Asrar’s Note: Dear Pharma Veterans! I have created this space for ‘Pharma Veterans’; all of us, not just me. I am filling this space to begin with to keep it moving. You are most cordially invited to write your thoughts/ ideas/ experiences. Please send these to me at firstname.lastname@example.org . Your contributions will be published promptly and without editing. Please join the Community and the Movement.
During October 1979, exactly after four years of joining, I left Hoechst. Though I worked for Reko for about four months before Hoechst, it was too short a time to feel much. I counted Hoechst as my first job.
First job, like first love, carries huge emotional intensity. Despite the highs and lows, I loved Hoechst and felt a deep sense of belonging. I was quite disturbed and upset and angry, all at the same time. My attachment to Hoechst continued for long time. Even while working for other company, whenever I entered a pharmacy, my eyes went to the shelf of Hoechst unconsciously.
It was the End of the First Period. A rather quiet ending.
Before I move to the next period, I wish to present the salient features of the Pharma sales jobs at that time.
Training: Training before appointment was the norm. Anyone who did not qualify the initial training would not be appointed. Initial training was extensive and intensive. Minimum was two weeks, but more was preferred. Hoechst had six weeks training program; so had Abbott. There was huge emphasis on the background medical knowledge. At the end of the training, a med rep could communicate using medical terminology; understand questions and give sensible replies. S/he could also build on initial knowledge base further through reading. Training made the sales people confident and kept their focus balanced.
Other area of training was Selling Skills. All multinational companies followed some standard program for selling skills. AIDA principal was talked about, which was Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. Most envied was PSS, Professional Selling Skills, a Xerox developed program. Later, PSS II was also launched. In generic terms, all selling skills programs talked about Opening the sales call, Presenting the Product/Features/Benefits, Probing, and Closing.
Medical Reps thus armed with good product knowledge, selling skills, and appropriate mannerism were pleasant to talk to. They got respectful attention from customers and were better able to market their products.
Work Organization: All MNCs and most Local Pharma emphasized on elaborate work organization. It included Customer Selection, Customer Information, Master List of Customers, Monthly Travel Planning, and Monthly/ Weekly/ Daily Work Planning. Customer information was preserved mostly in the form of Doctors Cards. The card had all the basic information including the best time and place to visit. The second section was a record of visits by date and notes on any important discussion. It was a comprehensive document, but it somehow became a dreaded document. The med reps hated it and rarely kept it updated. The managers mostly used Doctors Cards Checking as a tool for torture. In this conflict, an extremely useful document was finally lost.
Work Standards: Reporting was mandatory. Daily Work Report submission was not a virtue; it was a compulsory duty. A monthly report was also required to be submitted at the end of the month. Minimum number of calls per day was required; so was a monthly number of calls. Customer Call Frequency was required to be followed. All doctors on Master List were to be visited and reasons were to be given for unvisited customers.
The managers focused on med reps working. In fact, there was more discussion on working than sales. Companies were confident that if the med rep worked as per desired standards; knowledge, skills, work plans, the business will follow.
I wish to reproduce here an excerpt from the book ‘Reinventing You’ by Dorie Clark (© 2017, Harvard Business Review Press), which beautifully summarizes the changes over time.
“After all, it’s clear that the era of gold watches and lifetime employment is over. How many people do you know who are lifers at a company? For better or worse, people today skip around professionally, forced by layoffs or seeking a better title or salary. Even for those who would have wanted to make a career at one company, the options are limited. Harvard Business School Professor Thomas DeLong attributes this, in part, to a precipitous decline in professional mentorship over the past several decades. As senior executives were forced to take on increased responsibilities, they stopped making time to cultivate rising talent. The result, says DeLong, is executives who start to be suspicious about the organization and see themselves as free agents rather than saying ‘I can stay at this firm for the next thirty years’”. Rapid job turnover has now become standard.”