Lasting District Sales Manager Advice for his Pharmaceutical Sales Representative

It has taken me a long time and a lot of reflection to acknowledge and appreciate the sage advice my first district manager gave me over 30 years ago.

Here are some of the nuggets of wisdom I found helpful that might be of interest regardless of where you are in your career.  You’ll notice these apply more universally to business than just to the sales position I was in at the time.  They may seem simple and obvious but like many things in life, holding true to their full intent and purpose is much harder than the words might suggest, especially over the course of a career.

Show up: Put in a full day, everyday.  Not just when you feel like it or want to,  but especially when you don’t feel like it or don’t want to.  Most people don’t.

Follow up: check regularly and return phone calls immediately. You don’t know the customer’s sense of urgency, it could be an emergency.  When you promise to do something, send something, or check back … do it… no excuses.

Make one more call: At the end of the day when you are ready to go home, make one more sales call.  This extra effort accumulates into an additional month of sales calls every year.  You never know when that one extra call is going to make a difference for your customer, a patient, or for your incentive compensation.

You get one shot at trust: If your customers quit trusting you, they quit buying from you.  They catch you once in a lie, misrepresentation, or faking an answer, they have no reason to believe you after that.

Be ready for your next job before you get it: This meant that I would have to find the time, energy, and commitment to stretching my development to include subjects and skills beyond my current position. In other words, take responsibility for my own education and career development.  

As busy as we were the days he rode with me, I always found it interesting that he found quiet time to have a cup of coffee to have these discussions.  He made it a point to make sure I was able to listen, commit my complete attention, and engage in the discussion.  This was never during drive time in the car when it might have been convenient and perceived as a good use of time but he knew I would have too many distractions to absorb the salient points he was making.

I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to pass these along to you.  Hopefully they will be useful in the pursuit of your career aspirations.  Perhaps some of you will share some of the more useful pieces of insight, advice, or coaching that you received in your career.

mike@pharmareform.com

  • Fred Dever

    With all due respect, I think the information presented in this article is out-dated and elementary.

    First off we all Know that there is no data to support call averages equal greater sales. Also, it seems that there is no vision for the sales position. This District Managers Job should not be to count calls, it should be to execute targeted quality calls.

    This is the problem with pharma- District Managers who continue to preach the same old pharma sales stuff. The District Manager position is also suspect, this role is no longer attached to ROI and won’t be around in the future.

    The future of pharma sales is “Terrtitory Account Managers” with field trainers that come out in the field to train. The Sales Representatives will have to have a broad spectrum health care background period.

    I am sad to see this article published! Old, waste of information.

  • http://www.pharmareform.com Mike Wokasch

    Fred,
    This post has nothing to do with sales calls, old Pharma sales stuff, or the future of Pharma sales. It was not meant to be read as literally as you have. In the first paragraph you can read that “these apply more universally to business than just to the sales position. “ So let me interpret for you “ their full intent and purpose.”
    Show up = work ethic
    Follow-up = dependability, reliability
    Make one more call = extra effort
    You get one shot at trust = integrity in business matters
    Be ready for your next job before you get it = don’t just expect a promotion
    As you state, this information may in fact be elementary. On the other hand, I seriously doubt it is out dated. mike@pharmareform.com

  • Ted

    This advice assumes a lot of things in the territory that may or may not be true.
    You can make 15 “impactful” calls a day every day and move ZERO market share? How does this happen? Your “me-too” product isn’t on formulary.
    Extra calls? At five o’clock at night? Who wants to see a rep then? Unless the rep is “bringing value”, right? Wrong. The industry has watered down this positions so much over the years that it has become little more than a glorified UPS delivery job. And that’s even assuming you can SEE a doctor – in some territories its WELL north of 50% (which is a real number).

  • http://www.pharmareform.com Mike Wokasch

    Ted,
    Thank you for commenting. See my reply to Fred. mike@pharmareform.com

  • jonesy

    this is SO outdated.
    #1 key to success: make a business plan at the local level and execute it. Focus on the accounts that drive the business. call counting is BS. that’s like counting typewriter key clicks for secretaries, or “items per minute” that grocery clerks get evaluated on. It’s juvenile and unproductive. if you work for a pharma or biotech company that lets you do this, then you’re still empowered to make an impact. However, if it’s become checkboxes for internal metrics, then it’s game over, and you really have no motivation to “make extra call” at end of day. Unless, of course, the company is having some kind of stupid insulting contest of who can make the most calls. Pay me for impact, not tasks.

    By the way, what college did that rep go to ? “when he road with me” ROAD ? seriously?

  • http://www.pharmareform.com Mike Wokasch

    jonesy,
    Thanks for the “road” catch. See my reply to Fred. How disappointing to hear that work ethic, reliability, extra effort, integrity, and personal development are “SO outdated”. mike@pharmareform.com

  • Sales Veteran

    So sad (but not surprising) to see the negative responses from Fred, Ted and jonesy.

    Mike, it sounds like you had a great manager; thanks for posting. These are absolute truths about LIFE, not just business, and it will never be outdated.

  • Chris

    I want the 30 seconds it took me to read this returned immediately.

  • http://www.pharmareform.com Mike Wokasch

    Chris,
    My apologies. I try to post on topics that might be useful for people to think about, not just read. mike@pharmareform.com

  • RxRep

    RxRep :I got three more years on you. The other resposnes are probably from younger reps and they are right. You are so outdated. With your beliefs,it’s lucky your company has not shown you the door.I remember the days when physicians actually saw you. In those days,I had only one physician that would not entertain me. Now,I would say half of my territory is no see. Can’t see,can’t influence.I compete in a state where my produts have very bad market share coverage. That never came into play years ago I’m not to far from retiring because I have had enough. Maybe you should contemplate it too.

  • http://www.pharmareform.com Mike Wokasch

    Sales Veteran,
    Thank you.
    mike@pharmareform.com

  • Not Surprised

    Mike, I am not surprised and how negative and pessimistic some of these responses have been. After all, most people are not looking to improve their daily lives, and I am not talking just about the career aspect. Most people complain, but these same people never replace their complaint with a solution. If any of those negative responders understood and studied true success principles, they would understand that your principles are universal to ANYTHING in life and are timeless. Again, people love to give opinions, but it doesn’t mean they are qualified to say anything that has “substance”. I appreciate you writing this article as with every article comes criticism and with every positive response comes 5 or more negative comments that are just written so one can feel important to others. Keep writing because there are other positive thinking people who can understand macro principles and not think small minded and only day to day which is the majority of society.

  • Pharma was my life

    You forgot one very important element….the one that really matters, your diatribe focuses on tasks and quantity. A lot of poor is just more poor. This career has blessed me with success and satisfaction based on quality not quantity, which was your theme. Disease state knowledge, key diagnostic markers….salient fair balanced product comparisons etc. a true consultant. I have nearly 100% access and “rep rules” don’t often apply. The reason is, I bring value, I want my customers and their patients to flourish…we are partners.

  • http://www.pharmareform.com Mike Wokasch

    Pharma was my life,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on what has been successful for you and probably many others. Congratulations on your 100% access and not having to abide by “rep rules.” You must be doing something right.
    mike@pharmareform.com

  • http://www.pharmareform.com Mike Wokasch

    Not Surprised,
    Thank you. mike@pharmareform.com

  • http://www.pharmareform.com Mike Wokasch

    RxRep,
    Thanks for the feedback. Things have definitely changed for the pharmaceutical industry, especially for sales representatives. mike@pharmareform.com

  • kb

    All of these references to being “outdated” and all of the other excuses explain why Pharma sales forces will likely not be a staple of our industry in the future……no company requires negative and whiny sales force personnel and it likely will not be tolerated or seen as required for moving the business forward.

    I have read more “cant-do’s” and excuses than just good old fashioned can-do attitude combined with constantly refined expertise and ever-present credibility…..which by the way is the “age-old” and proven recipe for success. Grow up while you still have a pharma career and thank your lucky stars you have such great jobs and work diligently to retain them!!

  • VetRep

    Unfortunately, the environment that big pharma has created makes following the original post basically a poor use of time. We all know that our sales data might be,on a good day, 20% accurate. My God, most companies can’t even accurately our sales calls. As previously stated, the DM is now nothing more than a babysitting role that contributes nothing to the success or failure of sales reps. Companies now prevent us from doing anything of value in offices. The game has changed. We are self-regulating ourselves out of existence.

  • michael

    to Fred Dover -True, it appears outdated but you must be new to the industry or blind to even suggest data does not exist to prove SoV = greater sales. Weak as some of it is, I’ve been slammed with it since i started in the industry. At the end of the day, we are the advertising! especially for easy drugs like ppi’s and A2′s, Frequency is everything. Personally I agree with the author. All management know they will achieve $100mil in sales. the point of the sales force is to get $110mil or more if they can. you sound so naive, i think you believe a strong clinical sell is the way to go?? yawn!!!

  • Not a pessimist, but a realist.

    The problem with our industry is two-fold. First, the pharmaceutical industry expanded to the point that anyone who could walk upright and carry sample forms could get hired. Four to six reps per territory, co-marketing agreements and a general lowering of hiring standards brought down probably the greatest job of the last 60 years. Secondly, the US Government has made it a priority to shut this industry down. The reps can no longer talk off label, discuss reimbursement or give any information that the physician does not already know. We have been delegated to a “reader of sales aids” and lunch caterer. I understand about bringing value, but the value you can bring can also get you fired, fined or both. It still amazes me that upper management still cannot learn from history and previous failed practices. If Pharma companies would go back to the large territories where reps carried four to six products then offices would open back up because the bombardment would be over. I have been doing this for over 20 years and am praying for atleast 10 more. The initial post is a good basis for anyone to follow. But given the fact that Pharma is on life-support and has more enemies than Bin Laden those prayers will probably not be answered. I would recommend that everyone have a backup plan for their future. For the younger reps there is always nursing or PA school. Please do not think you will have 20 years in this industry.

  • http://www.pharmareform.com Mike Wokasch

    Not a pessimist,
    Thank you for taking the time to add to the discussion and add some constructive commentary. mike@pharmareform.com

  • http://www.xpharmarep.com xpharmarep

    Think of the recommendations for virtually every position, not only for pharmaceutical sales. Yes, pharma sales positions are not what they once were; “sales” is a broad term considering all the factors that come into play with what occurs in the pharma industry; and definitely all reps should have a backup plan away from pharmaceutical sales! Whether you work in pharma sales, industrial (or any other) sales, management/administration, or whatever – those words of advice are strong ones to follow. In doing so you will be doing the “right” thing, and in the process will better prepare yourself for that next career! http://www.xpharmarep.com

  • http://www.pharmareform.com Mike Wokasch

    xpharmarep,
    Thank you for taking the time to comment and clarify. Maybe those who don’t see the value will appreciate it from your perspective. mike@pharmareform.com