Sales manager reviewing documents with sales rep
CEO Insights

The Power of Coaching—How to Drive Field Force Performance Excellence

by Dave Manning

January 15, 2024 – 5 min read

The success of any commercial team within the pharma/life sciences sector rests on two important pillars—offering excellent therapeutic products and creating a world-class field sales force to educate healthcare providers (HCPs) about the full value proposition of those medications. While companies routinely devote considerable time and effort to developing their pipeline of therapeutic products and shepherding them through the regulatory approval and launch process, there is a great opportunity to enhance these efforts by optimizing the performance of sales reps in the field through coaching.

Sales manager listening to feedback from three sales reps

As a commercial leader, coaching is one of the most important jobs you have. Leaders should be consistently coaching to improve product knowledge, engagement, business acumen and strategy. The core objective is to coach to produce the behaviors that propel your team towards greater success. When this is achieved, the sales numbers will follow.

Coaching Requires a Growth Mindset

Throughout the pharma/life sciences sector, change is the only constant. Considering how quickly things can and do change for individual pharma/life sciences brands, a solid coaching practice becomes even more important to help sales reps navigate this constant sea of change. When you incorporate coaching as a daily practice, you build a culture of continual improvement, trust, and accountability. You instill a growth mindset that encourages individuals to be more invested in the results and help themselves to determine what they need to persevere and grow.

Occasionally, you might encounter inherent attitude impediments that just can’t be coached out. To avoid these potential hitches, consider hiring candidates who already demonstrate a growth-focused mindset.

Typically, it’s standard practice to hire based on previous sales experience or sector-specific expertise that aligns with your product. For instance, you might prioritize candidates with experience in rare diseases, oncology, or drugs that use the buy-n-bill model. While such industry and product knowledge are undeniably significant, I encourage you to broaden your perspective. Consider those other attributes that foster a winning and growth mindset, which are equally instrumental for sales success:

High initiative—This refers to not only a great work ethic but the level of drive that shows that the individual can be self-directed and resourceful, even in the absence of direct day-to-day management.

Resilience and adaptability—Today’s highly regulated and competitive pharma/life sciences landscape will throw a lot of fastballs from left field. Sales reps must be agile and have an innate willingness to handle uncertainty, pivot quickly, and adapt as needed if they are to succeed in this challenging space.

Tenacity and grit—These character traits are incredibly important, as it has become harder than ever for sales reps to gain access to HCPs, so they must have the drive to push through and use all of the possible channels to build relationships and deliver meaningful messaging to prescribers.

An openness to be coached—Having an openness to being coached indicates a growth mindset. They are more willing to accept and address the internal barriers or obstacles they face and are more likely to accept coaching as a means for ongoing improvement over time.

Coaching is a Process, Not an Event

Coaching is a continuous process—not a singular event. Any time you have a one-on-one touch point with a direct report, there is an opportunity for coaching. There are coaching opportunities everywhere. Recognizing them can significantly enhance individual and team growth. A great example of this is during routine “field rides.” These activities are a great opportunity for meaningful discussions on how to refine strategies, enhance engagement, and deepen relationships with healthcare professionals (HCPs). As a leader, you can provide constructive feedback, share experiences and insights, and offer mentoring to empower field reps to be more successful.

Field rides are a great opportunity to listen to the field rep’s ideas and perspectives. As a coach, you play a pivotal role in guiding, questioning, and offering insights, while your field rep participates by sharing experiences, challenges, and aspirations. Every single coaching interaction between the sales leader and the field rep should strive to provide actionable opportunities for growth and continuous improvement and schedule follow-up opportunities to assess ongoing progress and finetune the approach as needed.

Summing it Up

To get the most from your team, it’s important to develop a culture of authenticity and accountability through coaching. Sales managers who use coaching strategies effectively can be multipliers of positive change throughout the organization. Coaching with effective feedback and accountability is a proven pathway for professional development and continuous improvement. Fostering excellence among field sales reps delivers on two important objectives—driving financial success for the brand and ensuring that prescribers understand the full value proposition of the medications patients need to ensure optimal healthcare outcomes.

CEO Insights Article Series

PDG CEO Insights is a monthly article series that provides a deeper dive into some of the most pressing challenges commercial leaders in the life sciences sector face in developing effective sales teams. The series will discuss strategies and recommendations to help commercial leaders foster and empower a more tightly integrated sales organization—one that is able to create a competitive advantage in the field and deliver a demonstrable return on investment for the company.

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