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How Many Sales Reps Does it Take to Change a...?

Heine Wagon

Did you ever notice that an awful lot of life sciences industry companies seem to have a sales force for each product or drug they offer? That has always seemed like an extravagance to me.

The way this works is that a company comes up with a new product and then sets up a division to manage it. Each division has an R&D group and product managers. They set up a team to market the product and then there is a natural extension to set up a salesforce to push it to the medical community.

The more mature organizations eventually create a shared set of central services such as Finance, IT and HR. This seems to be acceptable to each division to share IT support, but each division seems quite bent on having control over who is doing the selling.

Ultimately this seems to come down to measurement and remuneration. The perceived risk or lack of trust may revolve around the belief that another division’s sales force is going to be more motivated to sell their own product rather than another’s. This gets veiled with things like skill concerns – nobody could have enough knowledge of how their product or drug works – so they have to do it themselves. I am not sure I buy this. If your salesforce can learn it, why can’t another salesforce learn it?

There are times when it does make sense to specialize, especially when each sales team needs to call on a radically different call point such as cardio-vascular surgeons versus endodontists. Otherwise, I question whether it does not make sense to consolidate the bag.

Does your company carry the cost and burden of 4 or 5 different sales teams, each specializing on a single product or product suite? Can you justify it? Could some of them be consolidated? If you were to combine those teams you might achieve one of a couple of really great outcomes. Think about how great it would be to have greater reach with a bigger team for the same price you already pay. On the other hand, think about how great it would be to combine those sales calls and reduce your cost of sale. Either way, think about it!

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