Practice What You Preach: 7 Tips for Field Visits
Feature Story – By Ian Kelly
The success of your field visit is dependent upon your planning efforts.
Do these reminders sound familiar?
“Develop a pre-call plan.” “Know your key messages.” “Practice how to close the conversation.”
If so, it’s probably because you are always imploring reps to complete these and other key steps in preparation for customer calls. But in your role as a field trainer, how often do you heed this wisdom for your own visits with reps?
Like a rep selling in the field, the success of your field visit is dependent upon your planning efforts. Whether your “visit” is a ride-along, a video chat or a get-together at a local coffee shop, if you want to make the most of your limited one-on-one time, it is critical that you come prepared.
Here are seven steps you can take to maximize your next field visit.
1. Review Available Data
Just as your reps will size up a customer before paying them a visit, so should you collect some “intel” on your target in advance. This information may be accessible through a company customer relationship management system, previous field coaching reports or prior sales results. If the rep has been with your company for a few months or more, you’ll gain helpful insights into past performance from their manager.
Look for answers to questions like: What is the rep’s background and level of experience? What is their communication style? Are they brand new to the business or a seasoned veteran new to your company? What training have they completed? Are they meeting their sales targets? What are their strengths and their areas in need of improvement?
This information can help you develop your visit’s objective, and then tailor your approach for higher impact during the visit itself.
- Pro Tip: Meeting with a highly experienced rep? Don’t sweat it! Sure, it can be intimidating to coach someone who has been a pharmaceutical rep for longer than you’ve been alive, but you are the expert when it comes to training. Focus on looking for nuggets of wisdom or insight that can boost that rep’s performance — no one is perfect. And, hey, you might even learn something from the rep, too!
You may want to create a reuseable checklist of open-ended questions that can serve as discussion starters.
2. Develop a “Call Objective”
Before you head out for your field visit, take time to craft a specific objective that is realistically achievable in the time available.
The rep’s manager will likely have training requests based on the rep’s specific needs, such as closing skills or time management. At the same time, your sales training team or corporate training department may have other topics in mind that are a priority across the board, like handling a new digital visual aid or covering the key messages for a certain product.
As a “training deputy” for both parties, your objective should balance the manager’s key messages alongside those of your sales training department. (Just try not to cover too much in a single field visit.)
- Pro Tip: Not everyone loves surprises. Do the rep a favor and share your objective with them upfront. Ideally, you’ll do this by phone or email a few days before the meeting. That way, you can solicit their input and tweak your plan accordingly. (Something like: “Hi Jeanne! I’m looking forward to riding with you on Thursday! I’m planning to focus on call closing and the new visual aid. Is there anything else you’d like to cover while we’re together?”)
3. Gather Approved Resources
Would you advise a rep to head out on a call without resources?
Didn’t think so.
Think about what resources might be helpful to you, either in preparation for the meeting or as illustration during the meeting. For example, look for coaching guides, annotated resources, websites or implementation guides that can help you brush up on the topics and skills you plan to cover. Some of these resources may also be useful to the rep when you meet.
You may want to create a reuseable checklist of open-ended questions that can serve as discussion starters with a rep, such as:
- When was the last time you inventoried your samples?
- Have you had any issues with call reporting?
- What challenges have you faced with setting up meetings?
- In what areas do you find that you’re having the most success?
You might be surprised by the meaningful conversations that can be brought to light when you ask such simple questions.
4. Open the Visit With Clear Expectations
You can start your visit off on the right foot by setting clear expectations about how it will run. Reiterate your objective for the day and describe what your role will be during any sales calls. For example, will you detail the physician or just watch? Explain when you will provide feedback throughout the day, and ask the rep if there is anything in particular they want you to know or focus on. Express some excitement and enthusiasm for helping the rep to continue growing their book of business.
- Pro Tip: You can work toward building a trusting relationship with the rep by following through on the expectations you set.
When it’s time to deliver feedback and ask for commitment from the rep, remember that it can be hard to have someone swoop in, watch you do your job and then critique your every move. It would be normal for a rep to feel defensive.
Put yourself in the rep’s shoes — and tread lightly. Stick to topics that are directly related to your original objectives. For example, if your objective is to assess how a rep is doing with the new product that recently launched, you might focus on how the rep handled the key messages. If you see a skill that needs sharpening but isn’t critical to the day’s mission, take note and tackle it another time.
Also, try putting reps at ease by letting them drive the conversation. Ask “How do you think the call went?” before jumping in with your assessment. After an initial discussion of the call, ask probing questions like the ones they use with customers. Instead of saying “Why didn’t you close the call,” ask “What did you ask the physician to do”? This way, the rep will be the one uncovering any shortcomings, not you; you’re merely there to help them develop a plan for the next visit.
As a bonus, you are teaching them to self-analyze and evaluate their own calls going forward! (Go, you!)
- Pro Tip: Brush up on any approved coaching or feedback models your company provides.
6. Establish Next Steps
Learning is an ongoing journey, not a one-time event. After your feedback discussion, work together to establish one or two achievable goals that the rep should continue to work on. For example: “Talk about the new study in at least five calls this week” or “Ask more open-ended questions.”
Decide how and when you will follow up with the rep about these goals. Agree on how to communicate (email, telephone, in-person), state your intention (“My commitment is to follow up with you via email next week to see how the open-ended questions are coming along”) and be sure to follow through.
7. Document the Visit
The journey continues when you document the visit with your “call notes.” Be sure to fill out your company’s field ride form, if one exists. Otherwise, develop your own preferred method.
Circle back with the rep’s manager so they are fully informed and aware of future needs as you see them. And finally, funnel any resounding themes back to your training department. They may want to adjust their materials or address common concerns more broadly throughout the organization.
When starting your new field visit regimen, you may experience a sudden, strong temptation to skip these seven steps. There is no need to talk to a doctor. Simply remind yourself that just a few extra minutes of time and thought today can do wonders for a successful field visit in the future.
Ian Kelly is president of Red Nucleus. Email Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org.