Building a High-Performance Pharma Sales Team


No business can exist without customers. In the same vein, no successful business exists without sales people. Salesmanship, looking at it from the perspective of revenue/customer acquisition and management is a role that must exist in a business-oriented concern. The sales and marketing function of any organisation is the only revenue-generating function in a commercial set up. It means, from the foregoing, that for the firm to survive, grow and thrive, its sales personnel must perform well above the break-even point, consistently.

Building an high performance team is primarily the responsibility of the CSO, that is, chief sales officer of the organisation; and to some extent, the CSOO, the chief sales operating officer. In my opinion, the CSO is the CEO, while the CSOO is the head of sales, also known as national sales manager, or national marketing manager or national sales and marketing manager and other similar nomenclatures. You see, this function is too important to be outsourced by the chief executive officer.

Unfortunately, few CEOs pay enough attention to sales, limiting their participation to shouting and piling pressure on their national sales manager to do the magic without adequate support and resources. Not all those who are concerned have adequate understanding of sale management and leadership.

Now,    10 per cent or so of most sales teams are “A” players who bring in most of the sales. About 60 per cent of a sales team are “B” players who do a good job but never reach greatness. The remaining “C” players (about 30 per cent of the team) are dead weight players. The fastest way to improve the team therefore is to transform “B” players into “A” players.

Pharmaceutical Marketing: Basic Concepts and Principles (2)
Pharm. Tunde Oyeniran

Before we proceed, let me emphasise that there is no talisman that produces a High-Performance Sales Team (HPST). Neither is there a single (or a few) action(s) that will transform a mediocre team to a HPST. It is often a series of actions, activities, strategies, culture, people, attitude, leadership competences, resources, etc. – combined and re-combined in ways to drive and achieve the short-and long-term sales and profit objectives of the company, with necessary adjustments along the journey. And the time frame ranges from a few years to a decade. Also, eternal vigilance, continuous improvement and adaptation are critical, as success today doesn’t necessarily translate to success tomorrow.

Leadership: Yesterday, Today and the Future

The following is my list (not necessarily in any order) of the recipes for building and sustaining a HPST:

Set and communicate clear objectives. No salesperson should be allowed a day without communication about what is expected of him in terms of sales, collection, coverage, daily/monthly activities, market development, awareness creation/demand generation, etc. This must be reduced to SMART  figures (and quality standard).

Professional salespeople are driven by clear targets, communicated without ambiguities. It sign-posts destination and standard arrival time. If you don’t know a destination, then you won’t even know you have arrived or failed to arrive. It is also the basis for appraisal, reward and sanction system. Those who dislike sales targets can see why it is absolutely important.

Reward and sanction system must align with your objectives. It is said that what gets done is what is rewarded. Therefore your reward (and sanction) system must drive your objectives. It must also be clear, fair, open and consistently applied. It is not just about what was set in the “official policies and SOPs”, but actually plays out in reality. I have seen companies saying that their future lies in everyday detailing and demand generation, in writing; but what gets rewarded by way of commendation, incentives and promotion is sales/cash collection.

Many sales people will thus become “short-termism” in their actions, neglecting hospital promotion which takes time to translate to sales, and begin to engage in activities and actions that will generate sales/collection in the short term, like dumping, territory-crossing, payment-for-prescription, or dumping. Of course, these will eventually create problems like fall in revenue, short-dated products, returns, poor relationship with the trade, unstable prices for the company in the medium term, as well as long -term problems like low market share, sluggish growth, loss of market share, low profitability, poor sales, etc. Nothing is entirely wrong with focus on sales and cash collecting, if this is your chosen strategy. It is just that you cannot skew your reward system towards demand generation/awareness creation activities like CME, clinical meeting, hospital promotion, detailing, etc.,

Essential Ingredients of Leadership Excellence

Celebrate success. It’s important that any achievement is recognised and that as your team puts the work, in you create ways to recognise their success. In my experience, many sales leaders are internally orientated when it comes to motivation -that is, “they know when they’ve done a good job and don’t necessarily need telling”. Many of your sales staff, on the other hand, will need that recognition from you because they are externally motivated.

When consulting for businesses, the number of sales staff who say things like, “I don’t feel appreciated” or “I just wish that someone would say ‘well done’”, is significant. Managers often “forget” to tell them because they don’t need it themselves or tell them but not in a way that is explicit enough for their salespeople to hear it. I know of a sales leader who thought that he always gave praise to his staff yet they thought that he never said anything to them and therefore did not appreciate the work that they did on a daily basis. What he usually said was actually, “So what’s next then?” In his head, that meant, “Job well done. Now we can feel good and move on!” Unfortunately, what his staff heard was, “I’m never happy with anything you do, I always want more out of you!”

Transforming to be Great at Leadership

Real-time performance tracking. Just as athletes should always know the score of a game so they can make the right play, every member of the sales team should know their score and the team’s score. When team members don’t have a vision of where they are going and don’t know where they stand in relation to their goals, they’re less likely to consistently produce quality results.

On the other hand, when reps are able to quickly get a view of their performance, they’re more motivated to maintain or increase their velocity, even if it requires adjusting their strategy on the fly. Always make sure data is kept in real time and displayed in a way that allows reps to view and determine in five seconds or less exactly where they are and where they need to be. This real-time visibility enables your reps to track the score and the time left for them to achieve their goals.

Think “time and score” and how it comes into play in sports. It’s the same concept in sales. How many times has your team focused the majority of its time on closing deals but neglected the pipeline? If your team members can’t see time and score, they will see it at the end of the month when it’s too late. It is a waste to wait for your team to fail.

Tunde Oyeniran, a Sales/Marketing Strategist, Selling/Sales Management Trainer and Personal Sales Coach is the Lead Consultant, Ekini White Tulip Consulting Limited, Lagos.  We deliver Training, Recruitment, Online Medical Communications Service and Field Force Management Solutions Feedback. Channels 080-2960-6103 (SMS/WhatsApp) / or check out


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