Pharma Sales: are you organizing and enabling your teams for success with payers?

By: Doug Beveridge Pharmaceutical Sales, Sales Growth

What once worked in the past with payer organizations no longer suffices in today’s environment. During recent conversations with leaders from large Payer organizations we asked what attributes they value from their Pharmaceutical managed care partners.  Here is what they told us:

  1. Keep Abreast of Market Changes:  Share insights and updates on current industry events.
  2. Know My Business:  Focus on my needs and understand my priorities.
  3. Keep in Touch:  Maintain a regular cadence with regular check-ins.
  4. Respect My Time:  Plan ahead and bring meeting objectives and an agenda.
  5. Bring Forward Specific Partnership Opportunities:  Focus on specific, actionable, initiatives.

At first glance, these Payer insights seem quite reasonable, almost simplistic. However, upon closer inspection, you realize success requires practicing several internal organizational disciplines, namely:

1.    Enable Frictionless Communication

Companies must establish and maintain communication channels between and among managed market professionals. Our experience indicates the opportunity and need to better leverage technology (e.g., CRM, Intranet, mobile devices) and regular meetings (e.g.,  Lunch-and-Learns, Regional Meetings, Conference Calls) to share current events and best practices. Accomplishing this takes concerted effort to break down silos and disconnects between national and regional roles, and across geographical boundaries. Clients often underestimate the value of carving out specific time on meeting agendas for the sharing of experiences and recognition of best practices. Sharing of industry insights doesn’t usually happen organically. You must put in place formal programs and strongly encourage (read: “force”) the matter until it becomes standard operating procedure. One client cited success by establishing a simple “Innovator” award on regular cross-team conference calls.

2.    Hire and Develop Experienced Professionals

Infuse your organization with individuals from “industry” (i.e., worked within a Payer organization) whenever possible. While professionals with the necessary combination of skills and experience can be difficult to recruit, they are well worth the effort and expense as they bring practicality and credibility not easily replicated through training. That’s not to say every hire needs to be an ex-Payer employee. Consider the capability and competency of your entire organization to strike the proper balance between industry, clinical and selling skills and experience. For example, in recent years the Medical Device industry has experienced a healthy and dynamic cross-pollination with many professionals moving from High Tech with backgrounds in key account management. One Pharma client recently cited a goal of hiring two-thirds of intended annual new hires from outside of the industry. To achieve this, set hiring objectives and be opportunistic in your acquisition of talent. The right mix of experience, coupled with “frictionless communication” discussed above, yields an industry-ready workforce.

3.    Maintain Disciplined Call Cycles and Contact Cadence

Payer-facing roles are not immediately associated with traditional Pharma call plans. The diversity and number of Payer call points bears little resemblance to those of a more traditional Pharma role – where we frequently see structured call plans with reach and frequency expectations. This reality could be the reason Payer executives tell us they would actually appreciate a more consistent call and contact cadence from industry. In an environment where needs change day-to-day, establishing and executing a regular contact cadence helps ensure adequate mindshare from Payer counterparts – who tell us they are being pulled in so many different directions that they appreciate a proactive approach. Establish manageable reach expectations and execute a regular contact cadence including emails, phone calls, and in-person sessions, above-and-beyond those initiated by the Payer.

4.    Establish Clear Delivery Expectations

Pharma Sales Reps who call on Payers must be able to not only understand Payer needs, but also deliver specific solutions to address these needs. Payer executives told us that they valued Pharma’s ability to identify, collaborate and deliver on specific solutions. Ensure those in Payer-facing roles are capable in such skills as project management and resource planning. Executives also shared frustration in seeing delivery timelines continually slip once agreeing to a project. Be certain transparency exists in how internal requests are prioritized by establishing clear rules and service level expectations. Avoid overly optimistic timelines that lead to disappointment and eventually distrust on behalf of Payers.

Alexander Group works with clients daily to pull through sustainable change in their marketing, sales and service motions. Contact us to hear more about how we might help you achieve your pharmaceutical revenue growth objectives with Payers.

Learn more about our Pharmaceutical Sales Practice.

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Doug Beveridge

Doug Beveridge is a principal in the Atlanta office and a leader in the firm’s Health Care practice. Doug brings a wide range of experience working with clients who serve the health care industry including biotech, pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers, software and service providers, and insurance companies. Doug also brings significant cross-industry experience and leads complex engagements including organizational mergers and integrations, global go-to-customer transformations and comprehensive change adoption programs.


Prior to joining the Alexander Group, Doug held several leadership positions within sales and marketing at Delta Air Lines. He also worked as a member of the Organizational Design and Change Management Group within PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP. Doug has his B.S. in Civil Engineering from Bucknell University and an MBA from the Warrington College of Business Administration from the University of Florida.


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