Implementing disruptive selling skills

A definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting different results.

This concept has been given such lip service that it seems impossible to open any sales management document without coming across  the need to change and how important it is to change!

However, our instinct tells us change is bad! Change is dangerous and fraught with problems! How do we “square” this vicious circle! How do we implement what needs to happen when deep down we know all the dangers and can even relate to them?

In the pharma world we definitely don’t like change and if we have to change we need to do this in a gradual and step wise fashion! Nobody wants disruption!

What if you find that you need to be “disruptive”, you need to make a dramatic departure from what you used to do?

As somebody who has been in pharma and the healthcare world for his entire career, I am the last person to champion disruption for the sake of disruption. Most people who know me, know, that I follow a couple of simple philosophies:

1.       First, do no harm! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! However, sometimes it is broke and not only must you fix it but the fix had better be dramatic or the situation will not be resolvable.

2.       Here, I like the engineering philosophy “form follows function”.  In other words what you must do depends on and is dictated by the required output. Sometimes this is dramatic (either in speed or the type of action) and thus disruptive.

So, you have taken the decision that you need to do something and do it fast, you are going to be disruptive!! Where will you start and what is the process?  What follows is what has worked for me in the past and I hope it provides something useful.

Step 1.

Make sure what you are planning is really needed!! Check and check again. Bounce the ideas of people you trust. (First do no harm! If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it!) It has been my experience that however balanced I may believe myself to be, there are always people with different perspectives. If these people are the ones who will implement and/or have to live with the change you are considering, they need to be on your side. Consider that you may be wrong! It is easier to justify that an idea was inappropriate and therefore you did not implement it, than to justify you implemented a great idea that was not appropriate! There are many reasons for why our initial instincts and ideas can be wrong. You may not have fully understood the issue, the resources, the willingness etc. We have to have the courage to examine ourselves; it is also less embarrassing and damaging to our careers!

Step 2.

Gain a critical mass of the right people to support the need for your disruptive actions. Build support for your idea and create champions that share the desire to implement your disruptive idea. The more champions you have, the more you can share the burden of executing the ideas in the implementation phase. The more people you have championing the disruptive ideas, the more there will be to help you address any unforeseen hurdles (yes, these will come, it is not possible to think of everything)

Step 3.

Get support from senior management and endorsement for the need for the disruptive idea. You will need this to gain resources, create buy-in and save you when colleagues complain (Yes…. there will be complaints, NOBODY likes change, prepare yourself!) Getting support from management is no different to any other selling exercise. Remember, everyone has an agenda. The better you understand what drives your management the better able you will be to sell your ideas. In my experience, management agendas can be divided into two. Firstly, what do they hope to achieve in the business (qualitative or quantitative outputs); these are generally visible from explicit communications of the managers or by implications. Secondly each manager has their own personal agenda, the reason for why they are doing what they are doing. This second part of the manager’s agenda is a more direct motivator of the manager’s actions. Knowing  the second part will help you to sell your idea but care must be taken in how you communicate the value of your project to the manager’s personal agenda. No manager is going to be impressed if you are two overt in explaining how your idea is going to help him or her get their bosses job! The skill is to directly link the expected outputs of your disruptive ideas with the stated business outputs and sufficiently demonstrate the value of these to the manager’s personal agenda. In any case, this is a tough hurdle and one that requires careful thought and preparation.

Step 4.

Assuming you have managed to amass the required resources and support from both the management and the champions, you will need to make sure that you (or the implementation teams) have what is needed when it is needed. Align resources and ensure availability to your chronological and geographical agenda. For implementation to be successful the right resources need to be available at the right time at the right place. Make sure you have considered all the logistics.

Step 5.

Create a sense of urgency! It has to be done today! Add meaning to why the action needs to be done.  Demonstrate what will be gained if the disruptive action/program is implemented! What could happen if we don’t implement it or if we don’t implement it in time! A strong communication campaign is a key component of the implementation process. The greater the scope (geography, divisional, cross functional etc.) of the disruptive campaign, the greater the need for a strong communication program.  We are most influenced by our own experience; help everyone to experience the value of what you are trying to do. Create competition and reward the right activities. Make these rewards often and visible. Small rewards that are given often are better than large ones given at the end.

Step 6.

Make sure that the people who have to implement the actions/programs can. Make sure they have the ability, skill, resources etc. Know what these skills are and plan any changes in upskilling that you will need.

Step 7.

Measure it! What you measure is what you get. Try to focus these measures on actions not on outputs. Outputs are the result of many actions and therefore difficult to understand, analyse and replicate. They are also lagging indicators of what has happened and cannot be managed since they happen in the past!  Some of the most important inputs are qualitative and are difficult to measure e.g. communicating well/effectively. To measure qualitative inputs breakdown the qualitative measure into its component parts. If we take the example of communicating effectively, you may decide that an effective communication means that the right information was give to the right person at the right time. You have to define what is right in each case and now you have an observation grid to record a qualitative action. Do not worry too much about accuracy, remember, what you are trying to achieve is a motivation to do the right things, the right inputs! The grid can be adapted as you get better at defining what is “right”.

Step 8.

Communicate  successes, publicise champions, showcase actions and the values delivered. Don’t wait for the final output! Champion actions even if the output did not follow (yet)! Cheat!!! Yes, I know this is a repetition but it is important, so no apologies!

Step 9.

Celebrate successes. Reward the actions that delivered success. Reward success!

Earlier this year at the annual eyeforpharma Barcelona conference, the European sales Training head  and myself presented a case study of a disruptive selling skills program implemented by a major European dental company.  The presentation covered in more detail why such a dramatic change was needed, what was done and how it was implemented.

Should the reader wish to receive a copy of the presentation, please feel free to contact me on

Next month I plan to look at the need for disruptive sales training programs, what they should be and why we need them now!

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Barcelona 2015

Mar 24, 2015 - Mar 26, 2015, CCIB, Barcelona

Your Customer is in Charge.

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