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Are SFE Systems Effective?

Evolution of SFE

After over 10 years of promoting SFE practices and solutions to Pharma marketing organizations -- promoting the idea that a single strategy, a single message coming from the management team should be the marching order on the field. It makes sense that a carefully-thought-of marketing plan designed by the "subject-matter-experts" of the brand, if executed to the letter, will deliver the expe

cted growth. A measurable success that even if you don't meet expectations, at least you'd know why by looking at how the levers moved and calibrate your actions for the next cycle.

However in the real world, I seldom see organizations that actually take this to heart. Though some may have come to embrace the "ideal" and somehow managed to reap some of the benefits, majority still scramble at the first signs of discomfort. I'd say more than the malfunctions it's the misconceptions that breaks the system. I'll try to dispel a few of those misconceptions about SFE systems that I've encountered:

Common Misconceptions about SFE systems:

  1. "It should lessen work" -- Not necessarily. "with more power comes more responsibilities" -- you'll be doing work more efficiently. For instance, if you wanted a more precise allocation of your marketing resources to a well segmented customer-base then you'll have to provide the computer with more details to work on e.g. a more specific promotional matrix and more details about your customers to ensure that you have an objective segmentation of your customers. So if you're used to just managing an Excel file of your doctors with nothing more than their names and address then you'll definitely be needing to do more work with or without a system if you want growth.

  2. "Fire and Forget" -- No way! Automation ends where your decisions are required. Information systems are meant to aid users in making informed decisions, and yes there are expert systems that can make those decisions for you, but even that will require you to "train" the system in one way or another. I've seen organizations implement SFE Systems like installing a home-appliance thinking it will work on its own. Using an SFE system is like using Waze or any navigation app. It tells you how to get to your destination but you'll have to do the driving.

  3. "It has to be 100% accurate" -- Pareto will tell you that 80% of useful information can already be acquired from 20% of the data that your SFE system gives out to you. Call Rate and Call Reach alone should already give you indications that will rationalize your sales performance. If it doesn't then look at other indicators until you determine what are the "levers" that affect your sales instead of looking for "errors" in the system. Some organizations would throw-away an SFE System for a 1% margin of error. Focus on the useful information.

  4. "It's a witch-hunting tool" -- No organization will admit that their intentions are really to find out if their reps are working on the field or not. As if the goal is to use the SFE system as a legal basis for terminating non-performing reps. That seems to be the way some organizations are using their SFE systems e.g. looking at what time the reps start working everyday; how many hours were they on the field; where are they right now; how many "signatures" were they able to bring home today. Don't miss out on the more valuable information like: how much of our doctors have we covered already; have we called-to-target our class A doctors; how much exposure did our marketing tools get; what are the doctors saying? Analyzing and understanding these information will give more meaning to your actions.

These are just some of the observations I've gathered over the years. The results are common. Their field-force goes into "compliance-mode". The quality of work suffers because it becomes apparent to the reps that the numbers are more important. That they will get sanctioned if they don't turn in the numbers. In turn, the reps become overly critical about the SFE system to try to discredit the numbers. And we end up in a loss-loss-loss situation.

SFE systems are designed to give you a view of how your sales and marketing efforts are doing on the field. How the reps are doing it is secondary. If you focus your attention to the more important information and insights then you'll get the best out of your system.

Sales organizations that give more value to "efficiency" and growth than their trust issues are bound to have a less complicated and more efficient SFE system in place.

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