The first line sales manager


This is a follow up to the earlier article, “The Medical Representative’s Manual”. The comments and the follow up questions received indicated that the discussion resonated well with the target audience. There is, therefore, a motivation to do a follow up on the middle level management.

Not much can be achieved in the field without an effective middle level management organisation. Like the Regimental Sergeant Major in the barracks or the army troop operations, the success or otherwise of the organisational sales plans depend on the attitude and work approach of first line sales managers. These managers are known by different titles, depending on the culture and size of the organisation: Area Sales Manager, Business Development Manager, Field Sales Manager, Regional Manager or just Sales Manager.

In ordinary circumstances, the title should not have any impact on the output or drive of the holder, for as long as culture of the organisation is well known to everybody. However, there have been instances where people have shown preference for or get motivated by a particular title. It should be stated clearly that the organisation reserves the right to determine whatever title is to be given to her employees.

In this piece, we will briefly examine the major responsibilities, accountability and authority of the first line sales manager. We will also discuss the key elements of sales planning, values and role modelling expectations.


Responsibilities of the first line sales manager

The key to success in the first line management, as it is at the other levels, is ownership. It is not uncommon to see the newly promoted or employed sales manager taking on the role of the BOSS almost immediately at the beginning of his (or her) job. In this role, he sees himself as the taskmaster or enforcer and not the task facilitator or motivator. He blames everything on the medical or sales representative in his territory. He complains without end on the incompetence, laziness and other identifiable drawbacks in his men and women.

Essentially, the first line manager is a pathfinder; he takes the lead in the battlefield. The territories in the region or area belong to him and he is directly responsible for their development. The region and the territorial targets are his responsibility and he must take ownership and be held accountable for whatever result is achieved in line with the target.

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The following, in an outline form, are his major responsibilities:

*   Translate national sales plan into executable regional plan of action.

*   Submit regional plan of action revised monthly, latest by last Friday of each month. This plan includes, but not limited to, sales promotion, group detailing, customer appreciation, demand generation activities, etc.

*   Prepare a budget for regional activities and present to the direct boss for approval. This budget is to be reviewed monthly in line with target achievement.

*   Supervision, coaching and motivation of direct reports to ensure target delivery.

*   Develop, motivate, sustain and keep a list of friends in all major hospitals/pharmacies/government and its agencies in the assigned territory. This list should be reviewed with the direct boss monthly.

*   Develop, motivate, sustain and keep a list of key customers in the assigned territory. This list should be reviewed with the direct boss monthly.

*   Ensure that the representatives in the region performed their duties as assigned.

*   Ensure total and effective coverage of the region to maximise the potentials therein. No important customer should be left unattended to in the region.

*   Deliver the region target (in value and units) as set and formally communicated by the direct boss.

*   Ensure that payments for sales made are promptly collected to prevent debt accumulation.

*   Keep the total debt outstanding at not more than 10-20 per cent of the total sales at any given period.

*   Evaluate and approve representatives’ expenses in line with agreed guidelines.

*   Keep a ledger of the representatives’ transactional activities in the region. This ledger will be examined by the direct as may be required.

*   Write reports of the region activities promptly:

  1. Write a weekly sales and payment summary and submit to the direct boss on or before close of business on Mondays.
  2. Send a monthly summary of all activities in the region together with representatives’ report to the direct boss before the end of first week of each month.

iii.     Submit report on travels not more than 24 hours after event.

With the use of smart-phones and internet connection, some of these reports can be of real time delivery depending on management expectations.

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*   Maximise sales and minimise cost of operation.

*   Operate a monthly float (the size and nature of which depend on the company) and submit your expense form promptly for reimbursement.

*   Manage your region as a worthy company representative.

*   Recommend, in writing, proposals for short, medium and long term activities for the development and growth of the region in particular and the company in general.

*   Participate in the recruitment of staff for the region and company.

*   Attend and contribute wisely at meetings for the growth and development of the company.

*   Identify, coach, and motivate a successor who will do your job when the need arises.

*   Be a team player.


Authority of the first line sales manager

In terms of authority, the first line sales manager is usually empowered to:

* Creatively exploit the potential of the assigned region.

*   Take critical and urgent decision on the spot and commit the company where necessary. The superior authority must be informed within 24 hours on the nature and magnitude of the commitment and his (retroactive) approval in writing.

*   A specific amount (or a range) can be expended above approved limit where absolutely necessary and a substantial business prospect is involved. However, a justification within 24 hours must be provided and a written approval obtained from the higher authority.

  • Deploy resources allocated to the region in line with territorial potentials.

*   Discipline, redeploy, and recommend for promotion or disengagement, any of the direct reports in consultation with the direct boss and in line with company policy.


The exact nature and depth of the first line manager’s authority will depend on the culture of the company and the policies which are usual contained in the company’s handbook.

In terms of accountability, the first line manager is liable:

*   To the consequences of not achieving the territorial target.

*   To the consequences of not keeping all territorial expenses (salary, operating expenses, etc) within the acceptable limit and also in line with the revenue (or cash) accruing from the territory.

*   To the consequences of non-performance, misbehaviour and any negative effects arising from the activities of his/her direct reports.


Planning and role-modelling

The planning role is fundamental to the success of the first line manager. As earlier mentioned, he will be actively and deeply involved in the field activities; the planning aspect of the job cannot be ignored. Managers are paid to THINK! The core elements of planning at this stage include:

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*    Nature of the business: A thorough understanding of what the business of the organisation is and how the company is positioned to achieve success. The dynamics of the region or the territory is important:

*    Who are the major players (hospitals, distributors, agencies, associations, government, general trade, etc)?

*    The medical community and its stratification

*    The competition (per product)

*    People: The human capital is a fundamental factor of success. The manager must critically appraise the different sides of people under his control for:

*    Quantity and quality: How many representatives are in my region versus how many will be needed for target achievement? Are my people capable of delivering my targets?

*    Deployment: How are my people currently deployed? Do I have the right person in the right place?

*    Skill gap analysis: An analysis of the skill gap(s) is important. Where and what are the weak points per person? What can I do about it in terms of coaching, OJT (on-the-job training), classroom training or new territory exposure? How do we improve our motivational, training and development plans?

*    Working tools: Are the tools current and adequate? How are they being used? etc.


As a role model, the first line manager is expected to:

*    Face reality – in terms of management and leadership style, target achievement, efforts versus results and reward applied, situations that may be largely out of control, etc.

*    Be honest and straightforward.

*    Persuade through reason.

*    Walk the talk.

*    Give others a fair share of credit for the result obtained.

*    Make necessary changes before he is forced to.

*    Present himself as an influential personality and not a victim.

*    Persist in the face of opposition or tough situation.


Finally, possession of value-adding attributes will put the manager in a vantage position to succeed. Some of these attributes include, but not limited to:

*    Commitment

*    Teamwork

*    Accountability

*    People

*    Quality

*    Integrity


Dr Lolu Ojo FPSN is Chairman/CEO, Merit Healthcare Limited



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