For Eisai in China, the sales rep's the thing

Every drugmaker has its own peculiar strategy for dipping into the Chinese market. Japan's Eisai started with a joint venture with a local company, then moved on to operate on its own, adding one drug to its arsenal at a time. Sales reps have been key to the company's strategy, even when deciding which drugs to field first in China: Which drugs would attract sales people?

Eisai is now fielding its own sales force to sell its Alzheimer's drug Aricept and stomach drug AcipHex, along with its best-seller in China, Methycobal, which treats peripheral nervous system troubles. And it markets other drugmakers' meds as well. "They identified a core product . . . working out what other products they would need to have as well [as] to attract quality sales people and identifying the support system they needed," analyst Pelham Smithers tells the Financial Times.

But despite the progress, Eisai is still spending lots of time worrying about sales reps. It has no problem hiring sales folks. It's keeping them that's the trouble. About a third of the sales force turns over in any given year. So, Eisai's China chief Yukio Akada is thinking about setting up a tiered sales force, with some 300 "experts" who have deep knowledge of the company's drugs and therapeutic areas, the FT reports. These experts will get paid more than lower-level reps, who'll do more routine work and won't need much training. "If these [reps] are going to run off anyway," Akada says, "I need to have a model in place where it doesn't matter if they go or not."

- see the FT story