The traditional field selling role has evolved from what once was a group of autonomous individual contributors to teams working in a coordinated fashion with a variety of stakeholders. For example, there now are more key account managers calling on IDNs, and also more specialized support roles such as reimbursement specialists, clinical specialists, telesales and medical science liaisons. Obviously, this evolution comes with growing pains, but those pains can be alleviated with the right team structure and the appropriate operating capability.
Your success with a team selling model is largely dependent on how well you’re able to align the sales responsibilities of the various customer-facing roles to minimize inefficiencies and create a clear sense of team. You could, for example, leverage the concept of mirroring and have specialized roles share geographic and key accounts responsibility with field sales territories or districts. Clinical specialists could work with a defined set of sales reps or could align with specific sales districts.
In theory, this all makes perfect sense, but in practice, it can seem difficult to execute because having more roles like IDN-focused KAMs, telesales and other specialists creates management and reporting challenges. Field sales managers often struggle to coach and mentor these roles, so to create order from chaos, a company’s reaction might be to layer in new management positions to handle these specialized functions. However, with such an approach, you risk creating organizational silos and barriers to coordination. Rather than just creating a new solid-line reporting structure, the solution may be to draw some dotted lines in your org chart.
Design With the ‘Team Sell’ in Mind
Fundamentally, sales management consists of three types of management activities—driving customer strategy, directing professional and skill development, and handling HR and administrative management—so you need to determine which type of manager could most effectively handle each activity for the newly aligned sales teams. This exercise could help you figure out where you should draw a solid line for new roles—IDN-focused KAMs, clinical specialists, etc.—to directly report to particular managers, and where you could draw dotted lines to indicate indirect or tangential reporting responsibilities for other management activities. Customer strategy should almost always be owned or, at a minimum, led by field sales or by the key account (IDN/GPO) management team. Professional development, coaching and administrative leadership is more effective coming from a manager with a stronger alignment to the role in question or from someone who shares an expertise or profile with the person being managed. Therefore, specialized roles often have their coaching and HR reporting aligned to specialized managers who have the expertise for this task.
For example, telesales reps use a different selling process plus different tools and metrics to manage productivity that field sales managers often aren’t familiar with. The most successful structure in this case tends to be one in which field sales and telesales customer responsibilities are mirrored as much as possible. Field sales district managers, KAMs and field sales reps typically provide account strategy direction, but there are also dedicated inside sales managers for more focused coaching, development and administrative leadership.
Making it Work
Beyond the management and reporting challenges outlined above, medtech companies evolving to a team selling model also might face some incentive, ownership and cultural challenges. Some of the most successful sales reps are empowered individual businesspeople, taking command of their territories and not letting barriers get in their way. If these personalities are now being asked to operate within a team selling model, there might be a culture clash if the right processes and capabilities aren’t in place. Here are five key steps to help ensure the success of a complex team-based structure.
1. Balance team versus individual metrics. When one of our clients evolved to a team selling model, there was significant tension between new account sales reps and their inside sales account management colleagues. Field sales was paid on new business and they relied on support from the inside team to help them close deals. Inside sales also was responsible for generating repeat business and, at the end of the quarter, would often concentrate on easier repeat renewals, leaving the field selling team frustrated.
Goals and objectives shared by the team, such as an overall account metric or geography metrics that all team members share, can help significantly. There will be tension between emphasizing team metrics in the compensation plan and rewarding for individual performance, so effective team selling requires that leaders put more weight on team metrics—ideally making them at least 15% of individual compensation.
2. Focus on performance management. Sales managers need to manage their teams’ performance, rather than simply letting the compensation plan force out low performers on its own, because low performers can hide within the team selling model. It isn’t always clear who’s actually driving the sale at times. Sales managers need to be hands-on in assessing competencies and tracking activity, and should be proactive in addressing underperforming team members. Appropriate metrics need to be in place to enable this.
3. Create clear resource deployment decision rights. In a dotted line reporting model, lack of clarity on resource deployment decision rights can create conflict and tension. For example, how much flexibility should be given to how a role is deployed? If sales management directs activity, what if sales leaders start asking specialized roles to do things that aren’t in their job descriptions? Some salespeople might take on more to be team players, while others might react by saying, “Not my job.” There need to be mechanisms for addressing these conflicts, and clear expectations.
4. Carefully define process ownership. One of the big risks associated with team selling models is a loss of efficiency. With team-based metrics in place and a joint sense of accountability, suddenly everyone feels compelled to make sure that sales calls are successful. While that feeling of ownership is great, it can go too far. One medical equipment company that I worked with lamented the fact that everyone felt compelled to be in key sales meetings with customers. This created inefficiencies, and confusion over who was responsible for what, both during and after the meeting.
5. Build trust and team culture. A general manager of a large device company recently told me that he was comfortable working in a dotted line environment because everyone around the table knew and supported each other. The group had created a team dynamic by working together over time.
A team selling model is the future of medtech sales, and it’s likely to grow increasingly complex. Getting the right reporting structure and the right operating mindset in place are key to sales forces’ continued success. Incentives and rewards are important, but stronger performance management, clear decision and process ownership, and a supporting culture are essential for making the team selling model work over time.
This article was originally published in The Medtech Strategist.