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Sales Management: The X Factor


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-09-01-2005
Volume 0
Issue 0

Gen Xers are attractive to many managers because they typically have a strong work ethic. Although they are self-reliant, they still desire to be taken seriously and want to be valued by their companies.

Gen X is a name that provokes controversy, fear, pride, and for many in sales management, confusion, when the label applies to their sales reps. This generation has the reputation of being the "free agent" workforce—workers with no fear of job hopping and challenging the rules. To Gen Xers, choice is power.

Stan Striker

This group of more than 44 million young adults has overtaken the US workforce, and its challenging nature is causing non-Gen X managers to question time-honored incentive techniques. At the same time, Gen Xers are attractive to many managers because of their typically strong work ethic. Although self-reliant, they desire to be taken seriously and want to be valued by their companies.

Who Are They?

No birth dates wholly define the span of Gen X, but generally they were born in the '60s and '70s with a part of their teen years spent in the '80s—which defines the majority of pharma sales reps today. A search of various sources on trends for this group reveals that they were raised in a time characterized by high divorce rates, which forced high levels of responsibility and independence at young ages. They watched as women took on new roles. They experienced firsthand a world-changing boom of technological innovation.

All of these factors influenced Gen Xers to value both freedom and responsibility. They despise the materialistic ways of the previous generation, yet crave the latest in high-tech gadgets. They appreciate the balance between hard work and leisure, and tend to embrace diversity in all its forms—cultural, political, sexual, racial and social. A recent poll found that 90 percent of Gen Xers agree that helping others is more important than helping oneself. Also, nearly 70 percent of Gen Xers are parents and embrace strong family values.

As pharma companies shrink the size of their sales forces, managers are looking for ways to retain and motivate their most productive reps. With members of Gen X representing such a large portion of the pharma sales-rep ranks, managers cannot afford to overlook this generation's distinct attributes and needs.

Creating Incentive Programs

For this reason, managers should take great care in designing incentive programs to improve the performance of this unique population. A recent Maritz Poll found that 66 percent of employees surveyed said incentive programs influence their decision to stay with a company; for those under age 35, the number rose to more than 74 percent. Furthermore, research from the SITE Foundation, the research arm of the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives, found that a well-designed program can increase performance as much as 22 percent.

By taking into account the specific needs of Gen Xers, managers can incorporate a few key elements into incentive programs to motivate them. While there are a variety of award options available for incentive programs, some have particular appeal to Gen Xers: the latest technological gadgets for home, office, or car; furniture and appliances for the home; products for the kids; and items with high "splurge value"—things that are desirable but tough to justify buying, such as autographed sports memorabilia, or a digital juke box, pool table or diamond bracelet. Timesaving awards, such as cleaning services, personal chefs or caterers for at-home parties are also popular. Experiential awards, such as personal travel, tend to be well received as well.

For example, a pharmaceutical company had been using deluxe travel as an incentive for top sales people. The program had been successful, but needed to be updated. So, the company decided to give its high achievers 60 seconds to run through a warehouse full of electronics, jewelry, and sports items and collect whatever they wanted. The program has proven so popular, it has been repeated every year.

Programs that incorporate the latest technologies are especially well received. One example is to offer a quiz online and design it as a game with the chance to receive higher-value awards. A company recently launching a new product used an online quiz to kick off an incentive program, with the opportunity to receive an award that was tied to the program theme. The program achieved 100 percent participation in a short time frame. Another pharma company increased its award options and its access to performance reporting through a more robust Web site for reps. Participation increased 50 percent, appealing to Gen Xers' desire for control and feedback. Managers can also develop interactive e-cards and e-certificates that are individually customized for each employee.

Contrary to popular belief, cash isn't necessarily the award that leads to peak performances for Gen Xers or other reps. In a SITE Foundation-sponsored study described in the paper "The Benefits of Tangible Non-Monetary Incentives," researcher Scott Jeffrey found that what employees say they want doesn't always match up with what they work hardest to achieve. Non-cash awards can motivate reps to improve their performance. Popular options include funding college tuition or donating to charity.

Better Ways to Communicate

There are many communications vehicles that can be utilized to maximize understanding, reinforce messages, and provide immediate, on-going communication. Maritz Poll's research on incentive programs found that 44 percent of respondents receive communications regarding incentive program guidelines only at the start of the program. Only one third of these respondents said they were happy with their program. In contrast, 66 percent who received communications weekly were happy.

Gen Xers prefer a sense of control and want to feel directly involved in their progress and growth. Managers should be sure incentive programs provide answers to the following questions: What do you want me to do? Why is it important? How do you want me to do it? How will I know if I am doing it well? What is in it for me?

Also, thinking in short terms—quarters or trimesters—during the design stage can address Gen Xers' desire for immediate feedback. Keeping annual programs energized with spurt programs, such as offering double points or a weekend trip for sales of a product, can give them a sense of instant gratification.

Generation X sales reps hold an important key to driving a pharma company's bottom line. As managers look to decode what motivates these reps, it is critical to offer targeted awards, ongoing communications, and feedback.

What About Everyone Else?

Gen X isn't the only generation to consider in your incentive planning. The ideal would be to know which awards best motivate each employee, but that's not practical in a large organization. Short of tailoring programs to every individual, the following "generational generalizations" are the best ways to make sure a program fits most of your participants.

Traditionalists, aka the Silent Generation

Age 60s to 70s

Rewards desired: Satisfaction of a job well done. Awards that may speak to this group include entertainment and travel, home and health-related items, plus things they can share with others. This group might not splurge on themselves but they spend millions on grandkids.

Feedback desired: No news is good news.


Age mid 40s to late 50s

Rewards desired: Money, title, better schedule, more seniority. Travel awards work well in this group. Boomers value health and wellness, personal growth, and involvement. Luxury and health-related items should appeal to many in this segment. Feedback desired: Once a year, with lots of documentation, they want to see appreciation from the company for their contribution.

Gen X

Age mid 20s to mid 40s

Rewards desired: Freedom and a balanced lifestyle; choice is power. Look for awards that enhance time with family and friends—things for the home and products that keep them in touch, such as cell phones and PDAs. Also consider the "cool" factor when choosing awards for this group. Feedback desired: Instant, immediate.

Millennials, aka known as Generation Y

Age mid teens to mid 20s

Rewards desired: Sometimes known as the "entitlement generation," this group is looking for work with meaning for "me." Make sure they understand the work they are doing is important, and recognize them for doing it. They value diversity, empowerment, and flexibility. This group is heavily influenced by peers and interested in brands that are hip and popular with their age group—not heavily commercialized brands. They want items to be highly customized to their preferences—colors, features, etc. Feedback desired: Want it from a virtual coach at the push of a button.


Larry Laws of Maverick Sales and Rick Rose of Dendrite International joined the board of advisors at iAdvantage. Laws will be the chairman. » Rebecca Hayes joined Schwartz Group as project manager of audience generation services. Her responsibilities will comprise CME and Promotional Medical Meeting attendance generation. » David A. Arkowitz, chief financial officer of Idenix Pharmaceuticals, joined the board of Impact Rx. » Quintiles

Transnational Corp. appointed Dr. Edward Tabor as executive director, regulatory technical services. Tabor formerly worked for FDA in the Center for Biologics Evaluations and Research and also the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.


PDI unveiled Select Access, a targeted sales force model. The model focuses on regions with the highest prescription volumes to maximize accurate and speedy results. Allergan decided to use Select Access to co-promote Zymar, a treatment for bacterial conjunctivitis. » Goodhealth Worldwide launched a global health databank, created in conjunction with HTH Worldwide. The databank grants Goodhealth policyholders access to information on 3,000 hospitals, clinics, and doctors across the globe. It also includes profiles on healthcare availability in different cities and translations of medical jargon.

Dr. Edward Tabor



extended its contract with Dendrite International, in order to allow its sales team to continually employ Dendrite's technology services.

Stan Striker is vice president, managing consultant for St. Louis-based Maritz Incentives. He can be reached at stan.striker@maritz.com

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