The pharma sales force is changing, but how is it changing? Where do you go now? How do you plot your route for future development? Marie Crespo looks at how to map out your journey to ensure future sales success.
It seems an obvious point: you wouldn’t set off on a long-distance hike without a map, and you’d make sure you could pinpoint your start point and destination on that map before setting out.
In business, the same holds true: you try to plan your route before embarking on a reorganisation, for what can often be a protracted journey. The problem is, when it comes to re-structuring talent, most companies may have a good idea of the preferred destination but their map tends to be basic at best. What’s more, they may not even really know where they’re starting from.
This is particularly true when it comes to sales talent. Managing salespeople has traditionally been seen as something of a ‘dark art’, with selection too frequently based on ‘gut instinct’ and cultural fit, and new recruits hired ‘in the boss’s image’. While cultural fit is always an important consideration, both from the perspective of the employing organisation and the market it serves, this factor on its own does not correlate well to sales performance*. Equally, in the past, development has tended to focus on product training and generic sales skills, with sometimes scant attention paid to where the skills and behaviour gaps actually lie.
Managers too often have limited understanding of the genuine performance potential of their sales talent; yet, such understanding has never been more important as pharma companies strive to adapt to the dictates of the new market landscape. Bear in mind, too, that there is no such thing as a generic sales role: selling in the pharma world has moved on. Buyers are demanding increasing sophistication and new capability from those salespeople they are prepared to deal with, because they are looking for suppliers to add genuine value. The result is that the old sales roles familiar to pharma companies even five years ago may no longer be fit for purpose.
Right people, right role
So how do pharma sales organisations plan and implement their transition to a new leaner, more capable configuration? With sales talent such a key issue: sales leaders need to ensure that they have the right people in the right roles to address the marketplace today, not for what was good enough yesterday. This inevitably means assessing each member of the sales force for their performance potential using an assessment tool that has been shown to accurately predict sales performance. We recommend that you test all the factors that influence sales performance. These are:
It also means evaluating people for the new role they will be asked to perform; you definitely can’t assume a high-achiever in yesterday’s sales role will perform at the same level in a new, more demanding role requiring even more sophisticated skills, different sets of behaviours and greater critical reasoning ability.
Sales Talent Performance Matrix
I introduced the Sales Talent Performance Matrix (see figure 1) in the previous article. Based on the familiar Boston Box format, this matrix plots skills (X axis) and role fit/behavioural competencies (Y axis) for all assessed individuals in a specific sales role across a particular population (sales team, geography, business unit or entire organisation). It plots these two parameters because they are the two ‘intrinsic factors’ predictive of a person’s performance in a sales role, and yet are also responsive to development (under the right circumstances).
Figure 1 (click to enlarge) – Sales Talent Performance Matrix: skills gaps are relatively quick to address while behavioural issues take much longer to tackle through coaching.
Figure 2 (click to enlarge) – Sales Performance Dashboard showing a typical Key Account Manager distribution in an organisation. Individuals in the dark blue box are high-performers, while those in the mid-blue areas are still within the acceptable range for this role. Individuals in the pale blue areas have significant behavioural and/or skills gaps for this role.
This underpins what we call the Sales Performance Dashboard (see figure 2). Essentially an interactive Excel-based version of the matrix, it’s a strategic talent management tool designed to provide C-Suite executives and senior colleagues with a reliable and objective overview of the organisation’s sales talent’s performance potential in terms of their skills and behavioural characteristics, with critical reasoning ability shown as an overlay (see figure 3).
Figure 3 (click to enlarge) – By also selecting for individuals’ critical reasoning ability (light-coloured data points), executives are able to sub-divide their sales talent into various defined talent pools.
At the overview level, the dashboard offers immediate insight into which talent should be retained, developed or potentially redeployed, along with an understanding of likely development costs and timescales. It identifies which individuals represent High-Performing talent, as well as those who require development to improve, whether this be coaching to modify behaviours or skills training. It also indicates which individuals should be considered for redeployment to different roles. (Note that this tool is based on role-specific assessments, so poor performance parameters in one role is not necessarily an indicator of poor performance potential in another sales role.)
Senior executives are able to understand the scale of the issues within their sales organisation, on a role-by-role basis, in terms of the percentages and the actual number of individuals who fall into each category. Thus, they gain insight into the likely costs involved in addressing behaviour and skills gaps, along with an understanding of the approximate timescales involved, given that skills gaps tend to take considerably less time to plug compared with behavioural issues, which may require longer-term remedial coaching.
The addition of a third dimension – critical reasoning – enables the C-Suite to segment talent within the sales organisation into distinct ‘talent pools’ according to individuals’ performance capability. This in turn acts as a valuable indicator of individuals’ potential to fulfil a number of specific functions for the organisation. By highlighting which talent has high, medium or low critical reasoning, the tool offers the necessary granularity for managers to gain a clear understanding of:
The dashboard goes on to deliver even greater granularity when executives click on any data point on the chart to reveal an identity code: this enables authorised executives to identify individual talent and to mine extensive detail concerning each individual’s behavioural competencies, skill set, critical reasoning and motivators in order to fulfil the development needs analysis identified by the original assessment.
Global talent pool
This dashboard concept has even greater potential when you expand the data set to include anonymised data covering all organisations that have recently undertaken assessments for a particular role. Currently in beta-testing, the Competitive Advantage Dashboard (see figure 4) enables companies to look beyond their own group of employees.
Figure 4 (click to enlarge) – Competitive Advantage Dashboard showing a small team of Sales Account Managers (purple) overlaid on the global assessed population for this role (blue).
Understanding what is happening on a global basis in terms of a particular role – eg Sales Account Manager – provides immediate insight into the wider talent pool and, hence, the capability of the competition. Then, when you overlay your own organisation’s talent map onto the global data, you can see exactly how you measure up. And, of course, you can cut the data by geography and industry sector to gain more specific insight.
Effective assessment and diagnostic tools introduce greater rigour into the talent management process – essential for organisations seeking to undertake successful restructuring of their sales organisations. Such tools provide invaluable insight whenever the leadership team needs to gain greater clarity of current talent capabilities as a precursor to developing and implementing a strategy to drive through a step-change in sales performance. Such strategic sales change is the best way for pharma organisations to build competitive advantage and underpin long-term, sustainable growth in today’s evolving market. The right talent management tools enable organisations to drive relevant change with substantially increased confidence and reduced risk.
*Smith, M. ‘Calculating the Sterling Value of Selection’, Guidance and Assessment Review (British Psychological Society), 1988.
This is the second part in our Sales Force Focus series, to read part 1 visit "Role-Fit is Key to Sales Force Success", and check back in two weeks for part 3!
To discuss further training and development issues with Marie you can contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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