It’s no secret that the role of Japanese medical representatives is to get their products in front of a doctor. But the game is changing, as “how” it’s done adapts to the modern age. Agile companies who can keep up will reap the benefits, while those that refuse will lose ground to their competition. But before we dive into these new shifts, I have to ask which of these traditional sales strategies do you think medical reps use the most, right now?
- Sending physical letters, brochures, and company “swag” directly to doctors.
- Regularly hitting the pavement visiting hospitals and clinics for an in-person meeting.
- Medical Representative’s piggy-backing on appointments with medical science liaisons.
- An almost endless schedule of virtual meetings on Skype, Zoom, WebEx, and Teams.
- Or simply cold-calling long lists of prospects hoping to connect to a decision-maker.
If you answered “all of the above,” you’re spot on, although the effectiveness of each technique varies significantly. Not surprisingly, letters are the least productive channel, although one business director told me he quite enjoys the process – because it gives him something to do! And then you’ve got the grey areas. There’s no shortage of big multinationals accusing their Japanese counterparts of skirting government guidelines to get their MRs in the room with a doctor.
But here’s where it gets exciting. The silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic is the “new normal” that has brought the aggressive sales model to a standstill. I’ll never forget one sales director likening it to the arms race in the Cold War. In days gone by, a successful pharmaceutical company was the one funding hundreds and hundreds of medical reps in the field – reps who would wait for hours for a chance to get in front of a decisionmaker. It just worked so well in the past. And if I’m completely honest, I don’t think this sales process will ever go away in Japan, but it’ll also never be the same.
In the aftermath of the pandemic, we see a new direction in sales, one led by the likes of MSD, Takeda, Pfizer, and Janssen, who are focusing their efforts on the needs, wants and desires of their customers. Centering the customer experience in their sales process, big pharma is now clamoring for the kind of talent they need to lead this new charge: medical representatives who can use data to analyze and understand the customer journey, and data scientists who can uncover new knowledge and insights needed for the ideal sales process, all with a single goal in mind – building a loyal customer base who won’t churn or jump ship to the nearest competitor.
The trouble is, achieving this is not an easy task. McKinsey’s discovered you can’t simply survey your customers for this kind of information.
(Source: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-func- tions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/predictionthe-future-of-cx)
Often customers don’t know what they want themselves. Instead, you’ve got to draw on all the different data sources, analyzing and interpreting the findings to make predictions, and looking forward to see what’s needed to stay ahead of your competition. Data analytics is the new competitive edge, yet it’s not a level playing field. Many organizations aren’t sure how to approach this digital frontier, while others have been exploring this new frontier for years, quickly identifying the people they need to succeed, like the executive from a French multi national who remarked to me recently: “I had made the offer to a candidate (before COVID), before the guy had even got on his train after the interview.”
This fundamental shift in pharma’s sales landscape is underway, and the companies that succeed will be those that are ready to adapt; those that can remain agile; those that are willing to invest in the people who can make sense of the real-world data to best understand the real needs of their customers; and those that can hone in on the pain points health care providers struggle with, and stand alongside them as a trusted guide through each stage of the buyer’s journey.
In Japan, I don’t see the role of a medical representative going anywhere, but it won’t be static either. It’s a role that’s in a constant state of change, as design analytics and proper execution are added to the mix. Companies will increasingly use data to boost the effectiveness of their sales and medical teams. Every minute medical reps are in front of a health care provider must be focused on delivering a positive experience. That’s the future. It’s what your competitors are planning for, and what you need to be hiring for, today.
Will your sales organization be ready?