Are Field Sales Reps Getting a Bad Deal With Data?

By Sandy Jennings and the Team at Lextech

Digital sales tools have not kept pace with needs in the field

Recent research from Ernst & Young tells us that “81% of organizations think that data should be at the heart of every business decision.”Yet, the report continues, most companies still fall short when it comes to integrating data into their employees’ daily workflow.  Most of the field sales reps we know would agree.

One thing we’ve learned working with pharma execs over the years is that data-driven organizations tend to provide employees with access to all of the information available in their technology and data ecosystems. The welcoming user experience employees yearn for is secondary while spending hours sifting through screens and reports to surface needed data is the norm.

Field sales tools have not kept pace

Part of the problem is that legacy business stakeholders have pre-conceived knowledge - based on their own field sales experiences - of what todays’ reps need to do their jobs. But times have changed - the days when all a sales rep needs to know is the reach and frequency of their HCP targets and the number of scripts filled is long gone. Today, the abundance of data, new digital technologies, and tighter regulations have complicated sales and marketing processes for all of us.

While the value of data analytics is well established, and the investment in business intelligence tools is significant, reps are still reverting to the way they managed their territory in the past.  As we look for ways to keep our sales forces competitive in the years ahead, it’s time to listen to what our reps really need in order to effectively use data. Starting now.

Too many systems, too little focus

Think about all the data that comprises the pharma field sales daily workflow - call activity, Rx activity, managed care status, omni-channel activity, next best actions, coaching notes, filed counterpart activity, and more. Many organizations maintain separate web portals for this data along with separate portals for Human Resources, finance, and other key areas. Information within these portals is often conflicting or dated.

Now consider how all this data is siloed in multiple back-end systems. The information is neither shared nor easily accessible in a single screen. Once the needed information is found, it then has to be imported into a massive spreadsheet on a mobile device, requiring even further manual manipulation. In practice, these data disconnects significantly impede field workflow. Here’s why:  

No single source of truth.  Reps must access multiple systems in addition to their CRM to understand their territory performance, and in most instances, require hours of searching. Some data is accessed via real time feeds, while other sources are snapshots in time. This causes further inconsistences making it difficult to gauge performance relative to competitors.

Mediocre mobile rollouts. Highly anticipated mobile rollouts usually fall short. Companies focus on the excitement of the technology rather than understanding the user workflow.  Sales reps feel stuck with tools that do not match how they work and/or provide access to the the data they need.

Intelligence on next best action suggestions is buried. Access to omni-channel activity at the rep level is finally being surfaced and shared. Even so, visibility to data needed for next best actions requires too much manual searching and is not readily available as  widgets or other quick ways to act on data driven suggestions.

Lack of preparation for calls. Many reps need to quickly string together information before they walk into a doctor’s office. Because so much time is spent wrestling with data, reps are often unprepared for their calls and lack the ability to make accurate on-the-fly adjustments.  

Coaching data is insufficient. Coaching reports are often a “check the box” exercise rather than a true coaching tool. Typically, data isn’t auto populated in the coaching tool and requires significant time to analyze behavior patterns, weaknesses and strengths of the sales rep. Too often field managers must spend nights and weekends prepping for field coaching sessions.

Clearly, sales reps are overburdened on a daily basis with dated tools and too much information they don’t need or even trust.

What about your CRM?

While popular, off-the-shelf field sales CRMs have the built-in features and functionality you want, there is usually little opportunity to customize the solution to the level required by your sales force.

While it is great to have access to the data and insights provided by CRMs, they typically are not focused on overall user experience and can result in even more disparate tools and information.  Field sales teams remain unable to connect multiple systems nor get the one tap access they need to make fast, accurate decisions.

Instead of struggling with data, shouldn’t sales reps be investing their time on higher value activities?

Five tips to improve sales rep workflow  

Instead of struggling with data, shouldn’t sales reps be investing their time on higher value activities? Here are six common problem areas along with advice on how to resolve them.  

1. Understand the typical field sales workday. As selling and marketing become more customer centric, field workflow gets more complex. The availability of new channels of communication with HCP’s requires the use of new digital technologies to analyze their behavior and integrate product messaging into relevant stages of the sales process.

More than ever, other parts of the organization - particularly operations, tech, and communications -need to understand the workflow of field sales reps in order to provide them with the data they need to initiate and sustain meaningful interactions with HCPs.

2. Take a business-first approach.  Before deciding on which field data problems to address, stakeholders need to first identify which business problems they are trying to solve such as improving field engagement scores. Then pain points can be prioritized based on what gets you closer to attaining business objectives. Make sure you have reliable metrics to support your concerns.

3. Make reporting systems more accessible. How many different reports and systems need to be accessed before sales reps get a combined view of the data they need? Why is it so tough to get a complete picture for accurate decision making and planning? Why do systems have so many features and functions? Encourage IT/Ops managers to turn off the levers, slim down the data, and provide the insights users really need, rather than burying them in volumes of information or making them bounce between too many different systems.

4. Integrate HCP omni-channel insights with workflow tools.  How effective is the messaging in your new email campaign?  Is your brand showing up in search queries? How did an HCP respond to a banner ad and was more information requested? Sales and marketing teams need fingertip access to both online and offline behavior of HCPs, integrated into their daily workflow. They shouldn’t have to dig for data in order to do their jobs.

As HCPs spend less time in face-to- face meetings, omni-channel activity is quickly becoming the go-to data source for assessing customer preferences, increasing engagement and deciding next best actions. Don’t let these valuable insights get trapped in silos. Make sure you have the talent, resources, and executive buy-in to get it done right.

5. Work with vendors to improve user experience. Ideally the data, tools and technologies that make up your ecosystem talk to each other. While convenient, off-the-shelf products have proven value, they rarely provide single screen access to data from other systems. CRM partners might not have all the answers, but they may be able to integrate data from other systems and offer at least a level of customization.

Alternatively, complete custom solutions can also be developed to seamlessly combine data from CRMs and other systems, creating a user experience that has the look and feel of a single application.  

While life sciences companies have always relied on data, today we have a lot more of it.  As we look to building the sales teams of the future, staying competitive means unlocking the data silos and making the right data readily available to end users where and when they need it.

Digital sales tools have not kept pace with needs in the field

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