Saturday, June 26, 2010


Book Review

HardKnocks For The GreenHorn (107+ pages with colour illustrations; price: Rs 599) and SuperVision For The SuperWiser Front-Line Manager (158+ pages with colour illustrations; price: Rs 799) by Anup Soans. Published by Asian Trading Corporation, Bangalore.

There are any number of books on salesmanship and sales management. Books on salesmanship have mostly been on selling in general professing to offer techniques to make one a super salesperson; or on personalised selling, for e.g. on how to sell insurance or industrial goods. Similarly there is no dearth of books on management theory and management techniques. But there clearly are lacunae with regard to personal selling and sales management in the pharmaceutical industry.

Selling in the pharma industry, especially in India is complex not only in view of its quasi-technical nature but also because of the nature of competition. Managing pharma sales professionals is a much more complex business because of contextual factors some of which include: the quasi-technical nature of the selling function, the fragmented nature of the market, high attrition rates not only because of the dynamic nature of the healthcare industry but because of the opening up of allied industries like health insurance and not least the unionisation of the sales forces.

The following facts put in perspective the complex nature of pharmaceutical selling and the magnitude of competition in India: there are an estimated 25000 companies vying for the custom of approximately 400000* doctors; the size of the market (MAT April 2010) is Rs 45385 Cr (US $ Bn 9.67, @ Rs 47) and the top ten companies account for 42.36% of the market. The Indian pharma industry ranked the fourth largest in the world by volume and thirteenth by value has been growing at a healthy 13.8%.

Against this backdrop writing a book or manual for training sales and marketing professionals in the industry is a tall order. It is perhaps because of this reason that books on sales and marketing in the industry are few and far between. Apart from the complexity of the industry ambience the next most important question is what syllabus or what specifications should a text book or manual for training ‘Medical Representatives’ conform to?

It would have been far simpler had there been a standardised course for “Medical Representatives” in India as it exists in Britain. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) conducts the “The Medical Representatives Examination” and has a standardised syllabus for it. The examination is conducted in two parts comprising three compulsory and three optional specialisation papers. Candidates should obtain a minimum of 60% marks in each of the six papers for a pass in the examination. Sales professionals working as “Generic Medicines Representatives” will also have to take the first part of the examination comprising the three compulsory papers. Other countries like Australia and Canada too conduct similar examinations. These examinations do not have official recognition and hence are not transferable across countries but a pass in the examination is necessary for working as ‘Medical Representatives’ in the respective countries.

Over the years, Indian companies have evolved training programmes and training manuals corresponding to them based on their individual organisational experience. However the paradoxical secrecy of organisations in protecting their training methods as much as they do their marketing strategies - their dissemination being as certain a constant as water in a sieve or attrition in the industry - made these manuals an inchoate potpourri.

The two books by by Anup Soans are welcome addition to our knowledge in the respective fields and in the lingo of marketing, are likely to satisfy a long-felt need. They are written not by an armchair theoretician but by someone who cut his teeth in the din and bustle of the market place and gradually ascended his way up to the top by dint of hard work and determination. Therefore they do not impart spill-over textbook wisdom but practical tips for the new entrant and the conscientious worker seeking to improve his knowledge of the domain and his expertise.

Soans has taken pains first to define the syllabus based on which he would write the books. For example HardKnocks For The GreenHorn is divided into two parts. He divided the first part into six chapters each of which deals with a specific area of knowledge or skill essential for the Professional Service Representative (PSR). These include an introduction to the industry and career prospects; roles and responsibilities; knowledge management; presentation skills; basics of marketing and life skills.

The second part deals with technical subjects such as anatomy, physiology and pharmacology. A PSR should have at least a basic grasp of these subjects to be able to converse with a doctor in medical lingo.

The eponymous title SuperVision For The SuperWiser Front-Line Manager is divided into three parts. The first part is devoted to ‘Essential Management Skills’ beginning with prospects and progression in the industry, the tools necessary for the success of a frontline manager and the functional roles of a frontline manager. The second part deals with ‘Leadership Skills’ with such practical aspects as ‘on the job coaching’, which is dreaded by most frontline managers and the current management buzzword, ‘Emotional Intelligence’. The third part teaches the FLM ways in which she/he can improve performance. For in the end managers are expected to continuously perform.

Organisations generally do not realise that FLMs are the fulcrum on which the success of the genius at the top depends. They are like the load-bearing columns in a building without which it can not stand. Therefore it is essential for organisations to constantly reassure them that they are a part of the management structure and not that of the workforce they manage. This can only be achieved by providing FLMs with constant support and providing nourishment in the form of training and development. The book under review is likely to be an essential tool for achieving this end.
*The figure is deduced from a Planning Commission report according to which, there is a requirement of at least 600000 doctors to achieve a 1:1000 doctor-population ratio. [India needs 600,000 more doctors: Plan Panel (2008). Rediff Business, April 07, 2008. Accessible from:].

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