By Tobi Laczkowski, ZS Associates
In today’s complex and challenging health care market, medical device companies have huge opportunity to use analytics to reshape their sales force hiring processes and acquire the best sales talent. As purchasing power shifts away from clinical stakeholders toward economic decision makers and committees, and med device makers adjust their sales processes accordingly, salespeople need new success characteristics and competencies that may not all coincide with those of the past.
The most forward-thinking companies are reevaluating their approach to hiring sales talent, and are using analytics to help them improve decisions at each step of the hiring process. The three largest areas of improvement tend to be the hiring profile, the applicant pool and the selection process.
Redefining the hiring profile
In addition to clinical skills, medical device salespeople today must be able to discuss business value and economics with a new set of decision makers. But training and development programs can only go so far in helping salespeople develop the needed competencies – not every salesperson who was successful in the old environment has the personal characteristics (i.e. the innate traits and abilities) needed to succeed in this new one. This means that companies should reexamine their hiring profiles to ensure that the salespeople they onboard possess the characteristics necessary for success today and in the future.
To find out which characteristics are the most important, device companies are analyzing variation within their own sales forces and using those insights to refine their strategies and tactics. Most likely, a company’s best salespeople – the ones who are succeeding in the new environment – already possess the characteristics that belong in the hiring profile of the future.
Revamping the sales force hiring profile based on analytics starts with identifying a group of outstanding performers to compare against a group of average performers (rather than poor performers). By observing and gathering input about the salespeople in the two groups, companies can then isolate characteristics that discriminate the best from the average performers.
In creating the groups, it’s best to go beyond using traditional performance metrics (e.g. rankings, competency assessments) and use analytics that account for differences in territory market opportunity. This ensures that the success of “outstanding” performers is driven by skill and effort and not by luck (such as an unfair territory).
Armed with this information, med device companies can rewrite their sales force hiring profiles to reflect the characteristics of their best “new world” salespeople. At the same time, they can gain insights for improving training and development programs to help the entire sales force boost the competencies required for success.
Revisiting the applicant pool
A new hiring profile can suggest changing the way a company sources candidates for its applicant pool. The best sales forces routinely report on metrics (e.g. number of applicants, number receiving and accepting an offer, percent retained two or more years with good performance) by recruiting channel (e.g. campus recruiting, referrals, internal placements, internet postings). Tracking these metrics over time provides insights about how applicant pool sources may need to change, especially following a hiring profile adjustment.
Analytics have also helped device sales forces gain insights about the backgrounds of the best candidates. For example, one company used statistical modeling and analyzed five years of historical sales performance data and resume information to determine what kind of prior job experience and educational background was most correlated with sales success. Analysis revealed that many successful salespeople came from nontraditional backgrounds, such as teaching, and had little or no experience in health care or life sciences. The company changed its criteria for screening candidates for the applicant pool, accelerating the rate at which it filled open positions during a major sales force expansion.
Rethinking the selection process
Following a hiring profile change, sales force candidate selection tools (e.g. interview questions, case studies, assessment tests) may need to change as well. Companies have used analytics to track and evaluate the effectiveness of different screening tools.
For example, one company analyzed the validity of a psychological assessment test used for screening candidates for sales positions. The analysis looked at current goal attainment of salespeople who had been with the company two to three years versus the assessment scores they had received as candidates for the job. Not all salespeople with high scores on the assessment test turned out to be strong performers. By studying the outliers, sales leaders identified characteristics that the test under- or overemphasized. They then worked with the company’s human resources group to adjust the test to improve applicant screening.
By using analytics to continually improve sales force hiring processes, device companies can, in turn, improve their attraction and retention of the best sales talent for meeting the challenges of today’s health care market.
About the Author
Tobi Laczkowski is an Associate Principal with ZS in Evanston, Illinois. He was previously based in the firm’s Zurich, Switzerland, location. For more than 10 years, he has worked with clients primarily in the medical products and services industry, helping them improve their sales force effectiveness, go-to-market strategy, organizational design and talent management. Among his recent publications, he is a co-author of The Power of Sales Analytics.