As the global middle class continues to grow – especially in Asia – health awareness is improving and the demand for pharmaceutical products has never been higher. Professional sales staff with good knowledge of medicine play an important role in providing medical practitioners with the latest drug developments.
Andrew Hui, Asia-Pacific sales and marketing director for ALK-Abello, travels to Europe frequently to bring back European pharmaceutical products to the mainland market. His clients are doctors and nurses.
“As in any industry, medical-sales staff should have good communication skills and product knowledge,” he says.
Understanding a client’s background is the key to success. “Good salespeople should try to understand a client’s social network. Find out who his or her ‘influential others’ are. You should also understand the ‘buying circle’ – who is the gatekeeper, who is the decision-maker. Believe that there is nothing you cannot sell, but never forget business ethics. These are very important,” Hui says.
Many pharmaceutical-product sellers need knowledge of medicine and marketing. Many have educational backgrounds in life sciences such as biology, chemistry and biochemistry, or a business management degree in areas such as marketing or business administration. Newcomers generally start as sales representatives and move up to account managers, sales managers and district sales managers.
Sales representatives need to visit customers regularly. During the visit, they need to address the needs of customers, help solve practical problems, listen to complaints and follow-up. “Sometimes they need to do product presentations in front of the buyers. I often attend academic meetings where I can update salespeople with doctors’ academic findings that relate to our product, as well as related treatments,” Hui says.
As a sales and marketing director, Hui’s biggest challenge is people management. “How to motivate salespeople, how to retain talent and how to terminate unwanted personnel – it sounds like a job for human resource management but managing a sales team is like managing a football team. Before you know how to win the game, you’ve got to know how to coach them. Coaching is a very difficult job,” says Hui.
As the market for pharmaceutical products in Asia continues to grow, opportunities in pharmaceutical sales can only follow. “The mainland is expected to become the third largest pharmaceutical market in the world in 2013, and analysts even anticipate that it will become the world’s largest pharmaceutical market by 2020, so there are plenty of opportunities in medical sales and marketing,” says Hui.