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:
- You anticipated your guest’s hotel needs.
- 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.
- You had already sent an email with a brief outline of the accounts to be visited and the objectives for each call.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
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.
- 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
So, your boss calls and says she wants to field travel with you in two weeks. Now what?
As a medical sales rep, your boss will always be evaluating you, looking for how you handle issues and approach problems, and expecting constant improvement. During the call is when you go into action.
First, ask him/her for the dates being considered. If he/she only gives you one option, that means he/she wants to travel then, so make it happen. The only possible valid reasons to inquire if you can schedule another date are scheduled surgery, a death in your family, vacation or you being out of your territory. Their schedule is more complicated than yours most times, so they might not have much flexibility with the dates, even if they would like to.
Find out if they would like hotel suggestions from you. Before you give them a suggestion, call their assistant and ask what kind of hotels they like. Keep in mind that your manager’s needs for a hotel are kind of specific, so suggesting the cheapest isn’t always a win. They most likely aren’t going to have a car, so their hotel needs a restaurant in house or nearby and probably a decent workout room. Sometimes they need a suite-type hotel because they are interviewing or need additional work space. Choices are often determined by the company travel policy, but most are OK with mid-range hotels like Marriott Courtyards or Hampton Inns.
If you are offering hotel suggestions, do it within a couple of hours. Your boss is probably in the process of laying out her schedule for the next few weeks, so getting the info to her sooner makes it easier to finalize and confirm her plans, which might even involve trying to coordinate travel with an event or show or field travel with another rep. Respond with an email within 2 hours with the name and address of the hotel closest to you. Pasting the info from the website is a nice touch—directions, numbers etc. at your boss’s fingertips.
Show that you pay attention to detail. The hotel is probably near your house, so you stop by in the afternoon in business attire and ask to speak to the manager. Be nice and explain that your boss is coming to travel with you and you wondered if the manager of the hotel could take some special care with your boss. That can mean anything from a nicer room to a goodie basket in the room to just greeting them by name. A $10.00 Starbucks gift card and a pleasant demeanor can go a long way to enlisting the hotel manager’s help. Maybe your boss is a runner. Is there a nice health club nearby that you could get her a guest pass to?
Wait a minute, you say: Did I sign on as a host or a sales rep? Remember that you should always use the same skills internally as you externally. And the difference between good and great is only 10%. Don’t both of those apply here? Your boss is going to be helping you be successful, so why wouldn’t you want to make her life as easy as possible as it pertains to traveling with you? By doing these small things and having an awareness, doesn’t it position you as a winner? History says yes.
These same skills–asking the right questions, doing the research, going the extra mile, and making life easy for the manager who can make your life better are the same ones you need to help you get a job within medical sales. All of these skills will help you stand out as a great candidate who gets the job and a sales rep who continues to make a fantastic impression on your boss.
–Kraig McKee, Senior Recruiter, PHC Consulting
PS – Don’t miss the ABC’s of Field Travel and Training Part 1
Are you a seeker?
When managers travel with new medical sales reps, their focus is not just on what they know. They’re trying to help identify what you need to be successful and point you in that direction, and evaluating how you take charge on your own of pursuing the information and the resources you need to be successful.
In other words, they want to know if you are you a seeker. Do you have the info I need? Do you know who might be able to help? How do you take steps to resolve issues or needs? Sometimes it’s a complex customer problem, but sometimes it’s as simple as: How do I get my car fixed? How often can I get it washed? Am I allowed to take customer to lunch? How do I sign up for direct deposit? How do I buy a plane ticket for a customer?
Being a “seeker” is one of the key attributes that is always present in winners.
If you’re not a seeker, it shows up like this: When you’re questioned about your actions, it is someone else’s fault: “Why is your car so dirty?” You answer: “No one told me how often we could get it washed.” A seeker would have asked.
One of my favorite dirty car stories:
Our organization had just gone through the J.M.O. (Junior Military Officer) phase and hired a training class full of JMO’s. The new hires went through 90 days of in-house training and were sent to their territories. The sales trainer then field traveled with them in their territory. One new hire was an ex-Army helicopter pilot and a really pleasant guy.
He shows up at the airport to pick up the trainer (who flew from Boston to the Northwest to travel with this guy) and sees him at the curb. We’ll call the trainer Bob. Bob sees the newbie, waves and heads for the car. He opens the door, sticks his head in the guy’s car and says: “Take this car and have it washed and the interior cleaned and then come pick me up. I’ll stay here and make calls.”
Ninety minutes later the newbie is back at the airport and picks up Bob. Bob gets in the car and tells the newbie, “If you ever have your car that filthy again when someone from the organization comes to travel with you, it could mean losing your job. It goes without saying that you should never have a customer in a car that filthy.”
The newbie was rattled, but tried to pull it together for the rest of field travel.
What is the end of the story? The trainer reported that the newbie would struggle and was ill-suited to a selling role. The manager said she didn’t sense that the newbie was pursuing (doesn’t that mean the same as seeking?) the info and resources he needed. He seemed to be in a bit of paralysis.
Well, this newbie resigned about 60 days later. When he resigned, he told his manager, “Everyday out there is like a war”. “Out there” was defined as selling in his territory for an internationally known diagnostic company! Really nice guy that had been very successful in the Army, but just wasn’t right for sales. He was not a seeker!
A seeker understands that the end responsibility to acquire/identify information, resources or services he/she needs to be successful is theirs. They understand that if they are unsuccessful in the efforts to acquire that information or resource, they are ultimately responsible for the outcome. They apply that same logic to sales success in the field and they are focused on eliminating barriers to success. Not just identifying them and whining about them. Eliminating them. When the task/what needs to occur are beyond their position, they sell their manager on the concept and then solicit support from management. They actively seek the resources they need.
The “seeker” attitude that’s going to help you be successful as a medical sales rep is also what’s going to help you land a job in medical sales in the first place: You have to be aggressive and go after the things that you need to succeed. You solicit support, you tap resources, and you focus on identifying and eliminating the barriers in the way of your goal.
–Kraig McKee, Senior Recruiter, PHC Consulting
Ask a Medical Sales Manager: How will my boss measure my success after my first 90 days as a medical sales rep?
Are you trying to break into medical sales? We talk a lot about preparing for your medical sales interview with a 30/60/90-Day Sales Plan. A well-done plan is your blueprint for the first 3 months on the job–but what about after that? How will your performance be assessed once you’re “on your own”? Well, the stakes get a little higher. “On your own” means the performance meter is running and your evaluation and scrutiny will increase.
Life after the first 90 days as a medical sales rep
Welcome to the big leagues! By now, you better be very familiar with your company’s CRM program (e.g. Salesforce.com) and used to the constant conference calls and/or Facetime calls. If you own or have a company-issued Iphone or Ipad, your regional manager is likely to use that as a tool to update the region’s forecast. What does that mean to you? Don’t be sitting in your jammies at the time the call is scheduled and always have your information and your office area organized.
You’ll probably have very little in-person time with your manager (maybe once a quarter field travel plus national meeting time), so the time you do have with him or her counts. Your manager probably didn’t get to be the manager of your team by not being observant and judgmental, so when you are around your manager, the recorder is running: evaluating your words, actions, and presence. When he/she gets good data and feedback, your life and how your manager deals with you will get better.
Perceptions are reality, so make sure your manager’s perceptions of you create the reality you want. A painting is composed of many brushstrokes, and every interaction is a brushstroke to your manager. Always remember to use the same skills internally as you do externally.
Your hiring manager’s perceptions of you have a big impact on your reality–your life on the job. Some of the rules he has to implement are dictated to him by the company, but on a lot of other stuff, he has discretion on enforcing. For instance, in my experience as a sales manager/director, the rule was that everyone starts out even and everyone does everything for the first 90 days. If you were at or above plan at the end of the 90 days, you got some reprieve based on your performance and compliance. That meant that you had longer to turn in your forecast, your pick of check-in times, your choice of projects to lead, etc.
Influence your hiring manager’s positive view of you
Your attitude and interactions have a big impact on your manager’s perceptions of you, too. (Brushstrokes, remember?) In my 20 years of managing sales reps, I noticed that players always like to have attention and contact. Top reps enjoy chatting with the manager and gaining his or her perspective. Because they’re good, they most often have thought through their situations and have already formed a plan of action, but they believe “two heads are better than one” and are interested in the manager’s input. Reps that are scarcity-based don’t like working in a team environment and rebel at authority. They will have a very difficult life in the corporate world. It doesn’t mean they’re bad, it just means that maybe they’re an entrepreneur and don’t know it yet.
How will your boss measure your success?
My rule was always “Constant Improvement,” and that’s likely to be your manager’s rule, too. As a new rep, that means you should constantly be making strides toward meeting or exceeding your sales goals. So this month is better than last month, and the month after will be better than this one. If you are doing the right things, the right things will happen to get you to that goal.
There are always exceptions and it’s true that if you took over a territory at 65% of plan and after two quarters in the field you’re at 70%, your manager is not likely to be pleased. An improvement of only 5% in 6 months just isn’t fast enough. At that rate, it would take almost 3 years to turn around a poor-performing territory–and if it takes that long, your manager will not likely survive.
10 critical checkpoints to help you stay on track:
1. Have you made face-to-face calls for all of your Best Few prospects in your sales funnel?
a. Have you documented the status of these accounts in your CRM records?
b. Is the sale on track to close? By definition, a Best Few prospect is a 90/90 prospect, meaning 90% is will happen and 90% it will happen in the specified time frame.
c. If it’s off track, have you developed a plan for correction and gained your boss’s input?
2. Have you met all the thought leaders in your territory?
3. Are there any special events/shows planned in your territory? If not, what do you need to do to get one?
4. Have you called Marketing and asked for one of the product managers to field travel with you?
5. Have you corrected any customer satisfaction issues? If it’s a longer-range issue, do you have a plan in place with the buy-in of your boss and the service/technical organization?
6. Have you identified who you can develop as a positive reference/demo site in your territory?
7. Have you met your service engineers and taken them to lunch/breakfast?
8. Are you using a “blown up day” to use as your office day to set appointments? (You haven’t set a particular day like Monday or Friday as your office day every week, have you? You shouldn’t.)
9. You are focusing on accomplishment instead of activity, aren’t you?
10. Are you being a seeker? (Seeking those with information you need.)
Keep a great attitude
Don’t associate/commiserate/communicate with team members that are always negative and complaining.
90% of selling is mental and the rest is in your head.
–Kraig McKee, Senior Recruiter, PHC Consulting
PS – Got questions that only a medical sales manager can answer? Put them in the comments section below.
Dear Medical Sales Manager:
I am a brand new medical device sales rep. I am just starting to meet everyone in the company, and I’ve been warned about office politics, and want to make sure I get off on the right foot. Got any advice?
Dear Medical Sales Rep—
The biggest thing I want you to remember is to use the same skills internally as you do externally. Now what does that mean? It means to use the same people skills that you have for dealing with customers to also deal with the people in your company.
People in the home office have a huge impact on your success in the field—everyone from the person that reviews and pays your expenses to the person that manages your demo inventory to your boss’s administrative assistant—although there are many others. Use your people skills to work with them, and don’t be surprised if you run into these things:
1) Some “inside” people have no idea what’s really involved in managing a field-based sales territory. They think you call customers, take them to lunch and then they buy (kind of like that ad for La Quinta with the Eskimos-We’ll take 90, 000 units). As a result, sometimes you get attitude because they think there is no way you work as hard as they do. Not everyone will think like that, but it isn’t an uncommon thing. It’s not really that different from some of your customers who don’t realize how hard you work, either. In both cases, you have to modify how you communicate with them.
2) Some people are just difficult to deal with. Period. They are scarcity-based people that only see the glass half-empty. They dislike you because you have “The High Pro Glow”, i.e. you radiate confidence and being a winner. It doesn’t matter—you still have to deal with them (just like you have to deal with customers who are jerks) so get over it and find a way to manage the situation. It normally involves being nice, learning more about that person’s family and interests and just plain biting your lip sometimes.
Here are some more specific tips for you:
- When you go in house for training, take the time to introduce yourself to EVERYONE. The switchboard operator and the people in shipping are often overlooked—but they shouldn’t be.
- $10 Starbucks cards go a long way. Buy some yourself (don’t expense them) and hand them out to people you will be working with. The person that handles your travel is another great candidate for some love.
- If your facility has a cafeteria, buy or organize a lunch for your internal team when you are in house. Also, try and never eat alone while you are in house. The networking time will help you in the long run.
- Almost all internal organizations have recognition programs. Find out how they measure superior performance and submit nominations for those on your internal team when they deliver customer delight.
- Don’t forget to praise your internal team (anyone who’s helped you) for their support whenever you get any positive attention.
That’s what I mean when I tell you to use the same skills internally as you do externally. Keep your co-workers happy with you by using the same skills that keep your customers happy.
Dear Medical Sales Manager:
I’m thrilled to report that I landed the job (and I used a 30/60/90-Day Plan to do it–my manager said that’s what put me over the top) but now I’m starting to get overwhelmed with all of the details I’ve got to take care of just to get started. There’s a ton of paperwork and I already have to make travel arrangements to meet with him, which I wasn’t expecting just yet, and I’m afraid of making a mistake.
First off, find your confidence. Have you ever heard the saying, “Even a blind squirrel can find an acorn occasionally”? That’s not you. That doesn’t happen in today’s competitive job market, so you are in that job because you won. You beat out your competitors with your strategic plan, and now you’ve got to put it into practice. Your job is, like most medical sales positions, a field based job–meaning that most of what gets accomplished in your territory is up to you. You are responsible for the sales production or gross margin and your evaluation will reflect how well you perform compared to the goals your manager set for you. You can do it.
There are a lot of details to cover in your first week on the job: administrative tasks such as signing documents that add you to the company’s healthcare, voicemail/email, car insurance, Company Charge Card, or SalesForce.com account, and probably your manager will review the territory’s performance (sales/goal), review the sales funnel and your “Best Few” prospects (which by Strategic Selling definitions means those accounts with a 90% probability of closing in the next 30 days), company expense policy and how to fill out an expense report and his expectations of your performance in the next 90 days. Take it all one step at a time.
Speaking of expense reports, let’s talk about your travel plans: first, don’t panic. Ask your manager if they use an in-house travel department and get the contact info. Most likely, you will call the travel agent and they will book the flight for you. Find out your company’s particular travel policies (regarding direct flights, connection times, preferred airlines, etc.) and then go with the flow. By that, I mean don’t make a big deal if you get handed arrangements you’re not happy with–fix those later on your own.
It is perfectly ok to ask if the tickets will go on a corporate card (you probably won’t have yours by now) or if he wants you to charge it and then get reimbursed via expense report. If you don’t have a credit card (I would ask why, but I’m sure there are some valid reasons) tell your manager that and ask him how else they can get the ticket to you. Sometimes they will pay for the ticket and have it waiting at the ticket counter for you.
From the manager’s perspective, none of these scenarios would reflect negatively on the new rep–although, expectations of new hires are directly correlated to the skills they said they have and those required for the job. In this case as a newbie, none of this would be a black mark or negative. If you were a Senior Corporate Account Exec I would wonder how you would negotiate good contracts for the company and be a winner when you couldn’t manage your own travel.
Whether it’s administrative details or travel arrangements or anything else, let me say this: If your new boss asks you to do something on Monday and you’re afraid to make a move until you talk to him, but you don’t manage to connect with him until Wednesday (for whatever reason), you have a problem. If you wait that long to do anything and be proactive toward your own success, I think you will be destined for mediocrity. The sales field is just like that corny cartoon where you have two vultures on a tree limb. One says to the other, “The heck with waiting for something to die…I’m going to kill something.” Embrace that attitude of action, self-planning, and responsibility (not the killing part!) and you will be a top performer.