization that focuses on the needs of the customers and employees. I think that this aspect of cultural shift will play a big role in the future. The culture will become innovative and entrepreneurial.”

Michael Connolly returned to his insights into customer experience. “Two things you have to consider that are very important. Number one, the role of the frontline manager. They are a critical component in this. What our customers tell us is that they draw a definite correlation between the coaching of the frontline managers and the success of their team. So you need to have hands-on, proactive frontline managers.

“The other thing you need to think about as well is your compensation model. You’re going to have to change it. It’s going to have to move away from the incentive-based model that was predicated upon how many prescriptions that the doctor writes. It’s just something that’s maybe based on value. Maybe that’s based on the feedback you get from the doctors themselves about the interaction they had with the rep.”


Paul addressed the issue of silos: can we affect the changes needed in a culture in which information is not seamlessly shared?

Patrik spoke about Daiichi Sankyo’s culture. “I think what we have tried to do in our day-to-day work here was to enable constant and immediate inside sharing, not an information overload but really truly inside sharing. I think it is a fair comment that also you need to make sure that the infrastructure enables you as well. So we have built a CRM system across Europe in one language where all of our key account managers speak the same language. They can share information. They can share their account plans. They can share the insights and that can happen in real time.

“What we do is to identify customer needs, build tailor-made solutions, but we can only do that if this information flow goes into the system and out of the system at a constant level, constantly evolving, creating customer-type solutions instantly every week.” He added that the other elements that have to go along with this are appropriate incentives, away from sales and toward value. “They will be empowered and enabled to have a very different conversation with the customer in a compliant way.”

Michael Connolly added a final item about the sales enablement professional. “We are seeing in our customer base that the sales enablement professional’s role is getting stronger and stronger. I met a lady who has moved from one of the big pharma companies to a mid-sized European pharma company because she was very successful in the sales enablement side of her previous employer. The company she has joined is very siloed and the CEO of that company recognizes that. That’s why she hired this particular individual. We talked about her challenges, breaking down these silos. But I think, again, if it comes from the top down and if there is a sense that this is the way of the future, you will break down those barriers. I see that the sales enablement professionals are going to be very critical making that happen.”

Paul Simms

Chairman, eyeforpharma

Paul was General Manager of eyeforpharma from 2003 before moving into his current chairman role in 2009. Paul has a special interest in new projects, innovation, media and overseeing the general development and direction of the company. He is passionate about helping the pharmaceutical industry become more open and valued. In pursuit of that, eyeforpharma aims to find the best people doing the best work, and make that work normal—by first making it famous.


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