Over the years, I have had countless discussions with training leaders about training for specialty field forces vs. primary care. But my recent conversation with Dave Graziano (AVP, Immunology Sales) was particularly enlightening. Dave has held multiple roles in both sales leadership and sales training with several companies and he has strong views about how companies can – indeed, must – evolve to better equip their specialty sales forces.
Any good discussion begins with clear distinctions, and Dave had a very specific place where he wanted to draw the line between sales forces. For our purposes, “primary care” would consist of Pills/Creams/Prescriptions – the classic model of making enough calls to doctors who would generate enough volume to meet sales goals. This promotional approach involves little or no patient or process assistance, and focuses on the typical tools of influence that we’re all familiar with, including selling models, scripted messages, etc.
And – here’s the thing – it doesn’t necessarily prepare sales reps for success in a specialty market.
By contrast, we have Injections/Infusions/Buy-and-bill, including Biologics, Immunotherapy, and Rare Disease areas. These types of products will often require a company representative to roll up their sleeves and get involved in a process – as Dave put it, “owning the prescription all the way” to actual usage. As we discussed the skill set and activities involved here, it resembled what we might typically think of in a merged role of salesperson, account manager, project manager, and consultant.
Dave uses the analogy of a machine – the complex inter-relationships of the patient journey, the HCP/staff pathway, the specialty pharmacy, and the various other cogs involved in actually bringing together a patient and the specific treatment. Understanding and operating a complex machine (instead of just delivering messages) requires a whole different approach to training, because the nature of the role is more sophisticated and multi-faceted.
In fact, one area of best practices Dave underscored was better, and deeper, training on both the patient journey and the full HCP pathway for the use of these products. Simple sales call simulations cannot adequately cover the breadth of knowledge and situational awareness needed. Multi-stage scenarios which include the range of people and processes that are actually involved will prove to be of far greater value, and specialty training should adjust to those realities instead of mimicking the more basic primary care approach.
Many companies have given lip service to the term “consultative selling” (which may be little more than improved listening and questioning skills), but this part of the marketplace does, in fact, require that company representatives evolve into true consultants and active partners. The competitive advantage of becoming hands-on trusted advisors who understand the complexity of the landscape and who “own the prescription” as it moves all the way down the field should be quite evident.
Hopefully, our training will evolve to include a richer palette of business acumen, including environmental awareness (uncovering of client challenges and pain points), directed communications, and process facilitation. Specialty sales joined to consultative, operational implementation. That’s a real value-add.
One question that this opens up is quite interesting – how will companies alter their hiring practices to reflect the needed skill set for this type of client relationship? And should we be far more hesitant to shift primary care sales reps into specialty roles without a major shift in how we view transitional training?
Food for thought – feel free to add your input in the comments.
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