Let The Games Begin

By Malcolm Fleschner

More than two thousand years ago, the legendary Chinese general Sun Tzu wrote, “The great strategist first wins the victory in the temple rehearsal of the battle, and then enters the competition. Those destined for defeat first enter the competition and then seek victory.” Recognizing the key role preparation plays in determining success, healthcare delivery industry consultants at Stovall Grainger (www.sgbci.com) suggest that pharmaceutical and biotech industry sales organizations use a form of temple rehearsals by applying the art of war gaming to their own competitive endeavors.

So how do you take the ancient lessons of military strategic planning and create an effective training exercise for today’s healthcare industry sales professionals? Stovall Grainger suggests a six-step process.

1. Develop the challenge. Choose a single sales scenario that is relevant and challenging for members of your team, such as one with an imminent buying decision and strong competition. The opportunity timeline should be no longer than one year, while the war game should take a little more than two weeks. Next, decide on your product focus and divide participants into two teams – one selling for you and the other for the competition. Both teams then should gather all available information about their product and the competition’s product using whatever research methods are available. The facilitator’s job is to research the opportunity and the account, focusing on the primary concerns facing key influencers within the account. This information should be distributed to the teams as they prepare their research.

2. Determine the objective. Be clear with each team about exactly what they are expected to achieve. The objective should be specific, measurable and time-bound. This likely will translate into market share, units or dollar volume.

3. Choose the approach. Teams next must determine what strategy will be most effective. They should focus on finding areas where they feel they have a key competitive advantage.

4. Get tactical. Next the teams must decide how to translate their competitive advantage into concrete action. For example, if they are relying on the spectrum of activity of their antibiotic in treating post-surgical infections, what will they use to support this strategy – visuals, reports, speakers, in-service programs?. They also need to consider how to handle a worst-case scenario. Based on their competitive research, what is the worst possible situation they might expect to encounter? If the competition has a less complicated dosing regimen, how will they address this concern without directly attacking the competition? Teams need to think about how to deal with worst-case possibilities and then refocus attention on their own product’s strengths.

5. Present the evidence. Now it’s time for the two teams to present their plans. Let the competitor’s team go first. Using slides, flip charts or whatever presentation materials they like, they should describe how they handled each step in the analysis. The other team can respond, but only to ask process-related questions, not to offer counterarguments. Then let the home team give its presentation using the same ground rules.

6. Conduct a post mortem. Now it’s time to apply what was learned to the real-life challenges your team faces. Facilitating a discussion among all the participants about possible adjustments to product strategy and tactics might improve your prospects for success. All that’s left now is to execute the plan and continue to apply such war game processes to other key opportunities.