Sales performance now!

September 1, 2002
Jean (Mowrey) Male

Pharmaceutical Representative

Jump-start your fourth-quarter results.

Year-to-date sales revenue is below forecast, and the pressure's on to bring home the projected year-end number. Sound familiar? Then you're in the sales management hot seat. How will you motivate your team to redouble their efforts? You won't - at least not yet. Resist the knee-jerk tendency to accelerate tactical execution of a game plan that doesn't seem to be delivering. First, take a step back to assess exactly where you are and why.

Review your original business plan and perform a top-line situation analysis. Ask yourself, "Have any industry or marketplace variables changed since the plan was developed?" As a springboard for thought, see table 1 for a list of a few of the issues that may be involved. Create a list of the dynamics, variables or complexities that didn't exist previously or may have changed since the original plan was created.

Then, review your situation analysis list from a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) perspective. A SWOT analysis will help reveal which of the changing dynamics are of the highest priority. See table 2 on page 30 for the next steps to assess what you can realistically impact, your required contribution and your current capabilities.

After arriving at what can be addressed and how, you can update your business plan. Now the real work begins. When considering the capabilities or tools needed, many sales managers focus exclusively on capital resources or, more often than not, the budget and materials they don't have to get the job done.

Regardless of whether you get additional resources, you are accountable for delivering results. So it's prudent to take a serious look at what's within your control: your human resources. Even if you were to get an increased head count, the hiring and learning curve time would reduce the impact on next quarter's revenues. Instead, focus on the human capabilities you need and identify those you currently have.

Take inventory of your personal capabilities

Review the list below as though your manager were assessing your management capabilities. Note the areas where you are strongest. Then identify only those weaknesses that can hinder your success if not addressed in the near future.

Focuses on performance:

•Â Focuses efforts on actions that provide the greatest value.

•Â Analyzes both hard and soft data to troubleshoot and identify opportunities.

•Â Plans contingencies for challenges that can thwart goal achievement.

•Â Meets short-term goals in ways that are consistent with corporate values.

•Â Is self-motivated and influences others to exceed past performance.

•Â Holds self and others accountable for their actions and performance.

Leads and champions needed change:

•Â Provides direction for action in the face of uncertainty.

•Â Innovates better or easier ways to impact results.

•Â Anticipates how changes will impact the team.

•Â Builds and leverages networks to support new ideas.

•Â Demonstrates a desire to meet the needs of external and internal customers.

•Â Promotes adaptability and influences others to support changes.

Actively develops direct reports:

•Â Clearly defines performance standards and expectations.

•Â Provides others with timely feedback (both formal and informal).

•Â Helps direct reports to develop the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors needed to maximize their bonus potential and job satisfaction.

•Â Actively motivates and coaches direct reports.

•Â Fosters teamwork and values diversity.

•Â Inspects, follows up and follows through.

Take inventory of your team's capabilities

When results are time-sensitive, be sure to select a needs-assessment instrument that will address short-term business goals instead of the commonly used assessments consisting of a wish-list of topics.

Formal performance-based needs assessment. If time and budget allow, perform a formal performance-based needs assessment to create a clear plan of action for short-term training or coaching initiatives.

This type of assessment is helpful under normal circumstances, but becomes vital when you're accountable for time-sensitive results because it will tell you whether training is needed at all. If the assessment determines that training is indeed needed, ensure that funds and time out of territory will provide a return on investment by requiring that classroom time focus on application to each representative's territory business plan. Reps should leave the program with a plan of action for use the next day in their territories. Then ensure reinforcement with management coaching tools.

Informal performance management needs assessment. If you want to do an informal and subjective assessment, make a short list of the skills or competencies needed to execute the newly updated business plan. Then consider the ability and motivation of each of your direct reports to demonstrate those most critical for success.

For example, if your new plan calls for increasing speaker programs, you should begin by looking at how able and willing each representative is to manage projects and time. If Benjamin is able to manage projects and time well, but he doesn't like to, your tactic is to motivate him, perhaps by helping him to see how managing multiple programs should allow him to maintain his daily call requirement and, ultimately, maximize his bonus potential. If Chris doesn't manage projects or time well and doesn't like to, he may need training and monitoring (clear expectations and checkups) with higher frequency than Benjamin.

Once you've identified a specific development plan for each direct report, it's equally important to take a look at your role in partnering with reps for success. Surprisingly, many sales managers underperform in their role as sales performance coach due to heavy administrative duties, a large span of control, or inadequate understanding or execution of meaningful performance management.

It's easy for sales managers to hyper-focus on sales numbers and new prescriptions, especially when the heat is on. When the emphasis is on monitoring, rating and rewarding performance, the manager's role becomes passive – passive in that in the worst cases, it could be likened to a bookie keeping an eye on the game score and paying the winners. Coaches know that taking an active role in setting expectations and developing the team is fully within their control and allows them to pay more winners while bolstering their own success.

Common performance management pitfalls

There are several pitfalls to avoid when looking at performance:

•Â Setting expectations.

Pitfall: Unclear expectations. Your interpretation of expectations or standards is different from the representative's, so the representative can't meet them.

Example: One of your representatives consistently spends over budget, so you write the following performance standard into the representative's performance appraisal or field contact report:

"Representative will target, plan, roll out and report results of no more than three programs (not to exceed $x each) each quarter."

Although the standard set forth is specific and measurable, it is considered a backward standard – a standard that is written in such a way that the representative could actually do nothing and still meet the performance standard.

Pitfall: Providing direction exclusively focused on results expectations. You can avoid this pitfall by describing the behaviors needed to meet your expectations. Results expectations only tell representatives what they must do. A coach also shows them how. Focusing on both results and behaviors creates clear expectations. The coach provides shortcuts from his or her experience to shorten the learning curve for more effective and efficient performance. This is especially critical when managing less-tenured or low-performing representatives.

Example: After a day in the field with a representative, you might write the following in a field contact report:

- Results expectation: "Our day was productive. Thank you for being well organized."

- Behavior expectation: "Your strong relationships with key healthcare providers were evident in the number of physicians we saw and the amount of time we were given. Continue your proactive approach to identify those in need of additional focus, and make specific plans to leverage existing relationships to expand prescribing."

Pitfall: Unrealistic expectations. You can avoid this pitfall by ensuring that expectations are within the ability of the representative.

Example: "I know the territory realignment has been frustrating, but don't rest on the laurels of your existing relationships. Build relationships with your new physicians and clinics immediately."

Of course, it isn't possible to build immediate relationships.

• Monitoring expectations.

Pitfall: Expectations are difficult to monitor. Continuing with the above example, how can the manager monitor and rate how the representative is meeting this expectation? Expectations should be realistic and involve specific goals (relationships with whom), specific behaviors (how) and a timeline (by when) for follow-up.

Specific goals (what and with whom?):

- "Please send a list of your top 20 prescribers to me via e-mail by October 5. During my next field contact with you, plan to report all key information for these prescribers (for example, best days, hours, satellite offices, managed care plans, all key office staff names, etc.)."

- If possible, describe what rapport or relationship success should look like by the end of the next call cycle so the representative knows what he or she is striving to accomplish.

Specific behaviors (how?):

- "Call on the targeted prescribers (request greater frequency) at target offices to establish rapport, create mutual name recognition and make the most of information-gathering opportunities."

Timeline (by when?):

- Remember to inspect what you expect. Use Outlook or other calendar reminders to capture dates for follow-up.

- E-mail the assignment (date).

- Set up the next field contact (date and information-gathering development focus).

• Performance development.

Pitfall: General behavior reinforcement. General reinforcement happens when you make statements of opinion without backing them up with the specific behaviors you observed. An example would be saying something similar to "You did a superb job with Dr. Smith." Regarding such a statement, ask yourself, "Does the representative know exactly what he or she did that was superb?"

Without specific reinforcement, representatives may not know just what they did that was superb. Often, because the representative is happy to hear praise, clarification may not be sought from the manager. The result is a lost opportunity to provide reinforcement of expected performance.

After a general reinforcement statement, specific feedback with examples helps representatives better understand what they did well and increases the likelihood that they will repeat the skill or behavior in the future. Specific reinforcement bolsters performance expectations and the positive behaviors that will help reps meet your expectations.

To do this, you might first make a general reinforcement statement like: "You did a superb job with Dr. Smith."

Then you might follow with specific reinforcement like: "Your ability to relate the clinical data to product benefits that were meaningful to Dr. Smith was impressive. Persuasion was evident in the questions that she asked."

Pitfall: Words that alienate instead of motivate. The manager's relationship with his or her direct reports can make a substantial difference in performance outcomes, especially when the pressure's on. Most salespeople can recall going the extra mile for a manager who demonstrated respect and solid coaching. The words you use to make a point can motivate or alienate.

This statement is a results-only expectation that points a finger with the phrase "you need to":

- "You need to significantly increase the amount of customer contacts during our field time together."

The following statement connotes partnership and uses the word please. It also communicates behavior expectations.

- "During our next field contact, please include more drop-ins based on best-probability calls with key prescribers, community registered pharmacists and hospital clinics."

Eliminate the use of the word but between praise and remedial comments. It invalidates the praise and can make the receiver feel as though he or she is being set up for a fall. Instead, use a period to allow the positive statement to stand alone. If you must include both comments in a sentence, consider using and instead of but.

Example (weak): "Sharon, you've gotten a good start, but you'll need to plan your work and work your plan to be successful."

Example (strong): "Sharon, you're off to a great start! Your business plan was well-targeted to meet your territory objectives. We will partner to build on this momentum by reviewing and updating your plan each quarter. A solid plan, along with your consistent follow-up and follow-through, will put you on the road to success."

Every sports manager or coach knows that regardless of the problems he or she faces, when the team doesn't perform, the coach gets replaced. The team's owner doesn't have the ears to hear how the team could have drafted better players with higher salaries, how many players were injured, or other potentially valid excuses for low team standings. The same is true in pharmaceutical sales. When the pressure's on, you alone are responsible for your team's performance. PRMG

Jean C. Mowrey is president and chief executive officer of Yardley, PA-based Emp-Higher Performance Development Inc., a firm specializing in sales performance consulting, keynote speaking and training for the biopharmaceutical industry. She may be reached directly at (215) 321-4625, through e-mail at or via the firm's Web site,

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