On The Road Again

By Malcolm Fleschner

Depending on who you ask, the district manager ride-along is either an excellent opportunity to observe the rep under field conditions and offer helpful coaching or a seemingly interminable and humiliating exercise that puts the rep under the microscope for the purposes of nitpicking and undermining. Most often the truth probably lies somewhere in between these two extremes.

According to Thomas Stovall, a director with Stovall Granger (www.sgbci.com), a consulting and training organization focused on the healthcare industry, pharmaceutical sales managers should definitely spend as much time as possible in the field with their sales representatives. But, he adds, to get the most out of that time, managers should first discuss with reps the expectations and objectives of the ride-along.

“With more advanced sales professionals,” Stovall says, “managers may need to communicate that they are not there to help close the sale, but, for example, to improve the salesperson’s ability to develop dialogue with the customer around business issues that may or may not be directly related to the salesperson’s products. In addition, it is important for the manager to walk the talk regarding the skills being coached or the marketplace information being discussed. In other words, the manager’s credibility is on the line if he or she cannot demonstrate for the rep the skill being coached or understand the data being interpreted.”

Another key point Stovall identifies is that the objectives of a ride-along will differ depending on the experience and skill level of the individual sales rep.

“Without a doubt,” he says, “sales managers need to have a systematic way of evaluating the competency level of each salesperson, and ways to help him or her improve performance. When working with a newer representative, the sales manager might want to demonstrate more effective openings in the sales process. For the mid-level salesperson, a manager might want to demonstrate ways to identify the communication or social style of the physician.”

Although some managers might be inclined to leave well enough alone with reps who are producing, Stovall nevertheless also offers suggestions for working with top performers. “Managers will want to help their successful salespeople identify what talents or strengths they might have that make them so successful,” he says. “They then should communicate their desire to help the salesperson continue to develop those strengths. In fact, this might also be the key to turning around a salesperson who has demonstrated strong capability in the past, but may have plateaued.”