5 Scientific Principles to Get Your Pharmaceutical Sales Numbers Back On Track

January 2018 | By Danielle Hochstein, Ph.D.

iStock-823410036.jpgThe start of a new quarter and a new year typically generates a search for innovative ideas that can increase pharmaceutical sales growth and performance, especially if numbers have been lagging.

So, where do you look for the best ideas? Behavioral science may not be on your radar just yet, but it should be. Managing pharmaceutical sales performance by recognizing the science behind the behaviors visible in your organization can be just the differentiator that improves performance and creates lasting change.

Instead of following trends this quarter, why not implement these proven, evidence-based principles from applied behavioral science?

To turn around your key performers and get your pharmaceutical sales numbers back on track, adopt the five principles from behavioral science outlined below.

1. Understand your organizational culture and your employees’ consequence history.

Organizational culture is a pattern of behavior that gets reinforced or punished by people and by systems over time. In other words, your people do what they do because over the last several days, weeks, months, or even years, they’ve been encouraged to perform that way. To change behavior, try to understand recent efforts to improve sales performance, the experience employees had, and the culture that developed accordingly.

For example, if you hired sales reps from a competitor, each of them will have habits around what was considered the best approach to leadership and sales at their previous job. Adopting the leadership and sales culture prevalent in your organization will require you to deeply understand those past experiences, what people valued from that experience, and likely barriers or resistance to adopting your organizational culture. Doing so will speed up the integration process and allow you to build on the strengths of the sales employees you’ve hired.

2. Pinpoint what you need people to do.

Sometimes you give people direction on what to do, but, in the end, they do something completely different than what you had intended, or they continue engaging in old behavior patterns that aren’t productive. Why is that?

One of the most common reasons for why there is a breakdown between what you say and what people do is because you did not clearly describe your behavioral expectation. Rather than using general descriptors such as “you need to prioritize your work better” or “I need you to increase sales,” switch to language that pinpoints the actual recurring behavior you want to see from your sales reps that is not currently happening at the right frequency or quality.

Ask yourself: Have I pinpointed the expected behavior in a way that:

  • Describes the behavior objectively, rather than through a label or opinion?
  • Can be easily observed and measured?
  • Others could agree that the behavior is happening?
  • Gives sufficient context, such as the where, when and how the behavior needs to happen?

3. Understand the role of encouragers vs. discouragers.

To maximize performance within your pharmaceutical sales organization, you need to understand what drives sales reps’ behavior patterns. What consequences encourage desired sales behaviors? What discourages these behaviors?

The power of consequences people experience depends on each individual’s perspective. In other words, something you believe should be an encourager for desired sales behaviors may in fact be discouraging from a particular sales rep’s perspective. There is never a one-size-fits all approach to implementing the right consequences. If you have a multi-generational workforce for example, you may find what Millennial sales reps want and need to be motivated differs from what your Gen X or Baby Boomer sales reps want and need. Ultimately though it always comes down to individual preferences.

As you consider the right consequences, keep in mind that every consequence, whether it comes from the management team, team members, customers or even corporate processes and situations, ultimately shapes how people perform. When pharmaceutical sales reps are underperforming, pay special attention to the consequences they are experiencing to ensure that they are not unintentionally receiving discouraging consequences for desired behavior. Behavioral science teaches us to drive the behavior you want by removing discouraging consequences and increasing encouraging consequences.

4. Understand the full range of consequences.

Typically, when we hear the word “consequence”, we think about some kind of punishment.

When we think about rewarding performance of pharmaceutical sales reps, we first think about financial rewards. Ultimately, the most effective pharmaceutical sales leaders understand that there is a whole range of consequences that you can leverage to encourage your sales reps’ performance.

Some examples of types of consequences you can leverage are:

  • Tangible consequences (items that can be physically touched), like tickets to a sport game.
  • Feedback as a consequence. Most people want to know how they are performing. Providing information to them about their behaviors and results can help shape desired performance over time. Feedback can be expressed verbally, through your body language or through written notes.
  • Activity-based consequences (giving people access to an activity they enjoy – like extra time off to enjoy time with the family– upon completing a less desirable activity)

5. Shape the behaviors you want to see.

Sometimes, the changes you ask your pharmaceutical sales reps to make are not straightforward. Your sales reps may find it difficult to jump from their current way of doing things to what they need to do. That’s when you should consider using shaping, the process of getting your people to adopt many smaller successive changes that ultimately make the bigger change easier and faster to achieve.

Think about the first time you brought your kids to the swimming pool. You didn’t just throw them into the deep end to learn how to swim. Instead, you probably started in very shallow water by holding your child and letting him or her feel the water.

Of course, your sales reps aren’t children, but complex change is difficult for anyone, and if leaders don’t utilize some form of shaping, chances are that sales reps will find their own ways of getting to desired behavior and results, which often don’t work or don’t align with the organizational culture.

Accomplishing real and sustained behavior change isn’t an easy or swift process. These five principles give you just a small indication of how much thoughtful work and customization it takes to increase performance at all sales levels. But the results speak for themselves.

Discover the details behind using these other critical business behaviors to begin transforming your pharmaceutical sales performance. Download 4 Critical Steps To Becoming a High-Performing Pharmaceutical Sales Organization.

4 Critical Steps To Becoming A High-Performing Pharmaceutical Sales Organization - Download Now

Topics: Operational Excellence, Pharmaceutical Sales