Ask a Medical Sales Manager: ABC’s of Field Travel and Training (Part 3 of 3)

If you have a field travel trip coming up with your boss and you’ve got your head in the game and you’ve taken care of the details that will make your boss comfortable on the trip, now you can get down to the business of how to handle the field travel plan.  (See Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.)

What does a well-executed field travel plan look like?

Let’s talk about your Plan A for travel (the ideal situation you can have if you prepare properly), Plan B (the “duck plan”) and Plan C (if your day falls apart, do this).

Having your boss or someone from the corporate office field travel with you is a total positive and an opportunity for you to establish a relationship and also to distinguish yourself among your peers.

History says that people that hate, postpone, whine about, and dread field travel are losers that won’t last long.  Why so harsh?  Because it is the truth.  If you are doing a good job, you want the recognition and attention.  Why are winners so jazzed to get to go up on stage at national meetings for recognition/performance awards?  It is recognition of a job well done!  If you aren’t proud of what you’re doing and your performance, you want to be “on the down low”.  Successful sales people are self-promoters.

The A Plan with A accounts.

What is it?

The A Plan is a well-thought-out travel plan that hits your most important accounts and is a model of planning and execution.  Here’s how to do it:

  1. You anticipated your guest’s hotel needs.
  2. You have a Travel Summary (paper) in their hands when they walk off the plane.  I always wanted paper so I could put the summary in my portfolio and take notes on it in my lap while I was in the account.  They are also handy to help if you space on a customer’s name.  At the end of the travel, you can make notes on the summary and pass it on to an assistant for a follow up note or maybe someone else in the organization for follow up on a customer’s issue.
  3. You had already sent an email with a brief outline of the accounts to be visited and the objectives for each call.
  4. You ask when they would like to be at the airport for their return and if you need to schedule any one on one time with them.  Your schedule for the following day’s travel should include some time on the morning for you to chat.  That time may come over a cup of coffee on the drive to your account or at a formal sit down meeting in the hotel.
  5. The Travel Summaries are a contained in a presentation folder that contains the following:
  • Cover Page (Prepared For, Prepared By, Date, Travel Guest with name and title spelled correctly–check it twice)
  • Territory Summary-Brief, concise-2-3 paragraphs.
  • Account Summaries
    • Name
    • Contact name and title
    • Role they play (Technical Buyer, Economic, User, Coach)
    • Outstanding account issues or red flags
    • Role you would like the visitor to play
  • A screen shot from his/her hotel that shows directions and phone/fax numbers.
  • Account info from your CRM program (Salesforce, Seibel etc.)
  • Strategic Selling “green sheets” for the accounts you will be calling on if you use Strategic Selling.
  • Maybe a page or two dedicated so some issue important to your territory, a product show, early release of a product to a thought leader in your territory, etc.

Preparing for well-executed field travel takes some time, but the rewards are worth it.  Poorly planned and executed field travel is hard to escape and can haunt others’ perceptions of you in the organization and at review time with your boss.

The A Plan represents the best image or picture in your territory that you would like to present to your manager.  You have confirmed appointments for all customers on the schedule and specific objectives in each call (a single call objective).  If you have done all of the things outlined above, you have already projected the image of an organized, motivated individual.  Anyone that has traveled or managed at all knows that stuff happens and the mark of a winner is the ability to pivot on the new information/scenario and drive forward.

Remember, you aren’t trying to “fake out” your boss.  Sometimes even a poor rep can pull together excellent field travel.  They know the right things to do; they just tend not to do them unless someone is around.  While they may fool some people some of the time, they won’t fool their competent manager much of the time.  How so? People are creatures of habit and if you are a slacker, those slacker habits show up in other ways over time.  The moral of this part of the story is if you are filled with dread about traveling with anyone, you may be in the wrong role.  I swear I don’t know a single high performing rep that doesn’t enjoy showing off by demonstrating their product knowledge and account control/management through field travel. 

Plan B

The specific person you have an appointment with in one of your largest accounts becomes unavailable—sick kid, called in to a meeting, sick themselves, emergency etc.  Hopefully they have left you a message or told you when you are verbally confirming your appointment with them the day of the call.  If not, don’t freak.  If their assistant tells you that he/she is sorry and will have to reschedule, you may ask if he/she (the assistant) is available or if there is someone else that she had directed you to see.

No matter what the case, handle it with style and grace.  Visualize the duck….smoothly gliding through the water seemingly effortlessly until you look below the surface and see it paddling like crazy.  Since you are a sales professional, you have already anticipated this possibility, hence THE B PLAN Accounts.  There is no one else that can see you in the account and you have 90 minutes until your next call.  The B Plan in action.

The B plan is simply a backup plan for your original call plan and it can take many forms.  In this scenario there are 2 immediate things that come to mind.

  • Tell whoever is traveling with you that there has been a cancellation and ask if they would like to go somewhere (maybe the lobby of your next call) and chat or he/she can make calls and check emails.  Now before you freak, competent managers know that a fair amount of success in sales comes from adaptability and driving forward.  Even Mr. Rigid Manager will be ok with this.  The fact that you don’t freak and reflex to Plan B will score points.  Drive forward.
  • Tell your guest that your customer cancelled and you have a maintenance call that you are going to squeeze into the schedule. 

Before offering the second option mentioned above, you have surreptitiously called the account and confirmed that it is ok to stop by.  This is more of a “howdy doody” call, so you will have to formulate you single call objective on the fly.  Most reps have customers that like to see them and will welcome the attention.  In the lab world, many customers will take great pride in offering your boss a tour of the lab.

In summary, The B Plan could be called the duck plan.  Your original plan/schedule blew up.  You remain calm and smooth (like the duck on top of the water) but immediately begin paddling to fill the time with productive sales calls.  The big thing to focus on here is that you have already thought about an alternate plan and how to execute it if your A Plan explodes.

Plan C

  • My boss is in town, my schedule exploded and I was hoping we could come by and show you the new X.
  • My boss is in town, my schedule exploded, you have a pulse and won’t throw things at us—will you see us?
  • My boss is in town, my schedule exploded and I will buy pizza for your lab if you can see us and show us X.

Get the picture?  Plan C accounts are accounts that will see you on short notice and generally like you.

The message here is planning.  By investing the thought and effort into well planned field travel, there is no obstacle or circumstance that can make you look bad.  You just flex from A to C if needed.

–Kraig McKee, Senior Recruiter, PHC Consulting

PS – Are you trying to break into medical sales?  Get a picture of what life will really be like on the job with the Ask a Medical Sales Manager posts.



Written by Peggy McKee - the medical sales recruiter
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