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All things Pharma

A Day in the Life



In the fifth of our series of interviews with healthcare industry professionals, Rob Sawyer, Business Manager for Export at Tissue Science Laboratories, tells On Target about his working life.

How does the overseas market for tissue implants compare with the domestic market?

The US has a high level of acceptance of ‘biologics’, offering huge potential and a fast rate of growth. Outside the US the uptake is less rapid – but for TSL certain non-US markets (including the UK) are performing ahead of the game. Despite reservations, ‘biologics’ are here to stay.

TSL concentrates on general surgery. Our main market is the US: five times as big as the UK market, with a single language and generally a single price. My markets, mainly in continental Europe and South Korea, are a different proposition: 14 markets all with different languages, reimbursement mechanisms and ideas on what they should pay for products.

Who are the key decision-makers that influence your role?

That depends on your business model. In the UK we sell direct, so the key decision-makers tend to be surgeons, budget holders, insurance companies etc. Our export model uses a network of distributors, and therefore for me the key decision-makers are the above plus the distributor I deal with – who may or may not take all your products, target who you suggest, etc.

One point to bear in mind is the lack of control you have. You have to exert a certain amount of influence on the distributors if your product is to be No. 1 or No. 2 in their hit parade – any lower and it is going to be difficult to grow and sustain a business.

What happens in your typical working day?

‘Not-abroad’ days involve dealing with distributors’ wants and needs. Most of the requests are about what happens when you use Permacol®, which patients have had a procedure using it, conferences, promotional literature, discounts, free product samples… information requests made by them on me and then by me back on them!

‘Abroad’ days are very different. I travel most weeks, for various reasons:

  1. Meeting surgeons. This is the key activity organised by the distributor. We generally have about 10 minutes to explain why they should use Permacol®. This often means getting up at four in the morning for a day trip to, say, Lisbon – exhausting but enjoyable: face to face with the customer, very intense.
  2.   Meeting distributors. You need to be a squeaky gate with distributors, though there is a fine line between growing a business and annoying them to the extent that they switch off. E-mail is all very well, but for trickier issues (such as sales performance) face-toface is normally better.
  3. Exhibitions are a great source of new distributors. Outside the USA, we exhibit at the European Hernia Society, the European Society for Coloproctology and the European Association of Endoscopic Surgeons, as well as most national congresses.
  4. Meeting potential distributors. Probably my favourite part, as it is all new and you are offering them the chance to make their name and a lot of money.
  5. Training – an essential part of post-contract business development. When you are not in control and there are sales to be made, getting distributors to accept training as a priority can be difficult.

Export sales allows you to get outside the box (as opposed to thinking outside it) and sample business in other countries and cultures. I have recently had the opportunity to look around Barcelona, Seville and Rome. However, there is a lot of sitting on planes (I make 80+ flights each year), and I am an expert at queuing.

Finally, don’t forget your tickets, passport and plug adaptor!


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