Sales managers in the life sciences industry are miles ahead of sales managers in any other industry because of the field visit process. Some industries don’t even have field rides as part of their sales strategy, and when they do include them, they take a far less structured approach than the majority of life sciences companies.
So, we can pat ourselves on the back, right? Yes. And we can do even more than that. We can take a sound business strategy that’s already in place and make it even better! Here’s how:
• Improve pre-visit planning.
• Add value to field coaching reports.
• Incorporate more follow up.
Ask managers how much effort they and their reps put into pre-visit planning, and you may be surprised to hear, “Not much.” What a missed opportunity! A recent survey of life sciences managers revealed that only 30 percent felt their pre-visit planning was effective. Some admitted that all they asked the rep to do was list the offices they’d be visiting and the product they were going to highlight.
Considering the heavy emphasis on pre-call planning for reps, it’s ironic that managers don’t do more pre-field-visit planning. Like a sales call, a field visit is an appointment to sell something — that something isn’t a product or a service, it’s better performance.
With new report forms in the cloud, more companies are including a field visit plan as part of their report structure. Having it there is one thing, using it effectively is another.
Pre-Visit Planning Has to Be Easy
Inevitably, managers say, “I don’t have time to do what I’m doing, let alone add another task to my to-do list.” That’s why pre-visit planning has to be easy.
Ideally, the rep and the manager should decide on a plan together. That could be as simple as an email from the manager to the rep with two questions:
• What do you want my help with?
• Is there anything in particular you want me to look for?
Or, the manager can put the monkey on the rep’s back and ask for a brief plan for the day. Suppose a rep tells the manager the plan is to see four physicians who are good candidates for using XYZ. The manager can turn the conversation to behavior with a directive response like this:
Based on what we discussed in our last ridealong, have you prepared targeted questions for each physician? I will be looking for ….
The manager’s coaching response might only be one or two sentences. It’s not the length that matters — it’s the direction.
Adding Value to FCRs
Field coaching reports (FCRs) can have an impact on performance as long as managers: include specific feedback, give strong direction, and encourage using the report not just having the report. FCRs present perfect opportunities to:
• Reinforce face-to-face coaching. Research has proven that people are more likely to remember what they hear when they also see it in print.
• Ensure that reps get the message. Reps may be tired at the end of the day when they’re listening to a manager’s feedback, or they’re thinking, “I should have …” or they’re worried about their rating. If they’re not completely focused on what the manager is saying, they have the advantage of “hearing” it again in the FCR.
• Prevent surprises at performance review time. Reps should never respond to a performance review with a comment like this: “But you didn’t tell me that and you didn’t explain how I could meet that expectation.”
What two words start most field coaching reports? “Nice job!” If the next comment has something that defines what made the job “nice,” and the comment after that gives some direction, that’s not a terrible way to start a report. Far too many reports, however, don’t give the specifics that are necessary after “nice job.”
During a recent FCR training session with 20 experienced managers reviewing two of their own reports, all 20 found at least one “good job” or “nice job” or “excellent job.” More revealing, however, is that 15 managers found more than 10 in just two of their reports! Here’s an example one manager shared with the group:
“You had an excellent call at XYZ Center! You also did a good job interacting with the XYZ team. Overall, this was a very good day!”
What’s the impact of content like that in a report? Almost zero. It’s just feel-good talk without any substance. What made the call excellent? What did the rep do that made the interacting good? What made it a very good day?
No wonder most reps think that reports don’t hold any value for them!
In contrast, really great managers (coaches!) consistently give specific feedback and direction like this:
Using the Selling Excellence (SE) model at ABC Center resulted in very positive engagement and interaction with this team. When you addressed Dr. X’s concern about …, you seemed very comfortable asking open-ended questions, and you left with a solid agreement on Product HGL. Continue to use the same approach with all of your customers on every call. In fact, in the next two weeks, before you go into any office, take a moment to remember today’s success.
That’s truly effective reinforcement and practical advice. It sure beats “nice job”!
Follow Up Seals the Deal
Managers always encourage reps to follow up after sales calls. They know how much it contributes to gaining the business. Here’s a parallel: Following up after field visits is more likely to result in better performance.
In the survey mentioned before, 95 percent of life sciences managers said they thought they could do a much better job of reinforcing field visit coaching by using emails and texts and phone calls.
Follow up doesn’t always mean a 10-minute phone call, although that certainly doesn’t hurt. Just an occasional text message like this one can be a good memory jogger:
Having a good day? Be sure to ….
In a nutshell, sales managers need to recognize that they’re selling performance! If they approach the field visit process just like they did the sales process when they made President’s Club and earned other accolades, the better the results. Having their title change from rep or specialist or consultant to manager doesn’t mean giving up those effective, maybe even intuitive, selling habits that made them winners. It’s a mindset change — that’s all.
Joy Van Skiver is president of The Writing Exchange and creator of Power Coaching. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.