Assess yourself

September 1, 2002
Dee Prince

Dee Prince is a principal and co-founder of Health Strategies Group. She has initiated and managed the company's research services covering customer segements such as HMOs and integrated systems. Prior to founding Health Strategies Group, Prince was a health industry consultant for Menlo Park, CA-based SRI International and covered the pharmaceutical industry for The Pink Sheet. Her academic background includes a bachelor's degree in english from Lafayette College, Easton, PA.

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Rayna Herman

Rayna Herman is a principal with Lambertville, NJ-based Health Strategies Group and leads the firm’s sales force effectiveness practice. She is the primary author of the special reports “Improving Regional Manager Effectiveness” and “Improving District Manager Effectiveness.” Prior to joining Health Strategies Group, Herman spent eight years in sales and marketing at Whitehouse Station, NJ-based Merck & Co. Inc. For more information on the research featured in this article, please call her at (609) 397-5282.

Pharmaceutical Representative

Are you a highly effective district manager?

The job of district manager has never been more complex. Companies today expect district managers to call on hard-to-see doctors, develop opinion leaders, create pull-through plans, support marketing teams, and analyze reams of sales and activity data, all while developing the skills of the least-tenured sales forces in pharmaceutical industry history.

Some managers are more effective than others. These managers:


•Â Consistently exceed sales goals.


•Â Successfully manage people (promote more representatives and have lower turnover).


•Â Help a high proportion of their representatives meet or exceed sales goals.

Only 31% of managers in a recent study met all of these criteria. Palo Alto, CA-based Health Strategies Group Inc. interviewed over 100 district managers to develop quantitative data on what makes managers more effective.

The study showed demonstrable differences between average and highly effective managers in terms of how they focus their time and energies. Highly effective managers do a better job of balancing coaching and administrative duties. These managers spend more time coaching, and less on administration (see figure 1).

Attributes of highly effective managers

Three main attributes distinguish highly effective managers from average ones (see figure 2):

Perceived role. This attribute refers to managers' views of themselves in relation to their representatives and their districts. Highly effective managers are "district owners." They view themselves as the manager of the company's business in the district and believe they need to help their representatives increase product market share with target physicians.

Average managers are "administrators." They view themselves as the manager of the company's activity in the district and believe they need to help their representatives follow the company's policies and meet activity goals.

Personal job description. Managers' personal job descriptions reflect their perceptions of what they need to accomplish. Highly effective managers are "representative developers." They focus on helping the representatives who report to them become more effective.

Average sales managers view themselves as "representative monitors." They focus on monitoring the activities of their sales representatives.

Coaching support. This attribute distinguishes managers according to how they provide coaching support. Average managers provide "narrow" support, relying solely on field visits to deliver coaching support. Highly effective managers provide "broad" support. They spend more time preparing for field visits, create a follow-up plan for every visit, and invest significant time each month providing coaching support to representatives through voice mail, e-mail and meetings outside of field visits.

Broad support helps highly effective managers achieve a better balance of coaching and administrative activities compared with average managers.

How effective are you?

Improving effectiveness begins with an assessment of how well you balance coaching and administrative responsibilities. Table 1 lists key DM responsibilities. Estimate the average number of days per month you currently spend on these responsibilities. Compare your responses with the averages for highly effective managers.

In particular, assess your time investments in the areas where highly effective managers differ most from average managers. Does your balance between coaching and administrative duties strongly favor coaching?

Balancing coaching and administration

Sixty-seven percent of the district managers we talked with said they spend too little time on coaching. Yet managers who did spend more time in the field had less turnover and more successful representatives (see figure 3).

What prevents district managers from spending time coaching? The main distractions from field visits are meetings, administrative tasks and recruiting/training tasks.

Spending more time on coaching activities is a start, but what are the best approaches to maximize the effects of coaching? Our study found substantive differences in how highly effective managers approach representative development compared with average managers.

Highly effective managers:


•Â Focus on representative development during field visits.


•Â Do not just rely on field visits to meet all coaching needs.


•Â Address performance problems aggressively.

For example, highly effective managers include four key discussion topics on every field visit. In each visit, they:


•Â Focus on sales results.


•Â Clearly outline expectations for the visit.


•Â Review areas for personal/professional development.


•Â Leave with a follow-up plan for development.

Highly effective managers also make use of avenues outside of field visits, such as e-mail, voice mail and one-on-one discussions, to provide coaching support.

As the job of district manager grows more complicated, the pharmaceutical industry will need to reevaluate the roles and responsibilities of district managers. In the meantime, understanding and addressing the gaps between activities of average and effective managers is the quickest route to improvement in sales force efficacy. PRMG

The job of district manager has never been more complex. Companies today expect district managers to call on hard-to-see doctors, develop opinion leaders, create pull-through plans, support marketing teams, and analyze reams of sales and activity data, all while developing the skills of the least-tenured sales forces in pharmaceutical industry history.

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