And Now, Let Us Review (Part II)

By Malcolm Fleschner

Last month’s pharmaceutical newsletter featured Part I of an interview with Rayna Herman, a principle with the Lambertville, New Jersey-based Health Strategies Group (, a leading pharmaceutical and biotech sales effectiveness organization. In the article, Herman described some of the key shortcomings she sees with the way pharmaceutical sales managers review the performance of their salespeople. This month she shares with Selling Power a few of her proposed solutions to the performance review challenge.

One of the problems Herman sees with team selling is that individuals are judged on an entire team’s performance, a practice that often leads to finger pointing or allows low performers to skate by on the strength of others’ work.

"If a company just cares about the bottom line – let’s say market share – and wants the representatives to be measured on that, from a manager’s perspective it’s really hard to know whether it was Joe or Susie who was really moving the market share, if they’re calling on the same physicians," Herman says. "It really takes strong managers to measure that individual contribution. They have to be involved with their people, in touch with the business, have good observation skills and be willing to draw conclusions based on something other than simply the numbers.

"To accomplishing this when you have representatives working in teams, you need to carve out individual objectives that tie to team performance at the beginning so that at the end of the year you can say, ‘Team performance was X, we agreed in January that you were going to do Y, Z, P and Q to contribute to team performance, so let’s look at your individual Y, Z, P, and Q to see where you are with those things.’ Unfortunately, we don’t see that happening. That is definitely something that could be done differently."

As for the more traditional one-on-one performance review, Herman says her organization has made a study of what the most effective managers typically do, while also identifying areas where their less capable counterparts tend to drop the ball.

"Much like with managers evaluating team performance, part of the key lies in setting expectations, then gaining the representatives’ perspective on those metrics," she says. "The best managers create a performance plan, they outline timing and consequences and gain commitment on that. In terms of places where the average manager tends to fall short, the first part is usually discussing the fact that there is a performance issue at all. People really have fear about that. And then if they do talk about the performance issue, they often talk in generalities instead of giving specific examples of places where the performance has fallen off."

Herman says that much of the confusion surrounding performance reviews could be eliminated if sales organizations were clearer about their metrics and defining the terms they use in advance.

"It would be a lot easier to have a system with measures if companies would only have a common definition of what a call is, and what the behaviors are that they want from their representatives," she says. "Because if I as the representative think something is good and you the manager think it’s terrible, that performance review is going to be something very different than if we’re both clear that what we’re looking for was X and what we got was some of X but a little bit of Y. So when you’re coaching someone or performing an evaluation, you need to state your expectations objectively as facts rather than judgments."

When asked how such a specific set of expectations would look in the real world, Herman suggests an example of what a manager might say to his or her sales rep: "At the beginning of the year you might say, ‘We expect you to make eight calls a day, six of those on high prescribing physicians. A call in this company means having a product discussion that includes a resource.’ Now that’s really clear," she says. "I understand what you need me to do, as opposed to saying, ‘We expect you to achieve call activity requirements.’ So if I pick whatever requirements I think are important and you pick the ones you think are important, they may just be different. That’s what we often have today."

Herman emphasizes that performance reviews aren’t always about getting underachieving reps to step back in line. In fact, she says, another way that the best managers tend to stand out is by the way they encourage their top performers to keep pushing themselves.

"The managers who do a good job of motivating peak performers are always pushing them to do more, whereas the ones who are average tend to give out what we call ‘applause’ – they focus on telling them they did a good job, but they don’t continue to motivate them. The average managers struggle because they’re thinking, ‘I’ve got this high performer. How do I add value to the person?’ They’re not sure what else they can do for them. ‘They’re my best rep, what more is there for me to add?’

"One interesting difference between effective and average managers is the effective managers tend to invest a lot of time in getting to know individual representatives and what motivates them. So instead of just praising everybody, they really try to figure out what each rep responds to – maybe Karen likes to be recognized in front of her peers, maybe Alice is embarrassed to get up in front of the group and would rather get a personal note.’ So they really take the time to understand what the motivators are for each of their peak performers instead of just using a blanket approach for everybody."