6 Strategies for Tenured Sales Professionals
Feature Story – By Jennifer Bryan
Field sales has evolved and so must our training
At Teva, we’ve invested substantial resources into helping seasoned sales professionals best adapt to today’s engagement environment. These are individuals who’ve spent a decade or more – some their entire professional careers – honing skills for in-person calls. They were successful and grounded in their roles for many years and didn’t require as much coaching and practice to achieve success.
Along with everyone else in early 2020, these individuals pivoted quickly to virtual platforms. By spring 2021, they began to master new skills to make digital connections with providers impactful. Then by summer, it became time to pivot once again — this time back to in-person engagements, as most of our customers began allowing such visits.
At this point, it’s logical to think that tenured reps are back to their sweet spot, and all will return to normal. Not quite. A good many of our customers (we estimate about 15%) will never return to meeting with sales representatives. These providers may call our reps for product samples, but that’s it. So, sales teams must make every customer interaction count.
What’s more, some of the strides we made during the pandemic in terms of multichannel engagement are here to stay; for example, rep-triggered emails and other forms of customer interactions that blend virtual and live communications based on the situation at hand. The role of the field sales representative has evolved into an orchestrator who must match the right engagement to a provider’s preference. Although this trend began many years ago, the pandemic accelerated it.
From a training standpoint, we’ve learned much about working with our most tenured field sales personnel. Their success is dependent on gaining the ability — and agility — to engage each customer on their own terms. Our sales representatives must recognize all the channels, support services and resources available for the present situation and employ the exact tool for that moment.
My trainers and I have been helping these individuals:
- Adapt to the evolving landscape.
- Assess when and how to conduct meetings virtually, in person or through a hybrid approach.
- Boost virtual technology proficiency and enhance engagement through proven techniques.
- Better connect with difficult-to-reach customers.
- Understand the changing priorities they face in the months and years ahead by projecting the long-term impact of the pandemic on our business.
Based on our experience, here are six tips for helping tenured sales colleagues adapt to and thrive amid this evolving environment.
1. Create a separate curriculum for tenured reps.
With new-hire training, a customized learning journey for seasoned salespeople allows them to go through the program faster. It also provides them with opportunities to lead, which increases their ability to be present and more agile when facing challenges with customers. Plus, when we ask them to leverage their expertise while in the training, it holds them accountable and conveys from the start how much we rely on them to set an example.
2. Conduct field coaching with trainers.
While you may have limited resources, it’s valuable for trainers to participate in field rides with your tenured reps. Walk into a provider office and experience being turned away. Witness firsthand how a call went. Then sit down and determine how best to support reps in training and see how much stronger your strategy becomes. You may consider a resource the rep forgot about.
All the while, avoid making reps feel judged during this activity — you don’t want them to cherry-pick customers to visit with you. You don’t want to see a perfect day, you want to see reality.
That’s why our trainers provide constructive feedback without evaluation forms. This is not an assessment; it’s training. We go on the ride. We coach before the call. We talk about it after the call. Then two weeks later, let the manager observe the difference in performance.
3. Practice basics like pre-call planning.
A lot of products require calling on everyone in the office since reps may share different messages and resources with a prescriber than say, with an injection nurse. That’s why reps should consider all information and resources before a call. Our tenured reps sometimes forget to stop and break down those conversations ahead of time.
4. Help seasoned reps leverage all available tools.
During a summer planning meeting, I asked a tenured representative why he didn’t leverage rep-triggered emails. He mentioned it’s discouraging to receive responses to this type of outreach only about 15% of the time. I countered, “If you don’t send it, you don’t gain any chances at all.”
In this era, we need to use all of the tools in our toolboxes.
5. Become a strategic partner.
Listen to what reps are saying. Consider if there may be other approaches. Small adjustments may make big differences.
I asked tenured reps not only what their probes were but the order in which they planned to ask them. We tried seeing if asking the probes in another order might prompt a more insightful response from our customer — and the results were truly remarkable. It created an entirely new response from the provider about the results she was seeing after prescribing a medicine.
In turn, our rep was able to explain in a more compelling way the differentiation our product brought to the table.
6. Create a safety net around reps.
There has been a culture shift, and we must recognize that tenured reps may have a harder time in this new environment. We must convey it’s OK for them to struggle. Most important, we must ensure they have time to transition and continue to stretch in their role — the strength and endurance of the company depend on it.
For the tenured rep, we must create situations that call on their vast expertise. Others look up to our most experienced salespeople. That’s why as trainers, we must help them continue growing in new directions that others can follow to create impact.
Jennifer Bryan is head of commercial training and development, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA. Email her at Jennifer.Bryan@tevapharm.com.