How to build an effective sales team | Inquirer Business

How to build an effective sales team

/ 02:02 AM January 05, 2024

How to build an effective sales team

AJ Astoriano —Contributed photo

AJ Astoriano is senior regional manager for sales force effectiveness in Asia at Zuellig Pharma, which offers a comprehensive suite of services encompassing distribution, sales, marketing and health-care solutions. AJ Astoriano was a featured speaker at the Mansmith Sales Summit (revisit her insightful session at In this exclusive interview, she elaborates on the topic of pharmaceutical sales enablement.

Question: New members of the salesforce are inundated with a wealth of information, including details about products, sales techniques, territory management and more. How do you assist them in synthesizing and integrating extensive information?

Answer: Critical to ensuring that the sales force is not overwhelmed with the wealth of information are three things: 1) competency-based training, 2) phasing and 3) feedback.


Initial training programs and all training programs must be anchored on functional competencies, skill sets that will ensure they are effective in their sales roles. For the sales force at Pharma distribution, these are selling skills, territory management and knowledge (on products, systems and processes). Training program contents should include simulations, role plays and case studies that closely resemble the actual selling situation in the local context (i.e., not hypothetical scenarios or examples from very different market landscape or industries). Doing this will help make the sales force apply the learning to their work instantly.


Training programs must be phased. There are a lot of aspects and angles to cover, but they cannot be downloaded to the salesforce in one instance. Training programs must be designed into a curriculum, with modules given in at least six months interval. This is to allow the sales force to fully develop the skills learned from previous training first before a new module is introduced to them.

Sales managers must also observe sales representatives’ execution of newly learned skills, to provide feedback and coaching. This will help the sales rep work on areas for improvement to fully develop the skills.

Q: Given the substantial size of your sales force, how do you pinpoint areas of weakness in individual team members without necessitating fieldwork assessments?

A: In the absence of fieldwork assessment, we leverage on the performance of the sales force in sales and their sales force effectiveness key performance indicators (SFE KPIs). We look at their sales versus set targets, and we drill down sales by product (even down to stock keeping units) and by customer. We can compare those versus historical customer and product sales. Nonachievement of sales targets and low sales performance, in the absence of any major change in the socio-political landscape, indicate gaps that need to be addressed.

In our organization, we have core SFE KPIs, which we measure and have set standards for. KPIs for sales reps include percent selling time (i.e., the amount of time spent selling versus total days worked), call reach (i.e., the number of customers seen within a period), etc. We use these to measure capability and ability to adhere to company standards in the performance of their tasks.

Q: What early indicators do you look for to differentiate between new salespeople who are poised for success and those who might struggle? Additionally, within what time frame do you typically observe these indicators?

A: An early indicator that a sales rep will succeed is getting certified in our selling program. After training, every sales rep is subjected to a certification assessment.

Thereafter, three to six months on the job typically gives us the “signs” that will tell whether a salesperson will be successful. During this period, sales managers will spend more time with new sales reps to provide feedback and coaching.


Q: What strategies do you employ to recognize and cultivate exceptional sales talent within your team, and how do you ensure their sustained motivation and engagement?

A: Rewards and recognition programs that cultivate a pay-for-performance culture are key in keeping the sales force motivated and in ensuring they remain engaged. Simplicity and clarity in incentive schemes and metrics are also crucial.

On top of the usual incentive programs, having annual competitions for the best salespeople are also good motivators. In our organization, we have an annual competition and awards for the best salespeople (sales reps, sales managers, etc.). These competitions are held locally and the best of the best in each market gets to compete with the best of the best in other markets to vie for the regional annual awards.

Indeed, not all sales reps could become supervisors. To avoid any organizational setback in relation to this, on top of honing functional competencies, it is ideal for potential talents to be assessed on their leadership competencies as well. For sales rep career promotion or movements, careful assessment of qualifications, skills and capabilities are conducted, including competency assessment exams and interviews. Inductive training for newly promoted supervisors must be in place. Subsequently, immediate superiors of these newly promoted supervisors must regularly spend time working with them, to provide feedback and coaching.

Q: Could you highlight a particularly challenging market or situation that your team navigated successfully, and the lessons learned from it?

A: I think many industries, including ours, share the resilience we have all managed to hone as an outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have started to employ an omnichannel selling approach because of the restrictions on customer access in view of the lockdowns that happened across the country and in most countries where we operate. We have all taken ourselves out of the box (from the usual face-to-face customer engagement) and into employing various other creative ways of reaching our customers remotely, such as virtual calls, communicating via company-allowable social media apps, email campaigns, etc. These new ways of working have allowed us to maintain our engagement with our customers despite the distance and restrictions.

Q: How do you assess and measure the effectiveness of your sales enablement?

A: It can be measured through various metrics. These include process improvements through automation, savings through optimization, increase in revenue and increase in customer satisfaction. Any, a combination or all (depending on the company’s goals and priorities) can be good indicators of sales enablement effectiveness.

Q: How does your approach to territory management differ from that of other pharmaceutical companies?

A: Our line of business allows us to cater to the needs of our customers and our territories from a holistic perspective—from demand and sales generation, to order taking, then order fulfillment and collection. As we carry portfolios of products from multiple clients, in most cases, we can provide a suite of products and services to offer customers. Hence, our territory management approach is factoring not only into a single product or product portfolio and not focusing mainly on the high value products but on the needs of our customers and on the services we provide.

Q: Can you discuss any ethical challenges you’ve encountered in pursuing sales effectiveness, and how your team has addressed them?

A: The key ethical dilemma that we normally encounter revolves around data confidentiality. As we have visibility on the promotional activities and sales achievements of different products and clients, we are always asked by clients how we maintain an “ethical wall” on the exchange or transfer of information to and between departments and personnel who are responsible for other clients or competing clients.

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We espouse a strong compliance culture at Zuellig Pharma. We set clear boundaries between departments and ensure we have a mechanism to limit the flow of information only to those authorized to access data of the clients assigned to them. There are annual compliance trainings and assessments that employees go through, so ethical standards are instilled and audits are in place to ensure that the standards are practiced. —Contributed 

TAGS: Marketing, sales

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