The war for talent

June 1, 2001
Scott Hull

Scott Hull is the associate director of sales and marketing operations and programs at Palo Alto, CA-based CV Therapeutics.

Pharmaceutical Representative

How managers can win the battle of sales forc turnover.

In preparing your sales reps for battle, it is important to show a united front and a commitment to the soldier. To quote the new tag line of the U.S. Army, always remember that each sales rep is an "Army of One." When they are sitting in front of a physician and doing battle, it is important that they know they have the confidence of their officers.

Goal setting

Every battle needs a plan. The managers in a sales campaign must provide vision and leadership and give their troops goals as they conduct the battle to convince physicians to prescribe their company's medication. Ben Feldman, who has sold over $1 billion in life insurance and who the Guinness Book of the Business World called "The most outstanding salesman in history," says that the best way to prepare to win is to start with a goal - a big goal that makes you excited – and then break it down and make it doable. When asked, "What would be worse than being born blind?" Helen Keller replied, "To have sight without vision." Good managers give vision to sales representatives' goals.

Feedback mechanisms

On the battlefield of sales, it is necessary to give your troops feedback on how each individual soldier is performing and how the overall battle is going. Employees want to know how they are doing, whether poorly or well. Failure to give them the feedback they need keeps them in the dark regarding their assessment of their performance and how and where they can or need to improve. Without good feedback, your soldier's selling life is at risk.

Feedback alone, however, is not automatically effective. In "Organizational Behavior," Bob Kreitner cites a meta-analysis of 23,663 feedback incidents that found that performance actually declined in more than 38% of them. Feedback does not necessarily have to be a Catch-22. It is important to observe how feedback is delivered, as it serves two functions for those who receive it: One is instructional, and the other is motivational. In "A Force for Change: How Leadership Differs from Management," John Kotter writes that feedback action needs to be immediate, appropriate, participative and constructive. The motivational aspect of feedback can be manifested in four ways:

1. The articulation of a vision in a manner that stresses the values of the audience being addressed.

2. The involvement of the audience in deciding how to achieve vision or the part of the vision that is most relevant to them.

3. The enthusiastic support of their efforts to achieve that vision, supplemented by coaching, feedback and role modeling.

4. The public recognition and reward of all their successes.

By following a consistent feedback plan, your troops will be motivated, and they will stay that way.

Sincere concern

In order for officers and their soldiers to work together more efficiently and decrease desertion, they need to learn more about each other. Building a relationship among managers, employees and co-workers builds a sense of teamwork and accountability. If no one cares enough to make a person feel welcome, then how can he or she be expected to stay? Based on the theory that 75 to 85% of the problems in an organization are caused by the system and not by individual employees, Edward Deming, the father of "Total Quality Management," calls for a dramatic reappraisal of the way corporations judge the performance of individuals. I have seen managers request commitment from employees without showing them proper care. John Maxwell, author of "Developing the Leader Within You," talks about the results of one company, Teleometrics International, that studied the perception high-achieving executives have of the people in their organizations compared with low-achieving executives (see figure).

Caring about a sales soldier does not mean a manager takes an interest in his or her personal life, but it does mean that the manager cares enough to ask. If a person consistently shows up late for work, some managers' first thought might be, "Let's court martial them" or "I'll give them a verbal warning." A good manager should ask "Why." Once a manager understands an employee's personal situation, he or she might take any number of actions.

Exit interviews

An organization that has problems with turnover usually has problems with the exit interview process. It is imperative that you identify why there is desertion, in which units and under the command of which officer. By making a complete intelligence dossier of the reasons behind voluntary desertions, you will be able to determine the policies and procedures needed to reduce future turnover.

The exit interview should be standardized and uniform in order to guarantee that the same information is collected from each person. The interview may be completed via a written survey, the Internet or an intranet. Once an interview is conducted, the results can be combined with others and analyzed. The Internet or intranet data collection method is preferred, since data communication is automatic. Once the data are in the system, attrition data can be compiled to meet the diagnostic needs of the firm. The benefits of this method include the following:


•Â Tabulation is made easy.


•Â Compilation can be performed on a summary basis or a question-by-question basis.


•Â Limited manual manipulation is needed.


•Â Information can be tabulated by division, department, region or district.


•Â Text or graphics can be accessed.


•Â Transferring reports internally is more efficient.


•Â Presentations can be easily customized.


•Â Continuous feedback is provided on progress or failure.


•Â The method may be helpful in assigning accountability.


•Â Interviewer bias is reduced.


•Â Interviewee inhibitions are reduced.

Recommendations

Dos. Excellent managers believe in their teams. This creates an environment for success. Offer sales representatives opportunities for significant contributions through projects and special assignments. Gain sales representative support for all goal assignments. Recognize personal achievements and show appreciation for reps' contributions. Deliver clear expectations. People are motivated when they know exactly what they are to do.

Don'ts. Managers should not encourage employee turnover through negative behavior patterns, which include: belittling anyone (especially in public), using people, being dishonest, being all business and not getting to know people. Finally, don't discourage personal growth. In order to stay, it is important that each of your sales soldiers feels excited about his or her job. If you don't educate them, someone else will.

Everyone wins when sales representatives and managers work together. Turning around turnover is a team effort. Management assumes the majority of the responsibility to lead the team and earn their allegiance. The war is being fought as we speak. What are you willing to do to win the war? PR

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