Maintain a competitive edge

January 1, 2001
Calvin Bruce

Pharmaceutical Representative

Competition is a key component of sales.

Competition is a key component of sales. Given the fierce competition among pharmaceutical companies for market share and increased revenues, it's important for pharmaceutical reps to be aggressive and on top of their game. Doing so can give them an important competitive edge in terms of success on the job and greater marketability within the industry. Drawing analogies from last summer's Olympics, this article explains how career-minded pharmaceutical reps can establish and maintain that competitive edge.

Constantly raise the bar. One of the exciting things about viewing the Olympics was watching athletes who set new records for individual achievement. The looks on the faces of gold medalists when they learned that they had broken records were priceless. It was genuinely inspiring to observe the extra effort they made to outperform their fellow contenders. Often, they exceeded their personal best in ways that surprised themselves.

Whether you work in a small company or a large one, your success largely depends on how well you perform your assigned duties, meet sales quotas and support the mission of the organization. Doing the minimum of what is expected will enable you to keep your job – at least in the foreseeable future - but won't propel you to greater success in terms of competing with fellow sales representatives. That calls for exceeding the expectations set by you and your sales manager.

Specifically, what sales and marketing goals have you set for yourself? To what extent have you raised those goals based on your current level of success? In addition to servicing existing clients, what is your game plan to win new customers in different industry niches? Furthermore, what are you doing to enlarge your knowledge base and skill sets in ways that directly and indirectly support your long-range success?

Align yourself with good coaches. Interspersed with the TV coverage of actual events was commentary on the athletes: their backgrounds, family support and intense training with demanding coaches. It was obvious how much dedication and energy the coaches extended in preparing the young athletes for the most important event of their sports careers. In some respects, they felt defeat as deeply as the athletes did - and exulted in their success even more.

In the sales arena, it's similarly important to be the product of good mentoring. No price tag can be placed on a seasoned professional who takes personal interest in your career development. Having been where you are now, a mentor can pass along tips on how to avoid certain career pitfalls, stay focused on achieving important goals and strengthen your resolve to fine-tune your competitive skills.

It's advisable not to limit the mentoring-coaching role to persons with whom you currently work. Certainly it's helpful to identify with a couple of high-achievers in the company who can steer you in the right direction as you progress along a designated career path. They can share the benefits of their wisdom and experience working in that organization and elsewhere.

However, it's also helpful to receive periodic career coaching from other professional "winners" with whom you've associated in the past. They can include college professors or fellow alumni, former bosses or colleagues, and industry leaders that you rub shoulders with at professional gatherings. Even a brief conversation over coffee can be an occasion to glean some pieces of wisdom that offer important professional guidance and inspiration.

Be a team leader. Many of the Olympic events showcased the athletic prowess of individual performers. But most of the events spotlighted teams that had achieved competitive superiority through group effort. On every team there was a key man or woman who provided the personal record – and uncontested leadership – that inspired other team members to give their best.

Regardless of official title, are you considered to be a team leader in your company? Do fellow sales reps admire your success and attempt to follow in your footsteps? Can your boss point to you as someone who inspires others to improve their sales performance? If so, you have achieved a notable competitive edge that will help propel your career at your present place of employment and elsewhere in the future.

Handle success appropriately. The level of achievement on the playing field determined the degree of success individual champions enjoyed during and after the Summer Olympics. During after-event interviewing, some star athletes appeared to handle success better than others. In certain instances, medal winners appeared to be rather boastful of their accomplishments. You could tell they were anxious to have their faces on the Wheaties box. In other cases, the winners displayed pride in their achievements, but were appropriately humble.

Apply this to your work situation. No one likes to work around a person who is a one-man band loudly calling attention to his or her success. On the other hand, it's fitting to toot one's horn in a low key. If you don't, who will?

There are practical ways to promote your outstanding achievements. Examples: Forward your boss complimentary e-mails that you've received from satisfied customers, include in your personnel file any favorable write-ups in the company newsletter, and subtly display in your work space any sales awards or certificates.

The point to note is that success in a highly competitive environment deserves proper recognition, and circumstances may necessitate calling attention to outstanding personal accomplishments.

Train effectively off-season. For most Olympians, competing in the worldwide spotlight for two weeks was the dream of a lifetime. Whether or not they won a medal - or whether they ever compete again - they will have enduring memories to share with their children and grandchildren.

Other competitors will be preparing for the 2004 Olympiad the week after the closing ceremonies. Perfecting their skills to reach their ultimate competitive goals is a continual process of grueling self-discipline and working to exceed their personal best. If they earned bronze this time, they'll be shooting for gold four years from now.

Similarly, in the sales arena, no one can rest on their laurels. Certainly you've heard the sales training mantra: "You're only as good as your last sale." For this reason, it's important to stay on top of your game all the time.

There really is no off-season for sales representatives. The challenge is to sharpen your skills, stay ahead of the curve in terms of industry knowledge and put forth your best effort at all times. Admittedly, you're not competing for medals to wear around your neck, but for the satisfaction of knowing that you have made notable achievements in your organization and in the industry at large. If you maintain that competitive edge throughout your career, you'll be an undisputed winner in your own right. Good luck! PR