I’m currently going through construction on my house and while I really like my general contractor, it blows my mind that I have no idea what’s happening on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis—and it often seems like he doesn’t, either. I’ve had weeks where nobody has shown up to work on my house and then other weeks where I’m tripping over people.
I recently asked my general contractor if I could see his project plan for my house, and he said that he doesn’t create plans. It’s all in his head. To me, that seems to mean that he’s working day to day, and it’s likely the primary reason for the inconsistent experience I’ve had thus far—not to mention the extended timeline.
Since I work in the management consulting field where I regularly manage multiple projects at once, I find the concept of little to no advanced planning mind-blowing. Even for routine projects, I create a plan and make sure that I’m regularly following or adjusting it.
Where do field sales managers fall on the spectrum of planning? Are they similar to management consultants and create comprehensive plans for their teams to execute upon? Or are they more like a general contractor where they’re working day to day and week to week? We actually need to be asking where they should be on the planning spectrum because it’s likely that too many use a planning method that more closely resembles the general contractor’s.
Historically, we’ve often hired or promoted ex-sales reps into the role of first-line sales manager. The average sales rep tends to plan day to day or at most week to week in terms of what he’ll do with his time. If managers need to manage across months or quarters to ensure success for their business, how do we change their planning orientation? How do we lift them above the day-to-day minutiae to look at the big picture?
The truth is, for most medical device companies and most companies with a field sales team, this isn’t a natural skill of our managers. Many of them are good at selling, and some are good at coaching and building a team, but a precious few are really good at planning how to use their resources in mid- to long-term execution.
It’s critical for the success of our business to find a way to teach and support our managers in business planning capabilities. There isn’t a silver bullet that will help make every field manager a good business manager, but there are a number of capabilities and resources that you can teach or provide to help your managers achieve success in planning out and managing their entire business. Four key capabilities and resources include:
- Business planning templates and processes: Arm your managers with the assets they need to create good business plans. Create the general process that they should follow and can adjust to their specific needs and working style. Provide them templates through a CRM system or some other mechanism to map out what’s happening across their business.
- Data: To be able to build a plan, you have to have decent data that helps you understand the underlying accounts and business.
- Analytics: It isn’t enough just to have the data. Managers also have to have the skills to analyze the data and determine where to concentrate resources, when to adjust deployment, what the geographic trends are, what the connections across customers (IDNs, practices) are, etc.
- Communication: A good plan will fail if people don’t understand it. Managers need to be able to communicate the plan to their troops and guide them or coach them in a way that allows the team to execute the managers’ vision. They also need to be able to communicate and coordinate with their counterparts in other divisions such as marketing, contracting and key accounts to ensure that they’re all speaking to the customer with one united voice.
It’s been a frustrating experience not knowing what my general contractor is going to work on next, and when we’ll be finished. Similarly, your reps and even your managers likely want to look beyond their current execution model. If you can find ways to support your field managers in the above four areas and help them build out the capabilities defined above, the results should be a stronger field leadership team, a more satisfied field organization and, most of all, an increase in sales through better execution.