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‘Attrition at the field force level is between 20-30 per cent and at management level between 8-15 per cent’

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Ankit Agarwala, Director, Michael Page India talks about his preference for building in-house capabilities for activities like sales force training, in an interaction with Viveka Roychowdhury, wherein he shares insights about hiring trends and attrition rates in the pharma industry

Which areas in the pharma industry will see hiring in 2017? What are the drivers? Increased attrition in these areas or increased demand?

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Ankit Agarwala

Marketing (both traditional & digital), strategy, business development, market access and manufacturing are the functions within pharma which are expected to see the greatest demand in 2017. The drivers are mainly additional roles being created due to expanded manufacturing operations, large volume of mergers and acquisition and growth of consumer healthcare businesses.

What is the average attrition rate in pharma companies in India?

Attrition varies substantial by level. At the field force level, this is usually between 20-30 per cent and at management level between 8-15 per cent.

How does this compare with attrition levels and hiring in global pharma?

Generally speaking, these rates are higher as compared to global pharma setups.

How much pharma talent is India losing to global roles and positions?

The main locations where Indian talent in pharma is going abroad is to regional headquarters of organisations in Singapore, or global headquarters in continental Europe and the US. These cases are generally few and mostly applicable at business head or functional head levels. With the expansion of the local Indian pharma sector there are more exciting opportunities for the best performing senior executives and hence cases of moving overseas have reduced.

Do you see such talent coming back, given that there is a contraction in the industry, layoffs and consolidation, overseas?

We certainly see an increasing trend of talent coming back both due to contraction of overseas opportunities as well as exciting opportunities being available in India. Senior executives are also coming back due to personal and family reasons, such as being close to ageing parents. We also see an increased interest from pharma companies in India to hire senior professionals with international experience.

Indian pharma companies are also hiring globally for global roles. How successful are these moves, in terms of cultural adjustment? Any examples you’d like to comment on?

When Indian pharma companies are looking for foreign talent for overseas based senior management roles, this is often very challenging as they don’t yet enjoy a very strong brand value in overseas markets. Hence, in many cases they are locally hiring an Indian, and then expatriating this person to an overseas location for a fixed period of time such as two or three years.

Pharma companies are faced with reputation losses due to non – compliance with ethical marketing codes. How are they dealing with this, in terms of hiring and training their sales force?

We see a substantial increase in training of sales force and also demand for senior training and sales force excellence professionals. We also see organisations trying to get their medical representatives to work in a more consultative manner and are thus investing more in technical and product training.

Is training an in-house or outsourced activity? How much on an average, as a percentage of revenues, or overall training budgets, is spent on sales force training?

Training is increasingly an in-house activity with heavy demand for in-house sales force excellence professionals.

What are the reasons for the shift from oursourced to in-house sales training modules?

In-house sales training allows organisations to better maintain consistency in their training processes over a period of time. Also, in the case of foreign MNCs, in-house training allows them to align their training to regional and global training processes and benchmarks. In-house training also allows for better product specific technical sales training as the product and market knowledge is internal to the organisation.

As attrition rates are higher in India than the global norm, is there a hesitation to invest in training medical representatives?

There has been a hesitation traditionally, however organisations now realise that training their front line is a critical factor in a competitive industry.

How could training be deployed as a talent retention strategy, especially for the pharma sales/ field force?

Training certainly provides an upliftment in skill for pharma sales/ field force, which is an important factor that employees in these jobs are looking for, other than the best possible remuneration. Greater investment from the organisation in meaningful training in areas like consultative selling also builds more employee loyalty towards the organisation and hence can help in better retention.

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