by Jeanie Casison | June 07, 2011
Every time a pharmaceutical company launches a new drug into the market, a huge effort is required to rally support from its sales force. Education and training drive important information home, but well-thought-out incentive programs are what keep interest high among reps during a rollout. 

“Incentive programs are the primary way that our company is able to encourage the behaviors that are essential to not only successfully launching a product but also sustaining its market share trajectory,” says Jamie Jones, senior director of diabetes portfolio field marketing for Novo Nordisk.

When the Danish health care company with U.S. offices in Princeton, NJ, wanted to introduce Victoza, a non-insulin medication for adults with Type 2 diabetes, Jones turned to the expertise of Performance Plus Marketing, in Roswell, GA, to develop a campaign to capture the attention of an audience of more than 2,000 sales reps, directors, managers, and account executives. 

With a nod to the name Victoza and the thrill of victory, a web-based, five-day incentive program called “Welcome to Club V” was created around the theme of an exclusive nightclub, complete with a virtual red carpet and VIP experience. Once they got “in,” visitors easily accessed training activities, progress reports, sales contest rules, and the Novo Awards Mall. The interactive platform also offered plenty of opportunities to learn about the new drug and earn awards through individual competitions, certifications, team contests, and daily quizzes.   

In the end, Club V proved to be quite engaging, with 95 percent of the sales force taking the daily quizzes and 100 percent participating in individual and team competitions. The highly successful program even earned the Circle of Excellence Award from the Incentive Marketing Association.

“Club V was an innovative program,” says Jones. “The idea was to reward people for what they already do, but also to have them do it better. By encouraging these behaviors, we are building the foundation for successful sales reps.”

In addition to shaping a strong sales force, Club V helped Victoza stay relevant and interesting for incentive program participants. “No matter what you do, reps get tired after six to eight weeks of selling a product—even a launch product,” Jones says. “To keep a product fresh, you have to put an incentive behind it—to keep it in their minds, keep it fun, with the reward matching the objective. We were able to do that by introducing multiple facets, from communications to rewards to recognition. There were lots of different touch points based on the demographics of our sales force.” 

Jim Chenet, senior sales director for Performance Plus Marketing, the firm that helped design Club V, says an incentive program only resonates when communications, training, measurement, and reinforcement are taken into consideration. He says: “We look at the pharmaceutical industry and ask four essential questions: Does the sales force know what management wants them to do? Do they have the skills, knowledge, and ability to achieve that? Are they being measured on it? Is there specific reinforcement?”

A Dose of Reality
As for those who question whether incentive programs work, experts say they are especially needed in the pharmaceutical industry, given all of the challenges that reps face while in the field. On any given day, these sales professionals not only have to deal with competitors, but also new technology, strict regulations on sales practices, and other issues. 

According to David Caldwell, vice president of the pharmaceutical sector for Maritz Travel, in St. Louis, reps are selling in an environment that is tougher than it has ever been. “What is critically important now is that big pharma companies are facing what the industry calls the ‘patent cliff,’ ” he says. “A whole host of blockbuster drugs are approaching the end of their patent lives, so that means generic competitors are allowed in the market. This is putting pressure on companies to maintain and grow sales.”  

Other strains are impacting how pharmaceutical sales reps do their jobs. “It is also increasingly difficult for sales reps to get time with physicians, which significantly changes their engagement with them and the message they bring to them. Since the selling environment is that much more difficult, incentive programs become more important to drive new behavior, reinforce change in behavior, and maintain and grow business results,” Caldwell says.   

Interestingly enough, despite doctors having less time to meet with pharmaceutical sales reps, those who do see the value of the interactions, according to a new study. A survey by KRC Research, supported by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, reveals that nearly eight out of every 10 physicians view pharmaceutical research companies and their sales representatives as useful resources of information on prescription medicines. 

In addition, more than 90 percent said the interactions with reps allow them to learn about new indications for approved medicines, potential side effects of medicines, and both emerging benefits and risks of medicines. Another 84 percent of physicians said that interactions with representatives give them opportunities to provide feedback to pharmaceutical companies about their experiences with a specific medicine. 

Close Examination
The National Association of Pharmaceutical Representatives is forecasting double-digit growth in the health care industry and increasing demand for more knowledgeable workers over the next several years. If that is the case, incentive programs will continue to help with recruitment and retention. 

“Pharmaceutical companies have always been big users of incentive programs,” says Trish Watson, senior vice president of client services, business loyalty, for Carlson Marketing, in Minneapolis. “It is a competitive marketplace, and incentive programs are being used for retention purposes. However, there is a shift to include contact service and sales support, so pharmaceutical companies are extending incentive programs to a broader audience.”

Incentives will continue to be a part of Novo Nordisk’s strategy. “It’s about how you get people to engage, respond, and perform to their potential,” says Jones. “You have to use everything at your disposal, including training and education, whether you are selling a clinical product or a widget. You want to get reps’ selling expertise at a certain level and make sure that their work/life balance is in a good place and they feel energized. The next thing is to get people to give the company their maximum effort. That is why you have incentive programs in place, to push people to give their maximum.”