December 2002 — Newsletter Focus: Assessing SFE

"Men are born to succeed, not fail.”, Henry David Thoreau

Last month’s newsletter focused on the importance of fundamentals in the selling process.  The next four issues of HIPS will focus on improving Sales Force Effectiveness (SFE).  This issue examines the diagnostic phase – evaluating current performance and identifying performance improvement opportunities.  January’s issue will address prioritizing opportunities to improve and developing solutions.  In February, we'll cover how to implement change.  Finally, in May, HIPS will discuss how to sustain improvements by measuring effectiveness and monitoring performance.

What’s Your View of the Elephant?

Many of our initial SFE discussions with firms remind us of the story about the five blind people who came upon an elephant for the first time.  Each used his hands to “see” the beast, and saw very different things:



·          The first person touched the leg and thought it was a tree trunk

·          The second person grabbed the tail and thought it was a rope

·          The third person felt the ear and thought it was a giant leaf

·          The fourth person ran into the elephant’s side and thought they'd touched a wall

·          The fifth person grabbed the trunk and was convinced he had a snake


Each person reached a reasonable conclusion based on his or her limited experience. But without having benefit of the big picture, they were still incorrect in their conclusions. In the pharmaceutical industry, marketing, training, analysis, IT, human resources and finance often have very different ideas about the changes needed to improve sales force effectiveness.  The best process ensures that you see the entire elephant before you draw conclusions.


Improving SFE – Part I:  Assessment

Selling pharmaceuticals is incredibly competitive.  Each year we see sales teams work to get more calls per day from their representatives, improve customer targeting and message delivery, implement CRM systems, and develop better programs for physicians. 


While all of these tactics have impact - whether that impact is positive or negative -, we have identified two traits successful SFE initiatives share:

  • Cross-functional teams: Utilizing a wide range of team members ensures that a wide range of experiences and expertise are brought to bear to identify opportunities and develop creative solutions. 

  • Continuous improvement process: Repeatedly cycling through the three phases of assessment, implementation and monitoring ensures that SFE improvement is an evolutionary, or "Kaizen",  rather than a revolutionary, or "Big Bang"  process.

Assessing Current Sales Practices


Successful SFE initiatives start by building a cross-functional team with a common, well defined objective and charter.  This team should be responsible for identifying and ranking improvement opportunities and implementing change.  A good cross-functional team would include sales representatives, sales managers, sales trainers, product marketers, and sales analysts, with support from finance and human resources. 


The first objective of this team is to fully assess current sales force processes, strategies, and effectiveness.  A three-pronged approach utilizing field travel, diagnostic sales representative surveys, and data analysis will provide not only a balanced scorecard, but also insights useful for developing creative solutions.


This initial diagnostic phase can be completed very quickly.  RMCI can help by providing a Sales Representative Survey and Field Travel Guide (request a customizable sample via e-mail at The survey will help you better map perceptions surrounding effectiveness issues, identify differences across regions, and track changes in attitudes over time.  A web based survey is both convenient and anonymous. The team e-mails a link to every participants, they respond quickly, and results are automatically tabulated.


While the survey is being conducted, all team members should be in the field observing “a day in the life of a rep”.  The field travel should be structured to reflect the experience of the sales force and the stage of the SFE initiative.  Early in the SFE initiative, it is important to make a very broad assessment of all SFE enablers.  In this setting, information is collected by observing calls, interviewing the representative between calls and gaining an understanding of territory and account planning.  In a more mature SFE initiative, the field travel should shift to a balance of observing and coaching on the “SFE changes” and identifying new opportunities.


As soon as the survey results can be analyzed and field travel completed (ideally within 2 weeks of the initial or cycle meeting) the team should meet to debrief, create hypotheses about root causes of “opportunities”, and develop a data analysis plan.  As an example, RMCI recently worked with an experienced team that had become concerned about the high numbers of their representatives calling on the same target physicians.  In analyzing the information surrounding this issue, we focused on identifying the number of representatives calling on each target physician, the total number of calls by target physician, and the impact of calls and representatives on share and share change.


Within two weeks, the team should meet again.  Analysis of the data will either support or refute the original hypotheses.  In this meeting, the team should be prepared to rank opportunities and begin developing solutions to address them.


Results from Recent Experiences


Cross-functional teams using a defined process uncover and solve many problems that functional managers acting alone might miss.  Teams using the process described above - assessment, implementation, and monitoring - typically increase sales and profits by 5% to 20%.  Recently, we have observed teams using this process:


·          Simplifying complex frequency goals to improve frequency attainment and routing effectiveness for key targets.

·          Identifying available (and valuable) competitive information that was not shared with representatives and district managers.

·          Discovering that the compensation system encouraged unhealthy competition within districts, discouraging information sharing and collaboration.

·          Focusing DM coaching on the pre-call planning process, improving call effectiveness, program attendance and message retention.

·          Challenging product promotion priorities and outdated targeting methods.


All of those efforts combined with exceptional implementation,  resulted in increased effectiveness and profitability.  Next month we'll provide insights on how client teams successfully implemented these types of changes in their sales and marketing organizations.



"HIPS" in Transition


Thanks to all who read and provided feedback on the initial edition of this newsletter.

We have incorporated your suggestions into this issue, and will continue to make enhancements in 2003.

We are interested in listening as well as sharing. We want this newsletter to serve as a resource to you, and hope that you provide feedback, suggestions, criticisms, or accolades.

Help us to make this a more valuable resource for you by telling us what issues you'd like covered in upcoming editions of HIPS.


Click here to review past issues of HIPS




Seasons Greetings and Happy New Year


As 2002 comes to a close, we thank you again for entrusting us with your important projects.


We wish you a wonderful holiday season and hope that you have a productive 2003.




RMCI recently surveyed District Managers (DM) from the top 10 US pharmaceutical sales forces.  Our biggest surprise was what we learned about DM training:  Initial DM training ran the continuum from no training at all  to a highly structured 3 week program.




Would you like a sample of our Sales Representative Survey and Field Travel Guide?  Simply send your request to and we’ll be happy to send you a copy.


RM Consulting International
2717 Iroquois Road
Wilmette, IL 60091

Phone:(847) 251-2146
Fax:(847) 251-2292


Coming Attractions

Next Month


Driving SFE Improvement


Future issues of HIPS will cover:

1. DMs - The Key to SFE

2. Collaboration for Maximum Impact

3. Sales Force Size – Does it matter?

4. Field Travel – Making certain you see the “real world”.

5. Metrics – You Have to Keep Score




Copyright 2002, RM Consulting International. All rights reserved.

Every recipient may copy, reprint or forward all or part of this newsletter to friends, colleagues or customers, so long as any use is not for resale or profit and the following copyright notice is included intact: "Copyright
RMCI. All rights reserved."