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Leading the Little Rascals?

One of my favorite shows growing up on Saturday mornings was, “The Little Rascals.” I have to admit I even like watching the remake movies with my grandkids because they bring back such great memories and still make me laugh.

I’m pretty sure everybody reading this has seen at least one episode of The Little Rascals where Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla, Buckwheat, Froggy, and last but not least Petey, would raise hell and try to shortcut everything possible from school, to work, to the Soapbox Derby Race, and everything in between. In the end, there was usually some type of “learning” for this rambunctious group of kids that was meant to help them grow.

While I find the show and spin-off movies quite funny, I marvel at how even today upper leadership of companies at times look upon sales teams as their own group of Little Rascals – undisciplined, cutting corners, etc.  Following is a true case in point.

I was fortunate enough to be hired as the National Sales Director for Eisai. My main responsibility was to build and launch the sales force for Eisai for the launch of Aricept, a new promising agent for Alzheimer’s. Never a fan of call metrics, I made the decision that our sales force would not have a prescribed call activity target.

About four months after we launched the sales force, Eisai felt it prudent to have a US President and they brought in an individual from a large pharma company. A few months later we had the following conversation.

President: “Hey, I just realized that we don’t have a daily call activity target for our reps.”

Me: “We don’t.”

Pres: “Why?”

Me: “I hired professionals.”

Pres: “So how do they know your call activity expectations?

Me: “Our people understand the value Aricept can have for our patients and they realize that the only way to get Aricept in the hands of these patients is by calling on their targeted physicians. I simply asked them to make as many calls as they can each and every day to do that.”

Pres: “Well, that’s nice but our partner reps need to make 13 calls per day.”

Me: “How many are they making?”

Pres: “13.2”

Me: “Shocking.”

Pres: “How many do we make?”

Me: “I have no idea.”

Pres: “Well, find out.”

The sales team did report calls as we left samples so the next day I had his answer.

Me: “I found out how many calls we are making.”

Pres: “And?”

Me: “13.6”

Pres: “Really?”

Me: “Yep.”

Pres: “Well, we still need a call activity target.”

Me: “Why?

Pres: “How are they going to know what you expect without a target?”

Me: “They have a target. Make as many calls you can that day to get this incredible medication in the hands of our patients who so desperately need it.”

Pres: “We need a number and I want it communicated soon.”

I used this example of a prescribed call activity simply because I often see it. I’ve also seen the “Little Rascal” mentality displayed via rules of having mobile phones at work, required signing-on of iPads by 8:00 AM every day, early morning manager call-ins, etc.

While these initiatives have been instituted in the effort to drive performance, unfortunately they send a strong message – we don’t trust you and see you as the Little Rascals rather than adult, self-motivated, professionals.

And we wonder why employee engagement is so low.

I believe strongly in the foundational human desire to work hard and to do an excellent job at whatever the task may be. And I believe that foundational desire can be harnessed if we treat sales teams not as the Little Rascals but as trusted, sales professionals who fully understand and embrace their responsibilities and work hard to achieve and exceed those responsibilities.

Of course, there are the naysayers who state that this approach will be taken advantage of by some and no doubt they are 100% correct.

But I also believe that one can’t cut corners, do less than is expected, AND also achieve a performance that is comparable to that of their peers who are not taking advantage of the trust you place within them. It simply doesn’t happen long-term because those who are working so hard, those who you trust to do what they are supposed to do and deliver upon the expectations of the organization, and more importantly themselves, will excel. And those who don’t, will fall behind.

And then my friends, you will know the very few on your team who are indeed the Little Rascals, and more importantly, the many who are the trusted, sales professionals you, your company, and your customers desire and need to take your brands and company to greater heights of success.

Have a safe and successful week everyone!

4 thoughts to “Leading the Little Rascals?

  • Avatar

    Great message, too bad Big Pharma does not have the same vision.

    • Avatar
      Dean Hart

      Frank, great to hear from you! I think it transcends big or small pharma. Unfortunately, you see it almost everywhere but then again, in both Big and Small pharma, I have also seen leaders who treat the sales team as the professionals they are. It is enlightening and not surprisingly, leads to a culture of strong, enduring performance.

  • Avatar

    I find this an extremely excellent observation. After over 30 years in pharma I have seen this over and over again.
    “More calls lead to increased sales” is the standard reply to how do we increase sales.
    Needless to say, when you ask for bananas, you get bananas! Just telling the sales force that more calls are expected doesn’t make access better, nor does that mentality drive more sales.
    Trust your people to do the job that they were hired to do. Most times it is better for management to get out of the way and let the folks in the field do the real sales work. Just my two cents worth.

    • Avatar
      Dean Hart

      Thank you Mark! Appreciate your comments and perspectives!


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