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The High Performing Pharmaceutical District Sales Manager: Current Trends & Future Directions

ID: SM-178


20+ Info Graphics

30+ Data Graphics

500+ Metrics

25+ Narratives

6 Best Practices

Pages: 69

Published: Pre-2019

Delivery Format: Shipped


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The District Sales Manager is the acknowledged cornerstone of pharmaceutical sales force effectiveness and high performance. Although the traditional DM role is well understood, the position is being re-evaluated today in light of industry pressures that are causing dramatic sales force change. Many believe that the DM job will become more strategic and less tactical in the near future. Sales leaders are trying to determine what new activities DMs can be expected to take on and what skills and training they will need to succeed during and after the transition occurs.

This research identifies the most important current and future roles of the DM in driving superior productivity and continued growth for their companies. The study also identifies key trends impacting the DM function, examines the extent of change in current sales force models, investigates DM readiness for change and provides best practices companies are using to help DMs retain their effectiveness in the new marketplace.

Best Practices, LLC used both field surveys and interviews to complete this study. In all, 46 sales leaders at 23 different companies across the globe contributed data. In-depth interviews were conducted with field leaders from six of the participating companies.

Industries Profiled:
Pharmaceutical; Health Care; Biotech; Medical Device

Companies Profiled:
Abbott Laboratories; Sanofi-aventis; Boehringer Ingelheim; Eli Lilly and Company; Endo Pharmaceuticals; GlaxoSmithKline; Janssen Cilag Pharmaceutical; Merck; MGI Pharma; Novartis; Novo Nordisk; Pfizer; PLIVA Pharmaceuticals; Procter & Gamble Pharma; Roche; Solvay Pharmaceuticals


This research is focused on several major topic areas: (1) Impact of Sales Force Transformation Trends on Pharmaceutical District Sales Managers, (2) Evolution of the District Sales Manager Role, (3) Key Skills & Competencies for District Managers, and (4) District Manager Training Needs.
Specific areas of coverage include:

  • Key pharma trends impacting the position of DM
  • Most valued current and future DM and sales rep activities
  • Volume of DM work that is strategic versus tactical
  • Vital current and future DM skills
  • DM readiness for new roles
  • New responsibilities for regional managers
  • Benchmarks for extent of sales model change
  • Diversity management challenges
  • Best practices for helping district managers meet challenges of the changing market

Key Findings

Among the findings that emerged from this research were the following:

1. The DM Role Is Expected to Become a More Strategic Position -- Time & Resources Are Shifting from Tactical to Strategic Activities: Sales leaders expect DMs to spend nearly twice as much time dedicated to strategic activities in the next three years. They estimate that traditional tactical DM activities will decline 10-30 percent in terms of their importance, and more strategic activities are expected to rise 30 percent to more than 90 percent in relative importance during the same time period.

2. Regional Managers Are a Source of Untapped Productivity -- Regional Managers Are the First Source of Change: This research uncovered wide interest in changing the role of the Regional Manager (RM) as well as the DM and the sales rep. Several sales leaders noted that RM preparation for change is often neglected as organizations focus on DMs – but the RM drives the change among DMs.

Table of Contents

Executive Summary 3
Introduction 3
Research Approach 4
Participating Companies 4
Report Structure and Organization 5
Key Findings 5

Sales Force Transformation: Current Trends & Future Direction 9
Sales Force Size Is Trending Downward . . . For Now 9
Customer Access Continues to Decline 11
Companies Have Begun Overhauling Their Sales Models 14
Sales Force Trends Are Likely to Impact DM Role 18
Focus on Customer Relationships Is Increasing 19
Barriers to Rapid Change Anticipated 21

Evolution of the District Sales Manager Role 23
Current and Future Value of Traditional Activities 24
Strategic DM Role Gaining Momentum 34
Blended Role Is Forecast for Future DMs 40
Empowerment of DMs May Be the Next Frontier 41
Regional Managers Are a Source of Untapped Productivity 44

Key DM Skills & Competencies 47
Current and Future Value of DM Skill Sets 48
Managing Workforce Diversity Is an Emerging Skill Area 52

Critical Role of Learning, Training & Development 54
Implementation of Training 54
Voices from the Field: Training Requirements 56

Best Practices for Continued District Manager Effectiveness 60

Participant Demographics 64

Table of Figures


Figure 1.1 Benchmark Partner Companies & Locations 5
Figure 1.2: Structural Forces Impacting Pharma Sales 7
Figure 2.1: Sales Force Growth Potential, 2008 & 2010 10
Figure 2.2: Drivers of Sales Force Cuts 11
Figure 2.3: Sales Force Growth Drivers 11
Figure 2.4: Pipeline Health Shapes Growth View 12
Figure 2.5: Sales Rep Customer Access Continues to Decline 13
Figure 2.6: DM Visits to Physicians Restricted 14
Figure 2.7: Will Reducing Rep Numbers Restore Customer Access? 15
Figure 2.8: Percentage of Companies Experiencing Sales Model Changes 16
Figure 2.9: Percentage of Companies That Have Completed Model Changes 16
Figure 2.10: Percentage of Companies Where Sales Model Changes Are Underway 17
Figure 2.11: Percentage of Companies Where Sales Model Changes Are Scheduled 18
Figure 2.12: Field Technology Use 18
Figure 2.13: Sales Trends Most Likely to Impact DM Jobs 19
Figure 2.14: Role Changes Most Likely to Impact DM Jobs 20
Figure 2.15: Internal Barriers to Sales Model Change 23
Figure 3:1: Impact of Sales Model Changes on DMs 24
Figure 3.2: Most Important Rep Activities 25
Figure 3.3: “Top Five”-Rated Rep Activities 26
Figure 3.4: #1-Rated Rep Activities 27
Figure 3.4.1: Reps Must Fit Local Markets 28
Figure 3.5: DM Role Evolution 29
Figure 3.6: Value Ratings of Traditional DM Activities 30
Figure 3.7: DM Activities Rated “Top Five” 31
Figure 3.8: #1-Ranked DM Activities 32
Figure 3.9: Challenges of Remote Coaching 33
Figure 3.10: New Coaching Skills Needed Due to Access Limits 34
Figure 3.11: Percentage of Companies Expecting More Strategic DM Role 35
Figure 3.12: Percentage of DM Time Spent on Strategic Activities 36
Figure 3.13: Frequency of Strategic DM Activities 37
Figure 3.14: Strategic DM Activities Gaining Importance 38
Figure 3.15: Strategic Field Management 41
Figure 3.16: Optimal Future DM Role Still Undecided 42
Figure 3.16: Optimal Future DM Role Still Undecided 42
Figure 3.17: Empowerment Models 45
Figure 3.18: RM Role Is Productivity Key 47
Figure 4.1: Most Important People/Leadership Skills 49
Figure 4.2: Most Important Management Skills 50
Figure 4.3 Most Important DM Competencies & Attributes 50
Figure 4.4: Analytics Skills to Be Critical 51
Figure 4.5: Top 5 DM Skills 52
Figure 4.6: #1 Ranked DM Skills 52
Figure 4.7: Diversity Management Challenges 53
Figure 4.8: Types of Diversity Training Offered 54
Figure 5.1: Percentage of Companies Changing DM Roles & DM Training 55
Figure 5.2: Level of DM Preparation for Change 56
Figure 5.3: DM Training Needs 57
Figure 6.1 61
Figure 7.1: List of Participating Companies 65
Figure 7.2: Sales Force Size 66
Figure 7.4: Ratio of Reps to DMs 67
Figure 7.5: Respondents’ Company Type 67
Figure 7.6: Respondents’ Experience in Pharma Sales 68