Making the transition into sales management is a big step in your career and will serve up challenges you’ve not faced before. CHASE has helped many candidates over the last 20 years make the transition from Key Account Management or Marketing to Pharma Sales Management, and this blog is a compilation of some of the feedback we’ve been given over this time to help those of you who have aspirations to follow this career path.
In the Beginning…
In our experience, many Medical Sales Representatives start their career with an aspiration to one day manage a team. It is a natural goal, however being a great Medical Sales Representative doesn’t automatically guarantee you’ll be a good Regional Sales Manager.
One of the biggest changes is that you’re going to need to transition overnight from just managing yourself to managing a team of individuals all with different styles, attitudes, priorities, strengths, weaknesses and ways of working. As their new manager they’ll be bringing everything to you, including such as issues around their pay, performance, family life and in some cases around not getting the recently advertised Regional Sales Manager job… you know, the one that you got ahead of them! There’ll also be a transitional period of testing the boundaries to see what your style and values are like compared with their previous manager, so you’ll need to be ready.
It’s also worth pointing out at this point that your most innate strengths that you utilised so well to become a killer Medical Sales Representative or Key Account Manager are the very traits that could cause you the most challenges as a Regional Sales Manager.
For example, it’s possible that you’ve got a unique way of selling your products which is slightly outside of the company trained scripts, so if this is the case you’re going to have to adapt to tow the company line or recognise that each member of your team is going to have their own way of selling that they feel comfortable with.
You might also have been the type of Medical Sales Representative or Key Account Manager who got their head down and powered through the day, seeing one customer after another, not taking too much time to have breaks or speak with anyone other than your customers. As a Regional Sales Manager you’ll have to recognise that not everyone works like this – it will be important to take time out in field visits to have coffee and lunch breaks in between sales calls to chat and get to know your team.
Specialist Training Prior to Making the Move
As with any new role, the more preparation you do the quicker you will find your feet. Ideally, and if time allows, use your contacts internally to ensure you get training and mentoring on what to expect as an RSM, how to analyse data, how to structure your time, how to coach and most importantly how to manage people.
This type of training should ideally take place over a number of months to allow yourself time to absorb and reflect on your new knowledge to make sure you have a level of comfort with it.
Another element of your training might be the opportunity to coach a member of your current team over a number of months prior to becoming an RSM. If you do this, make sure you set clear objectives at the start of the overall coaching project and have regular check-ins with any associated line managers to make sure you’re all on track.
In the event your company doesn’t provide you with any training or development opportunities then you’re going to have to find a way to get this knowledge off your own back.
This might be even harder as you’re going to need to work into the evenings to educate yourself, make notes, practice techniques and find a mentor outside of your day job. There are however a number of online courses and blogs available if you search on the internet and make sure you tap into your network of other Regional Sales Managers and training companies to see what they recommend to help you get the knowledge you need.
Finding a mentor
At the same time as training you should also find someone to mentor you. This should be a trusted peer or former colleague whom you can open up and share all of your goals and challenges and that you know will give you constructive advice steeped in experience.
Make sure you’re totally open and honest about your career intentions and ask if they’re willing to meet on a regular basis to give you the feedback you need to help you on your way to making the transition. You will generally find that people will be delighted to be asked and will gladly help.
Your Team’s Culture depends on the Standards You Set and Display
When you become a Regional Sales Manager everything you say and do will set the scene for how your whole team operates.
Some of the key things to think about include;
- How many fields visits you’ll do each week / month
- What you’ll cover in each of them
- What time you’ll meet with and leave your representatives
- What your attitude to flexible working will be
- What your attitude to pay rises for your team is
- What your ratio of work to personal conversation will be
All of these items (and many more) need careful consideration so make sure you cover these off in your learning or mentoring sessions and that you apply them consistently across your team.
Your relationships with old teammates will change
The switch from peer to manager will change the way you’re perceived and how you’ll need to act and react in every day at work.
Once you’ve accepted things will change then you need to start taking steps to create a new normal set of working relationships. You can do this by meeting with each member of your team to get on the same, albeit new, page. Go over their responsibilities, discuss their goals and listen to their comments and any concerns. Make sure if there are any concerns that they feel listened to and go away believing these will be addressed. If there are things which you believe will not go away then you’ll need to speak with your superior to get their input and support. Either way, change is inevitable so make sure you manage it well.
You’ve got to leave time for high-level thinking
As a successful Medical Sales Representative it’s likely that the harder you worked, the more customers you saw each day and the better your sales performance.
As a Regional Sales Manager it doesn’t quite work like that. Sure working hard, doing field visits and staying on top of all of your reporting is vital, but what will really set you above the others in your peer group is your ability to analyse, think, plan and communicate.
In order to do this you’re going to have to find a way to protect your time, however as a manager the chances of you being interrupted by phone calls and emails on a frequent basis throughout the day are extremely high. One thing you can do is make an agreement with your line manager and your team that for certain periods during the week or month you’re going to dedicate this time to do this and therefore request that any calls should be left for urgent / important matters only during this time.
That way you can reflect on things you’ve observed on fields visits, consider the challenges your reps have faced and start to plot out tactics and techniques that will help them improve their chances of success.
The important thing in all of this is discipline, as it will become very easy to retain a sales representative mentality to deal with what’s put in front of you as it appears.
So as you can see there’s a lot to think about when you’re thinking about becoming a Regional Sales Manager and it’s certainly a very different job to being a Medical Sales Representative, no matter how good you are.
With the right approach, learning, mentoring and consideration it can be a very rewarding next step in your career and something many consistently high performing sales people will be tempted to take up one day.
The current Pharmaceutical market, means that your first move into Sales Management is almost certainly going to result from an internal move. It is very rare to see someone without people management experience being hired into this kind of role by another Company. Therefore it is key to perform well in your current role, build good relationships with key stakeholders and do whatever you can to set yourself apart from the competition! Whilst on this occasion we may not be able to directly secure you that move into management, we do have a wealth of experience which may help, so please do get in touch.