25 October 2017
SFE in Asia Pacific: achieving a steeper learning curve
Pharma companies in Asia are looking to increase the productivity of their sales forces. One client of ours put it nicely: “Previously the focus was on top line growth at any cost. Now we are talking about profitable growth”
Within the pharma world, sales force effectiveness (or SFE) is typically the function that addresses sales force productivity. Although most of the pharma companies across the region have now dedicated or semi-dedicated SFE roles we are not there yet. “SFE in Asia is, in average, 10 years behind US or Europe” says the Commercial Operations Head for Asia Pacific for a global pharma company.
But companies are catching up. We experienced the peak of SFE in Europe about ten years ago, now it is coming to the region. But we feel that we need a steeper learning curve. We are still leaving plenty of money on the table.
Below are some ideas from recent conversations with our SFE colleagues:
Develop the SFE skills and capabilities in your organization
What we see: not all the SFE people in the region have the right skills and capabilities. The typical SFE role here often focuses on CRM management and KPI tracking. Many SFE practitioners, lack the depth and breadth of knowledge required for a more comprehensive and strategic SFE role
Although there are pockets of excellence – with outstanding SFE professionals – that can be found across countries and companies “…it is difficult to find a company that has good SFE practices (hence SFE skills and capabilities) across all countries” says the SFE director for Asia Pacific for another global player
Multinationals are usually better at SFE than local companies “…foreign companies are more advanced because they have a stronger corporate culture in terms of SFE” says the GM of a Chinese affiliate for a large European pharma company. But still, some global companies, which master the SFE toolbox in more advanced markets, are not familiar with essential SFE practices when it comes to their country affiliates in Asia
How to speed up:
Equip the SFE team
What we see: a client made us laugh when he said: “it feels like I go back in time when I enter the office…at home I have an iPad, an apple laptop, online banking, several apps that make my life easier…in the office I have…Excel”
There is plenty of “manual” work around: SFE teams need to build their own tools. Tools for target setting, territory design, incentive calculation, profiling, segmentation, coaching, to name a few. With plenty of reinventing the wheel as it is not uncommon to see neighbour affiliates working on the same thing
How to speed up:
Empower the SFE team
What we see: productivity enhancement initiatives such as customer targeting are not always embraced by everyone (we call it the modified 3rd law of Newton: “for every SFE initiative there is a force in the opposite direction”) and sometimes there are silos, kingdoms and roadblocks that need to be dealt with
SFE practitioners in the region are not always empowered to deal with resistance or existing roadblocks. They might sit far away from the GM in the org chart for example. Or they don’t have the right profile for a more strategic role.
How to speed up
Make the most of Regional
What we see: we see an upward trend in regional SFE positions. But there is a big variance in their role: it goes all the way from simple KPI monitoring to hands-on support. Many of them are “lone wolfs” with little or no support team. And there is also a widespread practice on “suggesting” but “not interfering” with the affiliates.
How to speed up:
Pharma companies in Asia Pacific are catching up in terms of sales productivity. But we believe we should speed up a bit by developing the SFE skills and capabilities, equipping and empowering the SFE team and by make the most of the now common regional SFE team.