What Is The Best Way to Incentivize a Digital-First Sales Team?

Incentivising people with KPI-linked bonuses is nothing new. Especially in commercial roles it has long been standard. The issue with KPIs is they can be very ineffective. If clearly defined they will get you results, but if not they can just reinforce the wrong behaviours. The difficulty is to define the right ones. Bottom-line is that KPI-based incentives will hardly ever create the behaviour that you want and in some of the worst examples have caused a disaster like the financial crisis in 2008. 

Pharma Sales reps are rewarded in a very indirect way. Unlike sales people in other industries, they don’t actually sell anything, they influence. That has always been difficult to measure, especially outside the US where no HCP level (only brick) prescription data is available and despite this the sales force has been by far the biggest (and most expensive) channel. Generally speaking, there was always a correlation between the sales rep effectiveness and the market results.  

The industry moved to “multi-channel marketing” by adding headquarter-driven email on top of the face-to-face sales rep visits and congresses. That made finding the correlation between compliant sales rep driven activities and business results more difficult to find. Driven by technology readiness, cost pressure, examples in other industries and now the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry is finally moving to omnichannel marketing, with integration between sales and marketing channels, orchestrated by pre-defined ‘’customer journeys’’. The focus is on a relevant, trusted, consistent and a pleasant experience for the HCP instead of mostly relying on face-to-face visits. 

I believe personal relationships will always require to create trust in the content. Sales reps will continue to play a critical role in the whole experience of an HCP, digitally and face-to-face. The sales reps will coordinate a number of channels (e.g. visits, mini-meetings, rep triggered messages) but will not control the entire customer journey any longer. Webinars and virtual congresses will play a more important role, besides digitally personalized content via portals, emails and social media mobilized by automation and bot technology. 

So it is clear that the role of the rep has changed. It’s a hybrid model now. While reps will continue to do face-to-face visits, they will now have a significant number of remote calls and meetings as well as some coordination of digital messaging, yet their KPIs have hardly changed. Isn’t this a great time to incentivise based on the behaviour that really matters? HCP scores of a pharma company on relevance, trust, consistency and quality over time and overall experience? 

By: Edwin Erckens 

Edwin has created his opinions based on 10 years of past experience in pharma and consumer healthcare in P&G, Teva and Sanofi, in local, regional and global commercial IT/digital roles and chose Omnipresence by Exeevo for use in multiple markets during his time at Sanofi.