Nobody Does it Better

Keeping district managers in the field is just one way to keep your sales force productive. by Rick Rosenthal and Rayna Herman .
Apr 30, 2005

If you work for a company that isn't interested in increasing sales across your portfolio, don't read this article. Otherwise, you'll learn that your district managers (DM) are the keys to doing just that. DMs select and hire new sales reps, guide product knowledge, develop selling skills, provide feedback, and take action to turn around or terminate poor performers. The average industry DM is responsible for generating tens of millions of dollars in sales through his or her teams. But, only 45 percent of industry DMs achieve their sales goals. Companies that succeed in raising the overall effectiveness of their DMs will create sustainable competitive advantage.

Key Contributors Health Strategies Group research with 819 district managers from 12 leading pharma companies identified four key areas that differentiate district managers who exceed their sales goals:

  • Field Time
  • Performance Management
  • Team Selling
  • Ownership



Practice makes perfect District managers influence sales skill development by observing calls and coaching the reps reporting to them. More field time translates into more opportunities to improve rep performance. Additionally, more field time spent coaching hones a DM's coaching skills and keeps those skills sharp. Field time also allows DMs to hear directly from customers, helping skilled listeners achieve an intimate understanding of their local markets.

Fish or cut bait Poorly performing reps drag down an entire district's sales performance, which should be reason enough for a DM to take decisive action. But in a world of overlapping territories and co-promotion arrangements, they also have a negative impact on the perceived performance of their territory counterparts. Over time, this can lead to dissention, disillusionment, and in the worst case, the loss of frustrated but good performers—with the poor performer remaining behind. By definition then, effective performance management includes swift action and resolution—through either improvement or departure.

United we stand In a complex environment where multiple reps often promote the same brands to the same customers, the successful district manager needs to lead individuals to function effectively as a team. In some cases reps do this on their own and the DM only needs to offer situational leadership such as consulting on joint territory plans. In other cases, reps have trouble working together and the DM role expands to include conflict resolution.

Own the business DMs need to help reps take ownership of territory sales performance. When done well, reps understand the link between their own behaviors and territory sales performance, and perceive that the DM's evaluation accurately reflects performance. When done poorly, reps do not buy in to their DM's assessment, and they feel less or even no ownership of their territory results. Experienced DMs know that reps have an easy time owning strong sales results. On the other hand, reps often resist taking ownership of poor results.


Contribution to Quota
Seventy-eight percent of DMs surveyed execute well in one or two of the four key areas described previously. Ten percent say they execute none of the four. Most important, DMs who effectively execute in all four areas achieve superior sales results. (see "Contribution to Quota")