The winning line

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 Getting the basics right can often be the difference between success and failure when managing teams. Tony Swift discusses key factors and considerations needed when creating different types of sales models to reach pole position.

In my previous article, The grand slam – how to hit your goals, I highlighted six factors which are key to the building of high performance teams. I discussed how I had personally experienced the way in which these factors had influenced the success of Bath Rugby Club – a club that went from 100 years of mediocrity to becoming one of the most successful club sides in the world.

These key factors were leadership, a dedicated goal/vision, expert recruitment, development, performance management and environment.

It is my assertion that there is no ‘magic ingredient’ to team success, or that no single element from the list above is more important than any other. Instead, it is primarily a case of superb execution of relatively basic processes. Yet, given the absence of a ‘magic ingredient’, I still encounter many executives within the pharmaceutical industry who express dissatisfaction with the performance of teams in their respective companies.

Teams within pharma

In this article, we take a look at three different types of promotional teams within pharma. These are primary care sales teams, Key Account Management (KAM) teams, and Market Access teams.

We will explore some of the key issues that should be addressed when managing such teams, some common mistakes that are made, and different approaches that can be taken depending on the nature of the team. We will also refer back to the sporting analogies that were made in the first article to compare how successful sporting organisations cope with some of the challenges that many teams within pharma face on a day-to-day basis.

The right team on the bus

In Jim Collins’ renowned book From Good to Great he showed that the most fundamental decision any executive has to make is who to recruit as a member of the team. This was echoed by an ex-rugby colleague of mine and current Scotland national rugby coach, Andy Robinson. Andy was also part of Clive Woodward’s coaching staff that delivered World Cup success for England, and he told me that the key element England got right was the careful selection of individual players so that they each brought complimentary skills, aptitudes and characteristics to the team as a whole.

The illustrious NFL coach John Madden stated that to be a good coach and to win you have to have good players. Sport is littered with previously successful leaders who for some reason – often when moving on to manage a new team – fail to produce the required performance levels and lose their jobs. It is normally because they haven’t got the right people on the bus and cannot implement the changes needed quickly enough to satisfy their masters or fans.

Therefore, to be a successful team leader, you have to recruit the right people. This will usually be a question of establishing whether prospective team members have the required talent and attitude. However, within pharma, organisations first need to carefully analyse what the role is, what particular attributes will be most beneficial to that role, and ultimately, identify the talents required to deliver objectives.

For example, in the past a number of pharma companies have taken the decision to switch resources away from field sales and deploy a KAM team. However, this has often been achieved by simply recruiting existing sales team members in to KAM roles. The problem with this is that some of the talents required to be a great primary care sales force representative are different to those required to be a great KAM – where there is more emphasis on long-term relationship building and strategic thinking. As a result, what often happens is that previously high performing people start to fail because they are simply in the wrong role. This problem can then be further compounded by the decision to provide people in an inappropriate role with extensive training and development support over a long period of time – usually with disappointing results.

In my own experiences in sport, I have never seen a training and development programme transform people who did not have the inherent talent and attitude to become world-beaters. Indeed, training and development work needs to be focused on those good/excellent performers with the appropriate talent and attitude. It is with these individuals that training and development can deliver very significant improvements.

Therefore, when establishing a team, the leader must execute world-class recruitment processes – focused on talent and attitude – to find the best people for the job. Whilst these processes can complement existing competency-based recruitment, it is vital to identify the different talent characteristics required for roles in different types of teams, such as those listed earlier.

It is impossible to create a high performing team with the ‘wrong people’. The implementation of extensive training and development of the wrong people will produce, at best, small improvements in performance but will never take the team to the performance levels that could be attained with the ‘right people on the bus’.

The role of leadership

Leading a team clearly goes beyond recruiting the right people, and whilst this is not intended to be a comprehensive examination of leadership, I have noted some key factors that need to be considered when trying to improve team performance.

An effective leader of a primary care sales team may not be an effective leader of a KAM or Market Access team. Managing a sales team is primarily about selecting the right individuals, improving performance through training and development, and motivating them to achieve results. In KAM teams, leadership involves more strategic thinking, often more sophisticated targeting and more collective team behaviour. Leadership of a Market Access team may require a combination of such skills and a more collaborative approach.

It is therefore reasonable to suggest that to achieve leadership success, it is not necessarily crucial to have such a broad range of skills and aptitudes. For example, a great leader of a sales team may not necessarily be a great strategist. This has been demonstrated in the analysis I have undertaken in which sales representatives talk about the best managers they have ever worked for. They cite attributes such as giving clear direction, continual motivation and letting them get on with the job – yet brilliant innovative strategies are very rarely mentioned.

A sporting comparison can also be made here. The role of the leader of an Olympic equestrian team is considerably different than the role of a leader of a rugby or American football team. In an equestrian team, the leader has to select the right combination of horse and rider, but there is little dependency between the various team members in determining performance. In other sports dependency on other team members is much more crucial. In American football for example, teams often have hundreds of complex moves where every individual has a particular role to play in making the move successful. Also, before and during a game, the leader must try to establish a winning strategy and select the most appropriate moves that will overcome their opponents.

Within pharma the role of leadership and management style required is often different depending on the type of team. Primary care sales teams have been around for many years and the characteristics and requirements of these teams are very familiar to many people in pharma. KAM and Market Access teams are more recent and the theory and practice as to how such teams can operate most effectively is still evolving.

Therefore, whilst in sales teams it is possible to give good representatives a certain amount of autonomy, there is much more dependence on the leader in KAM and Market Access teams to set direction, establish clear processes, model team behaviour and encourage extensive team interaction.

Establishing a new team

With the right leader in place and with the strategic direction and objectives having been set, there are a few critical steps that should be taken in the formative stages to put a team on the road to high performance. These are as follows:

· Identify the talents required for the role. Derek Gatehouse in his book The Perfect Sales Force identifies ten selling talents and recommends that the appropriate talents are carefully chosen for the particular sales role required. Some talents are required for all sales roles, such as the ability to get on with people; other talents are more specific to the role itself, such as the ability to prospect or cold call.

· Build the whole recruitment process around attempting to identify whether the candidates have the required talents.

· Involve customers, such as GPs and KOLs, in the recruitment process.

· Experience shows that no matter how comprehensive the recruitment process is, there is the possibility of mistakes being made. An effective recruitment process will result in far fewer mistakes, but not necessarily eliminate them all. Therefore, assume during the recruitment process a potential in-role failure rate and plan accordingly.

· In the early deployment phase, management should spend time with the team and identify whether the talents and the attitude required for the role are present in practice. If they are not present, appropriate action must be taken. It is a failure of management if a person is identified as not having the appropriate talents to fulfil a role after that person has had years in the position.

· Focus on managing, motivating and developing the team members – all of whom by now should have the appropriate talent and attitude – to drive performance consistently through the remaining life of the team.

Realistic expectations

Sadly, there is no ‘magic ingredient’. However, it is the brilliant execution of relatively simple processes that leads to high performance in teams both in industry and sport. Most failures in team performance do not arise from a lack of know-how, but because of poor, or mediocre, execution. Improvement in performance can be achieved by refocusing on the quality of execution of these defined processes.

In summary, it’s doing it that counts! Winning is about creating a goal, committing to doing all of what’s necessary to achieve it, and then working together as a team to make it happen.

 Tony Swift is the Managing Director of Apodi.