Friday, 23 April 2010

Pharmaceutical Sales – A spark of interest

Having embarked on a career as a medical representative in 1987, I still reflect on the route that led me to the pharmaceutical industry. Being a Pharmaceutical Sales Representative doesn’t often appear in the list of careers that we aspire to as teenagers hence it is invariably something people come across coincidently. For me I spent five years in a hospital Biochemistry Dept completing post graduate studies and developing a strong clinical understanding of various diseases and illnesses. It was here I met Sales Representatives selling laboratory diagnostics and equipment which sparked an interest in sales (I have to admit to being initially impressed by the suit, car and perceived flexibility of their job). In fact what did appeal to me about a sales role was the inherent challenges working towards targets and ultimately being rewarded (bonus) and recognised for exceeding goals (working in the NHS could not fulfil that need) as well as selling products which genuinely make a difference to people’s lives.

Hence I started buying the New Scientist and Daily Telegraph; there was no internet job searching in those days! Quite quickly I secured two interviews for Laboratory Territory Manager positions before seeing an advertisement for Trainee Medical Representatives with a major pharmaceutical company.

Have to confess at that stage that pharmaceuticals was a bit of a mystery to me, but my Dad said that company was great (blue-chip), and there was a number to call to apply. Two interviews later, including being flown to head office, I was offered a GP/Hospital Representative position.

Looking back I do wonder how I got that job as these days we expect entry level candidates to know so much more about the day to day practicalities of the role, the NHS and how the business works. Clearly the company were looking for the basic ingredients which they could then train, develop and mould to reflect their values and culture in the eyes of their customers; GP, Nurses, Pharmacists, Consultants, Registrars, SHO etc.

Over twenty years later in a different NHS landscape I still believe this to be true so what are some of those basics;

Personal Qualities – An inner drive, self-starter, the ability to work on your own initiative, enthusiasm, can-do attitude, tenacity, the ability to problem solve, good interpersonal skills, the willingness as well as aptitude to learn.

Clinical Foundation – This means an interest in medicine, the ability to learn and apply technical information. You will need to communicate this knowledge to customers of all levels. ‘A’ level standard Biology should help with ABPI.

Business & Selling Skills – Understand you are there to increase sales; it is a sales job & not a promotional or educational position. Have a consultative selling style, i.e. probe to understand the customer needs and agenda before offering solutions. Key Account Management & Networking Skills. Understanding local NHS politics, targets, agenda and how these may impact on your business.

Clearly a lot of clinical and business skills can be taught as long as you have the right positive attitude. In summary I would describe the role of a Medical Sales Representative, whether that be GP, GP/Hospital, Hospital or Generics as the opportunity to run your own local business.

I have enjoyed a varied, challenging and satisfying career in the pharmaceutical industry. I also know others, who embarked on their career at the same time, who have had similar experiences and taken their careers in to different functions in the industry including: Marketing, Senior Sales Management, Training, Consultancy as well as others who are now Senior Representatives such as Hospital Specialist Representative or Healthcare Development Manager.

If this sparks an interest in you fantastic! To discuss your background and transferable skills then contact 20:20 Selection Ltd on 0845 026 2020 or visit . We have current opportunities Nationwide with hot-spots in London, Kent, Sussex, Essex, Somerset, Wiltshire, East Anglia.

April 2010

Tuesday, 20 April 2010


Many articles have been written about the best way to engage with our customers in the NHS. How best to partner with this new breed, made up of payers, commissioners, and medicines management gurus. How best to tap into their agenda. In fact, many careers have been built on telling us just how to sell to our customers, and an awful lot of consultancy fees have been paid to experts so that we can all be scared to death about this ‘new’ customer group who we are told work hidden away, been firmly shut doors in an increasingly complex and confusing NHS maze.

In my simple world view, yes, of course we do need to speak the same language as our customers, but we also need to ensure that we are getting the balance right, to ensure that our customer partnerships are mutually beneficial. We need to be truly customer focused, but we also need to achieve the win:win equilibrium, to avoid promising the world in value added services for very little commercial return.

Over the last few years, Key Account Management has been the new pharma industry term that seems to be bandied about on a daily basis. It is used often and widely and it seems to mean different things to different people in different companies. Every hiring manager seems to be looking for the elusive KAM. Does it mean a hospital representative? Does it mean an NHS Liaison Manager? Is it a bit of both? Or is it just a very good salesperson with the right attitude, the right skills and the common sense to convince key influential customers to sit round a table, to weigh up the pros and cons, and to agree on decisions that will help them to achieve their desired outcomes, but that will also grow product sales for their company?

In many ways, Key Account Management is a philosophy; a way of thinking, rather than some magical process. Account plans and systems can of course help to keep business on track, but they cannot be the golden ticket on their own. People still, and always will, buy from people. Outstanding KAM’s need to be outstandingly talented sales people. In the ‘good old’ days, when sales people were autonomous, and they had full accountability for their results, the successful ones managed their own business and they managed it well. Naturally, they identified and involved all key stakeholders, naturally they engaged with clinicians, and non clinicians alike, and naturally they engaged the people who ultimately held the purse strings. They were unblocking the clinical and funding barriers that KAM’s and Market Access Manager’s do today, whilst always remembering to sell.
This breed are driven, competitive, innovative, competitive, hardworking, flexible responders to change and above all, as superb net workers and communicators, they can be relied upon to consistently achieve results.

At 20:20 Selection Limited, we know that recruitment agencies are mainly fishing from the same pond. The skill we use to catch the KAM’s is to recognise the specific species, and to know which bait to use.