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Out with the field force

Published on 14/10/03 at 04:34pm

It was with great delight that I accepted the Pharmafocus offer to spend a day on the road with Senior Key Account Manager Deborah Halfpenny in her territory in the West of Scotland.

I left the pharmaceutical industry two years ago in order to start my own management coaching business, and although I had kept track with how the industry was progressing through reading journals and direct training and coaching work with pharma companies, here was a chance to experience once again what life was like 'out in the field'. In addition, I was very keen to see how the hand-held call reporting technology that Deborah was using compared with the old paper-based and laptop reporting systems that I had been brought up with.

Deborah is a Senior Key Account Manager with a specialist sales organisation, and is presently working on behalf of GlaxoSmithKline to deliver sales of NiQuitin CQ, a smoking cessation programme. Deborah works in secondary care covering both hospitals and charities, such as The Roy Castle Foundation, within the health board boundaries of Greater Glasgow, Ayrshire & Arran, Argyll & Clyde, Lanarkshire and Dumfries & Galloway.

As I battled through the early morning rush hour traffic (ah, the memories!) in order to meet Deborah, my mind wandered back to my days of field visits. 'Would it be the same as two years ago?' 'Will we stop for any tea breaks?' 'What about lunch?' Deborah did not disappoint me and as a result my calorific intake was far less than it has been since I left the industry! In this respect, nothing had changed.

On the road

Deborah had a busy day lined up with calls evenly spaced throughout the day and with little travelling between the calls. Excellent planning! Deborah's normal day is split between calling on customers within smoking cessation clinics in hospitals, hospital disease departments and smoking cessation clinics within PCTs, and charitable organisations. These customers range from clinic co-ordinators and advisors, specialist smoking cessation nurses, consultant physicians in coronary care, diabetes and respiratory, hospital pharmacists and charity organisers, so the customer base is both broad and varied.

Our first call took us into Glasgow to a health promotion clinic in Shettleston to see the local co-ordinator and this was followed up with a visit to a smoking cessation advisor to arrange a meeting for the end of February. Next stop was a short hop along the A89 to Coatbridge to call on the Coatbridge Smoking Cessation Service co-ordinator and then on to Monklands Hospital in Airdrie to interview a smoking cessation nurse. At last, a cup of tea!

Deborah managed another call before lunch, this time to the Airdrie Smoking Cessation Service where another nurse was interviewed along with a couple of colleagues. Lunch (well, a quick sandwich and a diet cola) followed at 2pm before we were off once again back into Glasgow to visit The Roy Castle Foundation and then The Beatson Oncology Unit at The Western Infirmary in the west end of the city.

While travelling between calls, Deborah's mobile was constantly ringing. "Was that your team mates checking up on how you were getting on with your mysterious companion?" I queried. "Nope. Only customers," Deborah retorted. Given the woman's professionalism, I had to believe her.

Modern technology

In between calls, I was particularly interested in how Deborah used her new hand-held reporting device  an electronic customer relationship management (CRM) system that comprises of a database of customers within her territory, coupled with sales information within each of the postal bricks that she works.

This device enables easy and accurate recording of customer call information throughout the working day. Once the representative is back home, the device is simply plugged into a laptop and all the call information entered through the day is downloaded into the laptop. It can also download all this information to head office.

How did Deborah find this device compared to her laptop? "Much more user friendly," she enthused. "I really welcome the change in moving to this hand-held technology. It is easy to carry around, fits nicely into my bag or pocket and it is easy to input the data and information. It also has a long-life battery so I don't need to recharge it during the day. It apparently can last for two weeks but I charge it every night. The other advantage is that it is unlikely to be stolen!"

How exactly does she use it? "Before every call, I check what objectives I had set myself based on the call information I had entered from the last visit. I then check that the objectives are still valid, and if not change them accordingly. This brings me right up to date with what has happened historically and enables me to start where I left off with the customer last time round. Once the call is finished, I simply put the new information into the device right after the call when the information is fresh in my memory. I then decide on future objectives for the customer and record them. Nothing to it! It also contains the sales data so I can look at the trends of my product sales in each postal brick.

"When I return home, all my administrative work has been done and all I do is connect the hand held up to my laptop and the data is transferred to the laptop and then sent electronically to Head Office. While it is doing this it is also charging the battery. It is very easy and enables me to relax when I return home."

The enthusiasm with which Deborah spoke of this device was evident and it made me think back to the bad old days of record cards, WALSH sheets and, more recently, bulky laptops that seemed to disappear regularly from sales representatives' cars despite being hidden in the boot! This instrument is definitely an advance and should enable sales representatives to record better and more meaningful information directly after each sales call as opposed to waiting until they get home. Having it with them at all times also means they can readily access call and customer information, literally, at the press of a button.

Deborah's main measure of productivity is her sales of NiQuitin CQ, although she is also measured on her activity with key customers. "The sales measure is the most important measure and that is what drives me, although I recognise that both quality and quantity of calls is important. My manager is very supportive in helping me to strive towards both quality and quantity."

As my day came to an end and as I headed back into the traffic building up towards home, I reflected on a day well spent. It was great to experience Deborah's enthusiasm for her role, her customers, her manager and company. Add in the obvious advantages of the hand-held device and pharmaceutical representation has obviously moved on in the short years that I have now been away from the industry. Long may these advances continue.

Pharmafocus would like to thank In2Focus for allowing one of their representatives to be trailed for a day.

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