5 Steps to Leading a Sales Force Restructuring

sales force downsizing

Leading a Sales Force Restructuring

The annual planning process is the time of year when pharmaceutical sales executives are asked to justify the cost of their sales force. In light of lost revenue with products going off patent, changes in formulary coverage, and evolving decision makers, sales executives are tasked with difficult decisions.

There are several best practices for preparing for a downsizing/restructuring. Before announcing any restructuring/downsizing initiatives, it is important to make sure you have dotted all your “i’s” and crossed all your t’s. The following list covers many of the big picture items that are required for an effective and seamless transition to occur.

Check List Before Announcing any Changes

  • Have all your ducks in a row: Ensure that HR and legal have put all documentation in place. The packages for each sales rep that is being laid off (severance letters and outplacement service offerings etc.) should be prepared and reviewed.  Ensure that the people who are going to contact the sales reps have been trained and know how to effectively communicate what is happening.
  • Act quickly: Even though you may try to keep things quiet, rumors of layoffs will inevitably circulate, creating stress for everyone. Unfortunately,y the rumour mill is running wild with fear and negatively impacting morale, focus and productivity. This is all the more reason to set deadlines and make sure you meet them effectively and efficiently. Procrastination loves to gossip!
  • New vision ready for roll out: Clearly and concisely communicate your new vision. Describe how the organization will be doing business differently, i.e., what the new sales structure looks like, and what the new roles and responsibilities for team members will be. Make sure you carefully craft the rationale for the downsizing to share throughout the organization.
  • Set up individual meetings: It is critical to meet face to face with each employee. Keep meetings brief and factual. Treating those who are being laid off with respect by thanking them for their efforts and offering fair severance packages are important. Word travels quickly and the way people are treated on the way out sends a message to the remaining sales people. Ensure that sales people are being treated fairly in terms of transition packages and with most importantly, with dignity.

Five Steps to Leading Sales Force Change:

The success of your new vision is dependent on the buy-in of your front line sales managers. For any change management program to work it needs to be led from the front lines. It is essential at this time to effectively communicate to the entire organization the new vision. Your front-line managers will look to you for leadership. You must model the behavior you hope to inspire. Your attitude and behaviors throughout the initial phase will send an important message to the entire team.

Given you have been working on the changes for several months, this timeline provides you with the opportunity to deal with your own guilt, anxiety, and fears about the impact that your vision will have on the organization. The front line sales managers, on the other hand, are just starting to deal with their own emotions. They have lost colleagues, sales reps, and friends. They will be dealing with their emotions, anxieties and grief post announcement.

1. Set Post Announcement Metrics: It is essential to set some immediate goals to ensure that the management team is clear on what you are trying to achieve in the short-term. Some goals may be:
• To retain all top performers
• To regain productivity and positivity as quickly as possible
• To transition to a new way of doing business

2. Win their Hearts: You need to win their hearts before you win their minds. Buy-in is crucial. The managers need not only to believe in the changes but in their future roles within the organization. The real work starts after all the announcements have been made and the layoffs completed. Senior sales management must now shift their focus to the remaining sales managers and salespeople.

3. Be an Empathetic Leader: The key is to be open. Listen. Help your staff deal with their emotions and be empathetic. By showing concern and interest, you will be working towards getting everyone back on board. Set up weekly group meetings to provide feedback on how the transition is progressing. Put out the small fires and try to address them before they become infernos.

4. Offer Support: Your efforts need to be focused on coaching and encouraging people to be successful in transitioning to the new vision. Be available, be present, and be there for your people. You may want to offer your sales manager’s access to an executive sales coach to help them deal with any issues. An executive sales coach can help accelerate the transition by offering an unbiased sounding board and be an outlet for managers to discuss issues that they may not be comfortable raising with you.

5. Promote and Communicate Positivity: You need to exude optimism and a “can do” attitude regarding the transition. Promote optimism and positive thinking in all your communications. Be sure to highlight positive movements and all success stories, no matter how minor. Reward each success and allow the people who adjust quicker to become role models for the team.

These are turbulent times in the pharmaceutical industry and sales leadership is the critical factor for managing success and thriving. I offer sales leaders one on one Executive coaching to help them achieve great personal and professional success in light of the challenges they face. Give me a call at 905-737-4548 for a free consultation on how you can achieve breakthrough sales results.

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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 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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