Fire up your veteran reps

September 1, 2002
Gwen McLean
Gwen McLean

Gwen McLean is a managing editor at Walpole, MA-based Informa Training Partners. For more information on training materials that prepare pharmaceutical sales professionals to succeed in today's marketplace, contact Informa Training Partners at (508) 668-0288 or visit Informa online at

Pharmaceutical Representative

Overcoming complacency in tenured sales people.

Many pharmaceutical sales representatives with a few years of experience under their belts easily make their sales goals and could almost as easily surpass them. Why do they fail to reach higher? Complacency. As a sales manager, you can combat complacency among your tenured sales reps by first understanding what motivates them and then developing and implementing individualized action plans that target their motivators. Once you have done this, you will need to assess the impact of your actions and determine the next steps for keeping them motivated. Working to ensure that each of your tenured reps performs at maximum capacity is a continuous process. Initiating and repeating these steps will help secure both their success and yours.

Identify and prioritize motivators

Pinpointing what motivates an individual can be difficult, even for that individual. However, as a manager, you must identify the factors that motivate your representatives so you can help improve their performance. Two ways to identify motivators are to conduct behavior-based interviews and observe behavior and performance.

Behavior-based interviews. Behavior-based interviewing is typically used during job interviews, but it can also be effective in determining what motivates people after they have been on the job for several years. Behavior-based interviewing focuses on how people have acted in past situations. For example, while conducting a behavior-based interview, you might say:

"Tell me about a specific goal that you set for yourself last year and how you went about achieving it."

Your representative – let's call him Eric Palmer – may respond by saying, "Last year, my goal was to initiate and maintain relationships with at least 10 new physician customers during the first six months. I am a 'people' person and like to make real connections with my customers to ensure that they respect me as I respect them. I reached my goal by calling on one new physician a week, and finding some common ground with each of them so they would want to see me again, as a person – not just as a sales rep. I'm out there every day, and I'd rather be talking with friends than adversaries."

In this situation, it is easy to see that Eric is motivated by an inner need for respect and a sense of camaraderie with his customers.

Observation. Because you are trying to evaluate the motivators of representatives who have been with your company for at least a few years, you have the opportunity to observe their performance over time. Keep track of their performance by reviewing sales data and holding regularly scheduled, individual meetings with them. In addition, study past performance reviews that either you or your predecessor(s) have completed.

Imagine for a minute that you are reading a performance review done by your predecessor for sales representative Natalie Armand. Although Natalie has been recognized with several awards, most recently for her high level of expertise in reimbursement issues, in your predecessor's opinion, she was still not ready to be promoted. Imagine further that in Natalie's self assessment, she wrote that she wanted to be considered for a district manager position, and pointed out that by being honored for numerous achievements, she considered herself ready to be promoted. Taken together, these pieces of information could lead you to believe that influence and recognition are strong motivators for Natalie, and that because she has not been promoted, despite gaining favorable recognition, she is still looking to gain a higher level of influence.

The information gained by implementing these two methods can help you identify factors that motivate your tenured representatives. You may find that certain individuals are motivated by several factors. Assess which ones are the strongest motivators and develop your action plan around those.

Target prime motivators

When developing an action plan that targets the tenured rep's prime motivators, you have to get creative. Tenured representatives are not as easily motivated as new representatives for two main reasons:

• They have been doing the job for a while, and the novelty may be lost.

• They may believe that they perform their job well and do not need or want guidance on how to improve.

To get past these issues, you must go above and beyond what is often required to motivate a rookie sales representative.

Let's take a look at the two representatives mentioned previously. Consider Eric, who values relationships and respect. How could you motivate Eric to achieve higher sales goals? There may be several ways, depending on your own resources and the flexibility of your company's sales and marketing policies. Here is just one suggestion: Offer Eric the opportunity to work with you to organize a one-day physician conference targeting several physicians in his territory. This would provide Eric with the chance to strengthen his existing relationships, advance his credibility with his customers and gain additional respect from them.

Now let's look at Natalie, who is motivated by influence and recognition. Although you may not be able to promote Natalie to district manager, you may be able to provide her with other opportunities to gain recognition and exercise influence. For example, you may be able to provide Natalie with an opportunity to make a presentation on reimbursement (her area of expertise) to her peers at the next regional meeting. This opportunity would provide her with both influence and recognition, as she would lead the group in discussion and, from then on, be considered the "go-to" person for reimbursement questions.

Evaluate impact

Once you've developed and implemented individualized strategies to motivate your tenured reps, you will need to consider whether your actions have led to performance improvement. Evaluating this impact will help identify which actions are leading to the desired effect and which are not.

Let's fast-forward and assess Eric and Natalie's performance one month after Eric has helped organize and hold the physician conference and Natalie has led a discussion on reimbursement at a meeting with her peers. The sales data show that Eric's numbers have risen, while Natalie's have actually dropped. What did you do right with Eric, and what went wrong with Natalie? To find out, talk with them as a follow-up to your interventions.

Let's say that your conversation with Eric reveals that he loved the experience, was able to increase his credibility with his customers and gained further respect from them – all of which have made promoting his products to them that much easier.

Upon talking with Natalie, however, you find that while she enjoyed leading the discussion on reimbursement at the meeting, preparing for it took so much time and energy that she was unable to focus as much attention on her selling efforts, thus the drop in performance.

Determine the next steps

The findings of your evaluation should point you in the right direction on how to proceed. As for Eric, you may be able to continue motivating him by providing him with similar opportunities and support to build credibility, respect and relationships with his customers.

As for Natalie, you may want to reevaluate how you measure her overall performance if she is to take on future leadership roles. If you value her contribution to the company and want to keep her on board, you may have to balance her selling responsibilities with what she has to offer in terms of leadership and potential as a future district manager.

Engage in the ongoing process

Once you've succeeded in identifying motivators, developing and implementing action plans, evaluating results, and determining the next steps, you will need to do it all over again … and again. Motivating people is an ongoing process. Keep at it and you'll reap the benefits that only attention, action and persistence can yield. PRMG

Gwen McLean is a managing editor at Walpole, MA-based Informa Training Partners. For more information on training materials that prepare pharmaceutical sales professionals to succeed in today's marketplace, contact Informa Training Partners at (508) 668-0288 or visit Informa online at

Related Content: