It’s Time We Trained Our Product Managers
Panel participants: (From left to right) Dustin (Dusty) Grainger, Partner, Stovall Grainger, a training and consulting organization. He can be reached at 703 548-7177. Salvatore (Sal) Guerriero, Internal Solutions Leader, AstraZeneca. He can be reached at 610 695-1612. Rod Hanlon, Chairman, Wanamaker Associates, advertising consultants. He can be reached at 404 233-3029. Ronald C. Lynch, Managing Director, Pharmaceutical Development, American Management Association. He can be reached at 609 424-7763.
S U M M A R Y:
Many newly appointed product managers have minimal marketing skills. Accepting that premise, our panelists discussed first the underlying reasons: that in the pharmaceutical industry product management and marketing are not a career path; that most PMs are still being recruited from the sales force and expect soon to be moving back to the field; and that few companies have comprehensive, thorough training programs. The rapid turnover that results means that there may be as many as three different product managers before a product reaches the market, while changes on the agency side are diluting the continuity agencies used to provide. At the same time, such new developments as the emphasis on branding, DTC promotion, and marketing to managed care are adding to the complexity of the job. The panelists’ unanimous conclusion: product managers need rigorous and systematic training.
MM&M: Rod, I’d like to start by quoting your corporate brochure back to you. You say that in some 12 years of experience as a consultant to the pharmaceutical industry you “have noted a disturbing lack of marketing and marketing communications training and, therefore, too often a shortage of working skills within the product marketing staffs of major corporations.” Why do you think that is? Hanlon: There are various reasons: a salesdriven culture; recruiting typically from outside the marketing ranks; frequent promotions and other turnover; as well as lean staffing of product marketing teams. The common denominator is that there is an absence of comprehensive, executive level, full-scope training to help product and brand managers and other marketing executives gain the knowledge and hands-on experience they so sorely need. MM&M: Sal, I understand that despite your title you are essentially the Director of Promotion at AstraZeneca. Do you share Rod’s perception? Guerriero: In answer to your first question, yes — the people who report to me are responsible, among other areas, for the development of promotional plans, branding, creative concepts, and media planning. They are also the primary contact with our advertising agencies. Second, I do indeed agree with Rod. In my experience, working with people in product management, the skill level of those entering the position is rather minimal. In addition, people don’t want to stay in product management assignments for long. They want to move on to something else, so they never fully develop the necessary skill level to be truly excellent at what they do. MM&M: Rod Hanlon goes on to say that with adequate training, “companies could market their products more effectively and efficiently, eliminating large amounts of current waste.” Given the conditions you describe, Sal, is it realistic to try to train people who are primarily interested in moving on?
Guerriero: First of all, we need to get a better product out of them while they are with us, and secondly, perhaps if we trained them better — and by that I mean the industry as a whole — they would produce a better product, get more satisfaction out of their jobs, and therefore stay longer. Actually, training offers a third advantage: it helps in recruiting. Someone I just hired asked me during the interview what type of training program we had. When I described our training program, it helped get her on board. MM&M: Again looking at industry overall, is there a new emphasis on training? Grainger: I’m afraid not; it’s a phenomenon that has yet to unfold. There are plenty of people who would agree that there’s a need and who could readily identify the gaps in the skill sets of those coming into product management from a sales or sales management or agency account management — plenty of people who can articulate the gaps but very few who are doing anything comprehensive to remedy the situation. Instead, the usual training programs for product managers include “nice to have” special offerings such as writing skills, presentation skills, or an executive retreat at Wharton or Kellogg school of business — but nothing that could be defined as a vertical training program for marketers. Lynch: In the evolution of the pharmaceutical industry over the past 20 years, the emphasis has been primarily on developing new products and on personal selling, far less on marketing. Today we’re extending the life cycles of products, so there is an increased emphasis on competitiveness and sustainable competitive advantage. As a result, there is a burning need for product management to have a much higher level of understanding of the nuances of marketing. I think that sooner or later that will lead to a much greater focus on the need for training.
Hanlon: I hope you’re right. I have been involved in the pharmaceutical industry for the past 13 years, and my sense is that there has not been a great deal of change in the type of people who end up in product management. We identified the need for training 11 or 12 years ago, and the need is as great now as ever.
Product management as a stop-off position
MM&M: Who are the people who become product managers? Do they still come primarily from the sales force? Lynch: Traditionally, a marketing position in most pharmaceutical companies has been a stop-off in a sales career. As a result, people didn’t want or expect to spend more than one or two years in a marketing function before they headed back into the field or to some other position within the organization. Hanlon: Let’s look at the implications of that pattern. Someone coming in from the field says, OK, I’m here for two years. It will take me six months to learn why I’m here, what my product is, who my advertising agency is and how to work with them. Six months later they’ve become functional, but now they think: I have only maybe another 12 months to go; maybe I’d better begin to think of my next career move. The question becomes: how long-term can people like that be in their thinking? What kind of risk taking are they willing to do? How far can they look beyond quarterly, or at most annual results? The reward for doing a good job as a product manager is to be promoted out of there. Guerriero: From a company perspective, the scenario Rod just sketched is not going to bring in the most revenue. You’re looking at constant short-term focus from people who hesitate to take risks, who don’t want to try new things, who never get to understand the whole marketing process. Our objective as a company is to have a staff of product managers who have taken their products from the developmental
stage through launch to two years postmarketing. That calls for people to stay in their jobs at least four to five years, and that’s not very feasible in today’s environment. The challenge, therefore, is to develop your people through a comprehensive training and development program so that they experience the situations and scenarios that would normally take four to five years to learn on the job. [Ed. note: AstraZeneca has made a major commitment to product manager training.] MM&M: What’s the actual length of time a product manager stays on the job? Guerriero: Traditionally, I’d say about two years. And the better they are, the more likely it’s going to be less. MM&M: And where do they go from there? Guerriero: Possibly to a senior product management position, but more likely back to the field. Lynch: There’s another dynamic we should consider. Even with the FDA Modernization Act and user fees, the time it takes from the filing of the NDA to get a product to market is anywhere from 24 to 36 months. Meanwhile, there may be two or even three different people accountable for all of the things that happen in that critical time period. Project management now becomes a requirement, as does matrix management within the team. No wonder, given these complexities of product management, that all too often the people with that responsibility are not equipped to handle it. Hanlon: This is a true story that kind of sums up what we’ve been talking about. A new product manager comes in from the field and the first day on the job the group product manager says, Welcome aboard. There’s a file cabinet behind you that has everything you need to know. I’ve got a plane to catch in an hour and a half, but I’ll be back in two weeks and then we’ll get together. It took that product manager five days
just to figure out that there was an advertising agency!
Teams: help or hindrance?
MM&M: How does the team concept, which I believe is now fairly universal in the pharmaceutical industry, impact on the need for training? Guerriero: I’ll give you my perspective based on my experience at Astra Merck, then Astra Pharmaceuticals. We utilize the team concept, so I have worked in the cross-functional environment for close to seven years. The theory is great. Since there is no way for any one person to be expert in every aspect of marketing, you bring together all the people from the various different disciplines so that, collectively, the team has the experience to make the best decisions. However, in practice what happens all too often is that members are removed from their department or skill center and placed with the team, so now they no longer have the day-to-day interactions with experienced people in their functional unit. Sometimes they are even moved to a different building. On-the-job learning may well become a matter of trial and error, increasing the need for more formalized, structured training and development programs. MM&M: Isn’t there a mentor for the team? Grainger: They’re hard to find. The impact of downsizing and early retirements some years ago has meant that mentors, as defined by tenure, are a rarity. Hanlon: Often it’s what the advertising agency does. Once product managers realize there is one, they call the agency and are either delighted or alarmed to find out the agency provides the only continuity on the brand, because there have been three product managers since the product was introduced. And depending on the particular product manager’s personality, he or she will either make an ally of the agency, or as I like to say, saddle up on the
agency, or take the attitude that those are the guys who produced all those sales aids I hated and now I have a chance to fix things. The PM’s personality makes the difference. MM&M: Why do the preponderance of new product managers still come out of sales? Grainger: It’s history. History begets history. The only change is the recent trend of hiring product managers from other companies. However, one must ask where did they originate? Hanlon: Because pharmaceutical companies are largely sales-driven organizations. In fact, ours is the last great industry that’s sales driven. A market-driven organization is one that looks at a marketplace and says: You know what? There’s a need for a stocking that doesn’t fall down and doesn’t require a belt to hold it up, so we’re going to create pantyhose. Then they go out and find a lot of people to sell it to. Our industry is one that says: We just spent ten years developing a product that’s going to stop your heart from going pitter patter and damn it, we’re going to find someone to sell it to. The fact that it’s the twelfth product in its category and they got into the market late doesn’t matter. We’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars in research and development costs tied up in this product and we’ve got to earn them back. So go out and sell! Guerriero: Let me give you a slightly broader view. Sales reps are very important in our industry, in fact they’re critical. Therefore, if the marketing department produces sales material that the reps won’t take out of their bags, it’s wasted. That makes an understanding of sales force needs a very important perspective for a product manager and so we tend to hire people with sales experience. They become the gatekeepers for strategy positioning and messages. Grainger: You could say that the sales organization is a key customer for product management.
Guerriero: I would add, however, that while it’s important to have a sales force perspective and produce materials that will work for the reps, you also have to have the experience and the knowledge to do it from the correct marketing perspective. That’s why we need training. Yes, our sales force is a key customer, but it’s obviously not the only one. MM&M: You’ve made it clear, Sal, that reps who become product managers need to be trained. What kind of training do they need? Guerriero: Sales representatives by the nature of their job are very tactical. They get stuff done. That’s great — but that’s not the right way to do marketing. To do marketing you need to have more than just tactics, you need to have a strategy, you need an over-all focus on where you’re going. And that orientation needs to be taught, along with how to work with agencies; how to judge good creative; how to develop branding and promotional messages; and how to make it all work together. Lynch: And more importantly, now more than ever, how it all fits into the overall corporate strategy.
The impact of DTC …
MM&M: Does this suggest that the qualifications of product managers will change ... that they will no longer be recruited primarily from the sales force? Grainger: I think the sales organization will continue to be the largest contributor to marketing and product management, but as Sal was saying, it magnifies the need for more sophisticated, formal training. Years ago, mentoring and shadowing those who already had the skills would suffice because the emphasis was on relations with the sales
mixture. I’ve hired people from advertising agencies and marketing people from outside the pharmaceutical industry, as well as members of the sales organization. I find that when you hire people with different backgrounds it provides an environment of varying ideas, which can give you a better perspective and, hopefully, better solutions. MM&M: Do you see yourself also hiring people from the consumer field? Guerriero: Yes, in fact I just hired one. I felt I needed someone who understands how to sell to consumers, not just because of DTC, but because consumers are going to play an increasingly important role in their own healthcare. We need to start thinking about consumer attitudes right from the beginning of the life cycle of a product; for example, we need to consider consumer attitudes in deciding on a trade name for our products. Hanlon: I would like to rephrase the question as to whether product managers will keep coming from the sales force. The more interesting question, I think, is whether they should keep coming from the sales force. I would say that as the pharmaceutical industry matures, the answer to that question should be absolutely not. Product management in the pharmaceutical industry needs to become a career path, just as it is at Procter & Gamble and other major consumer companies. It should be a career path that people are specifically hired and trained for … a career path where people are grown and nurtured and where their employment continuity is maintained. In industries where product management is a career path, you don’t have nearly the turnover that you do in the pharmaceutical industry. As a result, the P&Gs of this world do a lot better in marketing their products than most pharmaceutical companies do. Grainger: I submit that Sal’s organization is more innovative and creative on
Product management in the pharmaceutical industry needs to become a career path, just as it is at Procter & Gamble and other major consumer companies.
force, and the marketing of products concentrated on physicians. Now we also focus on the patient as end user, as well as on many other non-clinical influencers. That has added vastly to the complexity of the job. Lynch: There is also an important change in professional promotion due to the FDA Modernization Act. You’re now allowed, under strict limits to be sure, to disseminate reprints about indications that are not included in the package insert. That calls for highly informed judgement as to what you can incorporate in your sales promotion. Guerriero: I disagree a bit with Dusty, though. I do not think that product managers are going to continue to come predominantly from the sales force. I see a
MM&M: That brings up an important piece of corporate strategy nowadays — direct-toconsumer advertising. Do the same product managers tend to handle both professional and consumer marketing? Guerriero: In my organization they are on the same team. It might be different in other companies. We feel that it’s imperative that the team understand the whole marketing process, going right back to the setting up of clinical studies, filing the NDA, drafting the prescribing information, and doing publication planning. If you’re going to be advertising in consumer publications you need to know that, too, and it has to be part of the overall marketing plan early on.
that front than some of the more traditional companies, where the majority of future marketers is still drawn from the sales organization.
… and of managed care
Lynch: Another factor to consider is that the sales landscape will continue to evolve because of managed care and other thirdparty payers. Getting a product placed on a formulary calls for an entirely different set of skills from selling to physicians, and those changes are bound to have an impact on whether or not you recruit product managers from your field force, and if so from which area. Guerriero: Without a clear career path, there’s no real incentive for reps to come inside. I have a tough time getting qualified people from the sales force even to come in for an interview. That’s another reason why we need to create training programs and a career path, so that people know that they will be provided a guide to success, and that they’ll be rewarded when they succeed. Lynch: There is still another aspect to this question of recruiting from the sales staff and that is that pharmaceutical companies tend to develop and maintain their own internal cultures, and so they prefer hiring from within. True, when they hire people with special skills — such as market research or a technical work — they almost always have to go outside, but if they hire product managers from outside that causes a problem, namely that now they have people who have never been exposed to the sales force culture forming policies for products whose success will depend primarily on how they are received in the field. Hanlon: When people go work for P&G as product management trainees, they have a stopping off point. They stock the shelves in grocery stores for a year or two, with a guarantee that they will then go into the in-house product management program.
MM&M: Would you recommend that as a model for the pharmaceutical industry? Hanlon: Absolutely. If you have the right personality traits for marketing planning, what a great opportunity to carry a bag for a year or two knowing you’re going in-house for a product management career. Instead we recruit for a sales position — which calls for being a self-starting, aggressive closer of sales — then say, “Hey, you’ve been so successful we’ll bring you inside as a long-term planner, a team builder, a strategic thinker, and then when you’ve been doing that for 18 months, we’ll send you back out to be a regional manager.”
Without a clear career path, there’s no real incentive for reps to come inside. I have a tough time getting qualified people from the sales force to come in for an interview.
company has a very thorough and very specific sales training curriculum, and usually there is a very robust sales management training program as well. That begs a very simple question: if companies invest in that level of training and development on the sales side of the business, why don’t they do it for the marketing side? I wish I knew the answer. Lynch: Going back to P&G’s commitment to brand management, part of the answer may be that the branding concept in consumer companies has been well established for a long time. But the branding concept in pharmaceutical companies, at least in prescription pharmaceuticals, is relatively recent. They’ve always been product focused and sales focused. Now that that’s changing, it may lead to greater awareness of the need to train brand managers.
Agencies as trainers
MM&M: Why doesn’t top management see the logic of that analysis? Grainger: There’s an incumbent mindset. If you look at the career paths of the VPs and CEOs, look at their age and the condition of the marketplace when they rose to their positions, chances are that they had scant formal training. Many of them came out of sales and sales management. An ironic twist is that every
MM&M: We touched in passing on the role of agencies in providing continuity. What do you see as the role of agencies in training? Guerriero: I don’t think it’s really appropriate to depend on agencies for training. Yes, agencies have some very experienced personnel who can help in the short term to cover some gaps, but recently I have seen an increase in turnover on the agency side, so the continuity we used to look for is not necessarily there any more. Actually, I think agency personnel could benefit from a formalized training program as well. Hanlon: I agree that depending on the agency alone to train your product managers is inappropriate. But I believe that agencies do have a contribution to make to the training process. They can play a role in the creative, the message, and branding arenas, and can help the training process by demonstrating how to motivate and work with agencies. Guerriero: I’d agree with you, Rod, as to those specific roles, but I have another reservation. Each agency has somewhat dif-
ferent processes and procedures, so if I have one product manager getting trained by one agency and another by a second, and maybe a third by still a third agency, I now have three people on my staff all using a different set of processes and procedures. As an organization we need consistency so we don’t spin our wheels.
The need for global expertise
account differences in cultures, differences in reimbursement types, and differences in the stages of medical development of the various markets. I think that’s the direction in which global marketing is going to go over the next few years. MM&M: But in such a situation, where does the buck stop? Hanlon: All too often the answer is that the buck stops nowhere, even on the domestic scene. Grainger: There are still firewalls between brand management in the U.S. and brand management elsewhere.
MM&M: My next question has to do with globalization. Does it affect the job requirements of product managers? Hanlon: Globalization is greatly talked about, but very few companies have a real global capability. They have a global presence, global products — and a whole series of purely local marketing operations. Global brand management may be a goal they’re moving toward, but I’m not aware of anybody who’s there yet. Guerriero: In our organization we are striving to do global branding if appropriate, but the reality is that the United States market is so vastly different from the rest of the world that almost every time we look at global branding it turns out not to be feasible. MM&M: Yours, like most of your competitors, is an international company. Would you think of bringing in a product manager from one of your sister companies overseas? Guerriero: If that individual were properly trained in our processes and procedures, yes, I think that perspective would be very good to have. It would be a nice experiment and I’d like to give it a shot sometime. Hanlon: But even the interchange of personnel internationally doesn’t make you global in your marketing or even your branding. It can help but it’s not the whole answer. Lynch: There’s a new term someone has coined called glocal. The idea is that you establish a global perspective, but you initiate implementation of this perspective on a local basis. It’s an approach that takes into
My observation about the pharmaceutical industry as a whole is that responsibility is widely distributed, but that there is very little authority and even less accountablity.
Guerriero: In our domestic operation, it varies by team, but as a general rule it depends on the level of the decision. For example, if it’s a small decision, say a $5-10,000 decision, a local product manager may make the call. If it’s a $100500,000 decision, the whole team might have to be involved. A $1 million decision could get kicked up to the business unit, and if it’s bigger than that, it might have to be reviewed by the executive management board. Lynch: Another problem relating to accountability for decisions is rapid staff
turnover. Traditionally, the person making a decision will have moved to other responsibilities before it takes effect. Hanlon: My observation about the pharmaceutical industry as a whole is that responsibility is widely distributed, but that there is very little authority and even less accountability. Guerriero: And let’s admit it, much as I believe in cross-functional teams, they can contribute to that because responsibility doesn’t rest on any one person, it rests on the whole team. Grainger: Cross-functional teams also usually operate by consensus, but consensus is a double-edged sword. There are examples where the desire for consensus has delayed outcomes as well as innovation and creativity. MM&M: Well, our discussion of product management training has taken us to many fascinating related topics. You have all made terrific contributions, but there is one basic question we still haven’t answered. Since the need for training product managers seems so self-evident, why is it that top management doesn’t share that perception? Anyone want to take a stab at that? Lynch: My experience is that when we go to upper management and advocate better training, the resistance isn’t cost. It’s that they feel they cannot find the time to take people away for three days to attend a training program. Somehow they have no problem with the same people taking three days to attend a sales meeting or to sit behind a one-way mirror at focus sessions. It’s a prioritization problem — and I think a misplaced priority. MM&M: So perhaps we should plan a discussion on how to train top management! Again, many thanks. s This discussion was moderated and edited by Warren Ross, editor of MM&M.
THE NEED FOR PRODUCT MANAGER TRAINING: SOMEBODY IS DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT
by Robert A. Girondi
Robert A. Girondi is executive director, business unit, commercial leader, CV, at AstraZeneca. He was president of the HMC Council in 1997, when the program he describes was developed. The Healthcare Marketing & Communications Council (the HMC Council), the healthcare communications industry’s oldest and largest trade association, has long provided opportunities for personal and professional growth. Faced with the great need for training of product managers so graphically described by the panelists in the accompanying article, the Council Board of Directors decided to address the challenge. Step one was to conduct research among Council members, which clearly indicated the need for development programs to satisfy not only the professional requirements of new (one year or less) and/or aspiring pharmaceutical product managers, but also of advertising agency account managers, and the healthcare publications’ representatives who call on pharmaceutical companies and their agencies. A thorough needs analysis by the HMCC Education Committee determined that training for new and/or aspiring pharmaceutical product managers should have the highest priority. The specific goals of this program’s affordable, interactive, casestudy-based curriculum would be to: • reduce transition time from inexperience to being operationally productive; • increase individual productivity; • provide skills and tools of immediate value. After a series of competitive presentations by potential candidates, the Education Committee recommended to the Council’s Board that Medical Education Systems
(MES), a Philadelphia-based education organization, be selected to work with the Council to develop, organize, and implement the first Pharmaceutical Product Manager Development Program. It was decided that the sessions should focus on, among other topics, marketing tactics, strategic planning, sales forecasting, product positioning and promotion, marketing plan development, and Internet strategies. The final in a long series of important steps was consideration of an appropriate faculty. The organizing team felt it was important to blend individuals currently employed in pharmaceutical sales and marketing positions so as to enable the sharing of handson experiences and first-hand knowledge with participants. With all of this work behind them, the HMC Council successfully offered its first Product Manager Development Program in March of 1998, followed by two more such courses that same year. A total of 101 attendees from 43 different pharmaceutical companies participated in 1998, and all gave the program high marks. Said Carrie Bourdow of Merck, for instance: “The program gave me the opportunity to refine my promotional skills and learn new strategies for the industry.” Jeff Sherman of Schering-Plough suggested: “Anyone new to product management should take a course like this to fully understand the complexities of pharmaceutical marketing and the diversity of skills required to succeed.” While everyone involved has been gratified by the success of this important educational program, it is significant that none of the programs offered to date has been exactly the same. Using feedback solicited from every participant at the close of each pro-
gram, adjustments to the next program were made. It is interesting to see how the degree of case study work, panel discussions, and time for questions and answers increased with each session, as recommended by graduating participants. These constant enhancements (not major content modifications) reflect the program’s response to the changing marketplace and the rapidly changing needs of attendees. We call it “CQI”—“Continuous Quality Improvement.” In light of this initial degree of success, two more of the three-day seminars were offered in the first half of 1999; a third is scheduled for October. The HMC Council is dedicated to its wellestablished tradition of educational excellence, and continues to be recognized for it. Work continues on the development of an Advertising Agency Development Program, and a similar program focused on the needs of our industry’s publishers is also in formation, all in pursuit of the HMCC’s official mission “to enhance the professional development of its members by providing continuing education and career development opportunities.” Just like physicians, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals, we have an ongoing need to maximize the potential of our careers, and there is no better way to do this than through continuing professional education. The HMC Council offers it. Why not take advantage of it to make the most of your personal competitive advantage? For further information about the HMC Council’s Product Manager Development Program, call Dick Sawyer, Executive Director, at 877 446-2669 (toll free), or 610 868-8299.