Leader and sales representative working together over computer

Building High-Performance Sales Teams Begins with Developing Your Leaders

Written By: Dave Manning

November 28, 2023 – 6 min read

In the high-stakes arena of life sciences, sales teams face challenges with unprecedented scope. Staying ahead requires sophisticated strategies and unwavering dedication.

The keystone to this effort? Sales leaders.

These leaders must break down barriers to success and inspire field sales reps toward excellence. However, they often lack the skills or resources to cultivate world-class performance within their sales teams. This article dissects this issue, offering actionable insights for sales leaders in life sciences.

Similar to how changes in automotive trends led to the tagline “This is not your father’s Cadillac,” life sciences’ commercial landscape has seen revolutionary changes in recent years. Many factors have driven this shift, leading to compounding degrees of complexity directly influencing sales efforts:

  1. Decision-making by healthcare providers (HCPs) at the point of care is more heavily influenced by managed care and access considerations, especially in crowded therapeutic spaces where several treatment options are available.
  2. Many of today’s patients are more informed and engaged than ever; therefore, the voice of the patient often becomes another factory when the prescriber is considering competing treatment options.
  3. In the post-COVID era, it has become harder than ever for field reps to gain and maintain regular in-person access to HCPs.
  4. A growing percentage of today’s prescription therapies are specialized, which brings additional complexity in terms of messaging and sales support, and it can be even harder for sales reps to gain access to HCPs.
  5. Sales reps must contend with ongoing skepticism among many HCPs, who question the motives of pharma/life sciences companies, feeling they care more about positioning their therapies than truly understanding what physicians and their patients are going through.
  6. Regulatory frameworks and legal considerations severely limit what sales reps can and cannot say.

If your sales strategy is still focused primarily on “hitting the numbers” based on reach and frequency, you’re missing the mark. To navigate this complicated landscape, field teams need support and guidance from conscientious, empathetic leaders who can provide the guidance and coaching they need to break down barriers and create engagement. It’s not about telling reps what to do, it’s about providing the necessary tools and coaching to transform performance.

If your sales strategy is still focused primarily on “hitting the numbers” based on reach and frequency, you’re missing the mark.

Prioritizing a Coaching Culture

Coaching is an indispensable tool for developing your sales team. Strikingly, about 75% of sales leaders admit they devote less than fifth of their time coaching sales reps. This reality squanders a crucial opportunity to create profound change.

The truth is, that sales leaders should be spending 80%-80% of their time on coaching-related activities. The benefits of prioritizing a coaching culture are substantial, driving revenue generation, talent retention, and deal closure rates. Indeed, coaching aligns individual performance with organizational goals, bolstering revenue.

Where does it all start? Leadership.

Sizing Up Your Leadership

As commercial leaders assess their sales organizations and search for opportunities to improve, they should be asking themselves two important questions:

  1. Are our sales reps willing to run through walls to support the brand’s business objectives and help patients get access to today’s advanced therapies?
  2. Can our sales leaders provide the type of overall leadership and detailed guidance then need to overcome barriers and maximize performance among the sales reps?

While field reps provide the execution, it’s up to sales leaders to identify performance gaps and work towards closing them. High-performing sales leaders understand the importance of nurturing talent instead of exclusively driving numbers. They invest time and effort in supporting reps to identify and tackle barriers to high performance.

High-performing sales leaders understand the importance of nurturing talent instead of exclusively driving numbers. They invest time and effort in supporting reps to identify and tackle barriers to high performance.

While field reps are the “boots on the ground,” as a sales leader, you must work to identify and address the gap that exists between what is (Current performance) and what could be (the sales rep’s full potential) and then work to close the gap. The best sales leaders don’t fixate solely on driving the numbers. Rather they invest the time and develop the strategies that are needed to truly enhance the talent on the ground, and they help individual reps to identify and overcome the performance and attitudinal barriers that are holding them back.

Performance drives numbers, not the other way around.

Breaking With the Past

Just as we’re told to put on our oxygen masks first before helping others on a plance, today’s sales leaders must reflect on their own developmental needs and take steps to address them (with support from executive leadership) if they are to become visionary, trusted mentors for their field force.

Three major factors often contribute mediocre sales performance among leadership:

  1. Many life sciences companies lack a practical protocol for grooming field reps into leadership roles.
  2. Growing up in an environment devoid of a robust coaching culture leaves many sales leaders grappling to embrace coaching concepts.
  3. Most sales leaders remain fixated on “hitting the numbers” as the measure of success, neglecting vital aspects like ongoing professional development and rep engagement.
  4. Trying to “fix” each problem and issue as they occur when fixing it isn’t the best solution.

The good news is it’s never too late for a paradigm shift to better meet the needs of today’s complex sales landscape. To identify opportunities for self-improvement, sales leaders should ask themselves:

  1. Are you fully invested in developing your sales reps, identifying and bulldozing the barriers to optimal performance?
  2. Have you taken personal accountability to foster a development mindset that prioritizes the process – and providing the tools needed to drive improvement?
  3. Is your sales team simply meeting goals when they could be crushing them with some concerted effort?
  4. Are you challenging yourself to be coached – committing to grow personally and professionally, to become a true visionary leader and mentor?
  5. Do your people see you attempting to get better, be coached, and are you leading by example?

Effective sales leaders inspire and enable excellence among their field reps, which in turn delivers tangible results for all stakeholders.

Sales Leadership Lifts All Boats

Exceptional sales leaders cultivate excellence among their field reps, reaping benefits for all stakeholders:

  • Successful reps are more engaged and happier, performing well and staying loyal.
  • Commercial teams with top-notch field reps drive the therapy products toward higher sales and market shares.
  • Life sciences companies who foster a culture of sales excellence attract the top talent.
  • Engage HCPs more effectively, allowing for better decision-making when it comes to patient treatment.

Strong sales leadership isn’t merely about process management – it’s about cultivating and leading people. The effort invested in developing competent, visionary sales leaders and fostering a pervasive coaching culture invariably yields a handsome return on investment.

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