5 Ways to Win at Pharmaceutical Business Acumen

Steven Rosen - Star Results Blog

The Oxford English Dictionary defines acumen as “the ability to make good judgments and quick decisions.” Our definition of pharmaceutical business acumen is the ability to make critical business decisions (targeting and strategic resource allocation) to achieve sales objectives.

There are many challenges involved in developing strong pharmaceutical business acumen in your sales force. In this article, I want to share some of the best ways to win the game.

Building strong pharmaceutical business acumen requires a multi-dimensional approach that involves training people and creating processes that can facilitate your people. The key is to start by aligning your processes to support the critical thinking required to help your sales force achieve its sales objectives.


Dollar objectives not aligned with Rx Data by customer

Your sales reps are giving annual sales quotas by product, and their incentive plans all have a strong weighting towards dollar achievement. Your organization purchases 3rd party data to effectively track dollar sales by product by FSA/territory and let them know how they are doing versus objective.

Sales reps are given a range of the number of physicians they should target (reach) and a range of times each physician should be seen (frequency) in a year. The sales reps must decide which physicians, specialists, pharmacies, and hospitals in their territory will be called upon.


1) help your reps make better strategic decisions

To help your reps make better strategic decisions arm them with actionable customer information (dollar sales, growth and sales potential by a physician).

Reps are also asked to allocate their resources to their territory in the best way to meet their objectives. There are great 3rd party data that is acquired to help the sales reps decide which doctors are the best to target. This data is delivered in scripts, yet the sales reps quotas are in dollars. Your sales reps need to be able to answer the following questions when developing their business plan:

  • “Where is my new business is going to come from?”
  • “Which physicians represent the best opportunity to achieve my objectives?”
  • “How should I effectively allocate my resources to achieve my objective?”


2) Design of business planning templates

Design of business planning templates requires customization at each level. The need to be the ability to easily make changes and update those changes across districts and regions.

Business planning is usually a top-down and bottom-up process. Your business planning templates need to be able to support and integrate across marketing-sales management and sales representative. Templates need to capture analysis and be able to capture key strategic decisions at each level of the planning process.


3) Changing Mindset

Professional pharmaceutical sales representatives have gone through immense change or the last number of years. They have been asked to evolve from a traditional detailer to an actual salesperson. They have been asked to move the sales along and not just provide product features and benefits. The next evolution of the sales rep is to a business person. As decision making is moving closer to the customer sales reps, need to make strategic decisions with limited resources. To many, this is not what they signed up for.

Sales managers who were once sales reps and their sales representatives and their sales managers who have come.


4) Develop a business planning and review process

The key to making business planning work is creating greater accountability for the sales force. Senior sales leaders need to set up a quarterly review process to ensure that sales managers are effectively executing their area/district plans. In turn, sales managers need to be taking their salespeople through the same process. The purpose of this is to

  • Ensure that salespeople/managers have done what they said they were going to do.
  • That there have been learning’s on what worked and what didn’t work.
  • Given there are always opportunities and challenges that the individual can demonstrate that they know what they are
  • And finally that the sales rep/manager is doing something to address their opportunities and challenges


5) Leading Change with a Vision

Every company may have their definition of business acumen. It is incumbent on the sales leader to generate buy-in from the management team and the sales force on his vision of business acumen and the new pharmaceutical sales force. Business acumen is not an event it is a strategic direction a company decides to go. Although a company may adopt many of its processes and train its salespeople, it is in the hands of leadership to direct and guide not only the sales organization but support departments as well.  The need for greater alignment in the new era of customer-focused business models requires it.



With fewer resources sales leaders need to become more strategic in how they grow their business. Many have chosen to move in more business and customer-focused direction. The challenge is how to do it. We have discussed several important variables to making the transition. The reality is that it requires a multi-faceted approach. Sales leaders need to align the entire organization, adapt business planning processes, information systems, and train salespeople and their managers.

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Steven Rosen 2022

Hi, I’m Steven Rosen, and I’ve been coaching sales executives for over 20 years!


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Steven Rosen - Executive Sales Coach


Steven A. Rosen

Steven helps companies transform sales managers into great sales leaders. His focused coaching helps clients achieve greater personal and professional success. Steven is the author of 52 Sales Management Tips - The Sales Manager’s Success Guide.

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