How are trends in drug development impacting pharma sales teams, and how important is coaching in the life sciences sales culture? We recently spoke to Karen Williams with Transart, a leading life sciences communications agency, for her thoughts.

Based on your client experience, what do you see as the biggest challenges facing pharma sales teams today?

There are many different challenges, but one of the main ones is the drive for cost reduction happening across healthcare systems in many countries. As a result, the purchasing of drugs has become a lot more complex.  Where once a doctor would fairly independently decide what drug to use, now there are additional stakeholders to consider when prescribing. This places new pressure on customer-facing sales teams to engage with larger groups of influencers.

As a result, customer-facing pharma teams must possess the skills and knowledge required to have the right conversations with appropriate stakeholders – each with their own diverse objectives and priorities.

Account planning is also becoming increasingly key in day-to-day targeting of customers. Customer-facing teams must now map the account and understand who will influence the final decision on the use of a particular drug. This is a much more complex task and requires new approaches and skill sets. Sales enablement platforms like Qstream provide reinforcement, coaching and analytics to help pharma sales teams proactively manage and measure their ability to keep pace with these demands.


As we look ahead to 2017, are there trends you see today, or expect to see in the new year, that will have a significant impact on pharma sales development?

There is definitely an increasing shift towards the launch of drugs for rare diseases or ones targeted at disease-related biomarkers. These specialized drug therapies correspond with cost increases due to advanced research and development. The customer-facing pharma teams must understand not just the specific therapeutic area, but also the economic arguments, and the ways in which very specific patients can be identified. Because the patient populations for these drugs are typically much smaller, sometimes the identification of one more patient can make all the difference. The ability to have a patient-focused discussion with the doctor on a particular drug therapy is crucially important for the patient, the doctor and the company.


What’s the one thing you wish sales managers in life sciences were doing that they aren’t doing today, and why?

This is a hard one!  I often think that the brand teams don’t always consider the essential nature of the customer-facing teams as part of their marketing mix.  So I think I would like to see sales managers drive greater awareness of their customer-facing teams and what they can bring to the overall marketing mix with customers. The brand teams invest in marketing resources for sales, but I believe there are a lot more initiatives they could launch to increase sales force effectiveness, with a corresponding impact on market share results.


What piece of advice would you give to a newly promoted life sciences sales manager in his/her first role leading a team?

I think it is about appreciating how they can support and drive the team to add value in customer interactions. As a new manager you need to evaluate your team, understand how they are currently adding value and identify the gaps. Once you understand these gaps, it’s important to feed information back to the L&D and brand teams. This way initiatives and resources designed to optimize customer-facing interactions can be developed to maximize performance and help reach your goals. Data-driven coaching solutions like Qstream are ideal for ongoing observation and addressing the gaps via coaching actions that managers can execute today.


How important is coaching in the life sciences sales culture?  Should this be developed in the future, and if so, how?

Coaching is crucial in life sciences!  It can help ensure the desired outcome from learning initiatives are implemented in the field. Not only should a manager be coaching, and using more data-driven tools to understand and support development of teams, but we should encourage and support customer-facing teams to pursue their own self development. Using platforms like Qstream, which provides a user-friendly Coaching Hub, is an effective way to engage managers in this process.


About Transart
By understanding the commercial goals of life science companies, the needs of customer-facing teams and the challenges faced by healthcare clients, Transart develops solutions that enhance the capabilities of  these teams to ensure they have effective interactions with healthcare professionals. You may contact Karen at


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