The Force Behind Sales Forces - Pharmaceutical Executive

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The Force Behind Sales Forces


Pharmaceutical Executive


The company realized that training alone would not be enough. The FLMs had the crucial role of helping sales specialists apply what they had learned in practice and execute the new techniques successfully and consistently. They needed new techniques and tools to do this effectively, and to embed the new behaviors in the performance management process.

This specialty pharma company did many things right. It included the FLM team in the analysis from the beginning, which was critical for understanding, buy-in, and ownership for driving the new behaviors. It also did not leave implementation up to chance and continued to invest in enabling the FLM. Thus, the FLM could leverage a new coaching process and toolset, regional business planning templates and a new FLM dashboard to help apply the learning to their daily work with their teams.

The national sales manager summarized his experience with the program: "When my managers asked to use our coaching framework in each rep interaction instead of quarterly cycles, I knew that we would be successful. Both our regional president and the global head of operations were impressed when I showed them the sales results six months after rollout."

Two examples with markedly different outcomes, but a common insight: A strong team of sales managers is vital to navigate the changes facing the pharma industry, whether these changes come from the inside (e.g., through a changing portfolio), or from the outside (e.g., through changing customer structures and market conditions).

Are you set up for success?

Identifying potential sales force problems before they hurt your bottom line is critical. Here are some of the most common issues:

FLM "role pollution." Unlike with sales reps and their engagement with customers, many companies don't clearly define the responsibilities of the FLM team. Pharma sales managers must play three roles: people manager, customer manager, and increasingly, business manager. There are distinct behaviors and techniques to be successful in each of these roles. Without role clarity, the FLM team runs the risk of being pulled from all sides to execute tasks that are either in their comfort zone or seem the most urgent, rather than focusing on what is most important for long-term business performance.

Inappropriate FLM selection. Many pharma companies promote their best salespeople to management. This career path may motivate these individuals, and a "known entity" may seem safer than someone from the outside. But it's not always the best choice. What it takes to be successful as a sales rep is frequently different from success as a manager. To compound the problem, in pharma, the sales rep role itself is changing; past success as a sales rep is even less a predictor for success as sales manager. Unless you select salespeople with strong managerial tendencies—consistent with the new role requirements and in addition to respectable sales skills—your sales management team will be average at best.

Insufficient FLM development and support. Pharma companies spend millions on training their sales forces every year, but very little gets directed toward sales managers. Managers typically rank third, behind salespeople and senior sales leadership, with respect to support resources or data and tools that enable good decision-making. The result is inconsistent competency across most management teams, as new managers struggle to make the transition from sales rep, and experienced managers can't keep up with ever-changing job demands.

Pharma sales managers serve as key points of leverage for driving long-term sales performance, now more than ever. It's a mistake to underinvest in this group. By building a winning sales management team, you can capitalize on a high-impact, tangible opportunity to drive sales effectiveness and top- and bottom-line results—and successfully grow in this rapidly changing environment.

Torsten Bernewitz is a Principal at ZS Associates in Philadelphia and the leader of the Sales Force Effectiveness practice. He can be reached at
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