GSK may be reviving incentive pay for sales reps, but it's not returning to its old ways: executive

Why did GlaxoSmithKline roll back its strict ethics measures for sales reps? For one, when it first nixed incentive-based compensation, it imagined other companies would do the same.

They didn’t.

“We had thought that we would be the leader and other companies would follow,” Sheri Mullen, senior vice president of GSK’s U.S. specialty business unit, said in an interview during the BIO International Convention in Philadelphia. “What we’ve learned is that we were the only one, and we were very conservative in that regard,” she added.

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As of late last month, the British drugmaker is once again allowing specialty salespeople to take home paychecks that get larger the more prescriptions they generate. And it's a move that follows an earlier switch back to paying doctors speaking fees to talk up the company’s products.

“Specialty pharma is very competitive. We needed to be competitive in acquiring the talent and maintaining our talent, if that’s what’s important to sales professionals in this space,” Mullen said of the compensation tweaks. “It really is very much about making sure we are as competitive as we can be.”

But while the company has changed up rep pay and doc-education events, it’s not going back to its old ways, Mullen stressed.

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With paying doctors speaking fees, “it’s very limited,” she said, noting that GSK won’t be taking professionals out “just to go to dinner.” Instead, the company wants to launch its speaking program “in a very targeted and meaningful way,” which starts with compensating doctors only when the company has new information to share.

“It’s not just a promotional tactic,” Mullen said. “It’s truly to meet the needs of our customers.”

And the pharma giant has already seen results. After reentering the paid speaker arena and adding “what we were missing in the marketplace,” sales of lagging respiratory product Nucala jumped by 36% in the first quarter.

“People wanted to hear what was really physicians’ experience” with the product, Mullen said.

And Glaxo intends to keep things similarly limited on the sales rep side, too; sales professionals will have to go through integrity training and compliance training “to even be eligible” for incentive-based compensation, Mullen said.

“Our values still very much remain at the core of GSK,” she added. “That is something we do not want to compromise on.”