Building a Sales Force Far Away—With Far-Reaching Results

Business Issue

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Developing sales operations far from home

Doing business globally creates innumerable challenges, and building commercial sales operations for affiliates may be one of the toughest. When a company lacks an existing presence in a country, simply understanding the particular nature and needs of customers can be frustrating. That’s not to mention creating a value proposition, developing sales messages, drawing and aligning territories and determining compensation.

In a new market, finding the right elements of a sales operation often requires a local affiliate, whether an acquisition or startup, be allowed to lead the process. But that also requires tremendous confidence in a management group that may be hundreds or even thousands of miles away from headquarters.

Though building a sales operation is never easy, new market entrants may have an advantage: If they can build the best possible commercial sales organisation from the start, they can gain a competitive advantage over existing competitors that may have become rigid and uninventive in their sales approach or product innovation. And with companies cutting costs while looking around the globe for revenues, it’s an advantage that they can’t ignore.

The Problem

Building a sales operation in a distant, difficult market

A midsized specialty biotech was launching an affiliate far from its European headquarters. It had acquired a local biotech that was developing a treatment for a precancerous condition; meanwhile, the firm reacquired promotional rights from a local sales partner. Without a commercial field organisation in the new market, the company needed an affiliate to sell the
reacquired products and launch the new asset.

The local market presented particular challenges: With few specialists per capita, patients may see general practitioners who may be uncomfortable prescribing the company’s products. A conventional selling model would not deliver the results the company expected.

Not only did the affiliate face challenges from competitors, but from corporate headquarters itself.

“It was our first new affiliate outside the EU in several years and we were under enormous scrutiny,” says the affiliate’s general manager. “Headquarters challenged us to be successful—immediately.”

The Solution

An innovative go-to-market strategy

Working with ZS, the company discovered that simple detailing would be insufficient—the sales force would need to help customers serve patients at a much deeper level. ZS helped the client:

  • Understand customers’ needs and genuinely improve the delivery of patient care
  • Design a flexible, locally customisable sales process that brought tangible value to customers
  • Create roles and an organisational structure that made the delivery of these activities possible

More than a simple sales platform, the company built an innovative go-to-market model that truly focused on customer needs.

The Results

Sales reps who delivered a winning value proposition

The commercial model was so successful that other affiliates adopted it for their local markets. The numbers showed why:

  • A year after reacquiring the portfolio from its local partner, sales grew by more than 30%
  • Doctors rated 60% of discussions with reps as “useful,” 25 percentage points higher than competitors†
  • 80% of rep interactions made doctors more likely to prescribe the company’s products, compared with 40% for competitors.†

According to the general manager, ZS’s partnership with the company was key to success: "ZS was part of our extended business team," he says. "With some consultants, you give them a project, the consultant goes away and comes back with a solution. They don’t feel like a team. But not with ZS—they became part of our company."

† Source: IMS promotional tracking data, May 2012