The Line Manager of Tomorrow

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Ian Chamberlain looks at the changing role of the pharma sales manager and the skills needed to keep up with new tech and the next generation of millennial sales reps. With more than 25 years pharmaceutical industry experience, Ian  provides training to help pharma salespeople talk to their customers.

The best Regional Business Managers of today are those who are best at managing and leading people.

 

Not everyone is as lucky as me.  My first Pharma Sales Manager, Andrew Deller, was hugely inspirational, knowledgeable and dedicated to getting the best from his team. But I suppose compared to the Regional Business Managers (RBMs) of today Andrew had it relatively easy back in 1993.

He had 8 or 10 direct reports, our customer database was a paper filled ring-binder and our job, as I described in my last article, was a simple one.  Our customer base was also simple back then; most GPs were created fairly equally, each with a similar sized patient list and each with considerable autonomy over how they prescribed.

Andrew would give each of us a call once or twice a week (this is pre-mobile phone era!) and would spend a day with each of us every two to three weeks.  In his home office, he did have a computer, and on it, he had simple spreadsheets of our sales and calling frequency. But he wasn’t managing metrics, Andrew was managing people. And he did it brilliantly.

 

The RBM of today is stretched more than ever.

A brief look at my clients of today shows the average RBM now manages 12-14 direct reports over wide geographies. Each of these salespeople works within intricate and changing local health economies under strict regulatory rules. The sales and marketing plans from Head Office are infinitely more sophisticated and complex than 25 years ago and RBMs are asked to decipher vast amounts of data and information.

One thing remains the same though: the best RBMs of today are those who are best at managing and leading people. They are the ones who inspire, develop and coach their staff to be the best they can be.

RBMs are in regular contact with their team members and mobile phones and email helps. But, when it comes to actual in-call sales performance the RBMs of today have far fewer coaching opportunities: call rates are down and RBM workload is up so today’s experienced rep gets a field visit only once every 4 to 6 weeks where fewer customers are seen.

These in-person field visits are the only chance managers get to listen to their reps in action and coach their skills, manage compliance or enhance their learning.  These days are long and often frustrating. The whole system is slow, inefficient and expensive.

The RBM-Rep relationship has been described as the “most crucial and thereby the most vulnerable link between Head Office strategy and marketing plan implementation” by Pierre van Weperen, Managing Director at Ashfield UK.

 

Millennial sales reps are both tech-savvy and highly ambitious. They demand rapid, high quality, evidence-based feedback and companies which don’t provide it risk losing their future superstars.

Managers, therefore, will have to develop their coaching skills!

 

So what’s around the corner?

Several pharma companies are currently trialling Little Bird Medical, a brand-new, secure meeting audio recording technology for field salespeople, which enables Rep-Doctor meeting recordings to be reviewed remotely at a time convenient to the manager.

After listening to the interaction, the RBM then follows up with the rep via telephone and email feedback and provides coaching. There is then the option to build “best practice” playlists.

This allows managers to prioritise field visits for reps who will genuinely benefit from in-person coaching, while companies can be confident that managers’ time is being spent intelligently and efficiently.

Remote coaching of calls “recorded for training purposes” will become the norm for field sales reps, as it is for remote e-detailers, and will effectively complement expensive in-person coaching.

We will see peer-to-peer coaching increase too. Along with sharing best-practice playlists, managers will have the option to pair new starters with mentors without the need to take the experienced rep off the road. This has the added benefit of developing the managers of tomorrow.

In the future, we will see reps receiving a 30 minute, content-rich, phone/web coaching session every week or two plus well-targeted field visits when necessary.

Millennial sales reps are both tech-savvy and highly ambitious. They demand rapid, high quality, evidence-based feedback and companies which don’t provide it risk losing their future superstars.

Managers, therefore, will have to develop their coaching skills!

To do this, the same technology will be used to record the coaching session. This will provide an archive of learning for the rep and will also allow the training team to ‘quality control’ the coaching skills of the managers – something pharma finds very hard to do today.

 

More Learning & Listening

To thrive in the healthcare environment of the future will demand constant learning and listening to our customers with fast-to-adapt feedback loops. The multi-channel nature of pharma sales will accelerate and further integrate with field teams.

New technology will facilitate and automate much of this.

In the past, new sales technology took managers away from coaching their people. That will change.

The new technology of tomorrow will provide the insight and save time, to enable managers to do what Andrew Deller did best: coaching and developing their staff.  

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