Getting Your Staff to Play Well With Others


By Kristen Sharron-Albright


I’d say the same about business. Everyone in your organization sees things through the lens of a personal agenda first, then a group agenda, and finally a corporate agenda. This is why so many companies have sales teams and marketing teams that are always defending their local turf against the other. Which, of course, fractures the goals of the larger enterprise.

But the secret is all in how you define “local.” If sales and marketing have separate goals, objectives and budgets, naturally they’re going to be tugging in separate directions.

How many times have you heard some variant on this conversation?

Marketing: We have the data to show what HCPs are asking for.

Sales: Oh, yeah? Come out in the field and see how well that works.

It’s like an argument over whether football or basketball is the greater sport. Michael Jordan vs. Jim Brown? Makes no sense. Naturally, sales and marketing have different perspectives on the world, based on their different skill sets and experience. As leaders we have to help them see the other’s point of view…and play the same game.

In 2012 we were wrestling with this situation in the Specialty Care North America division of Pfizer. The regional president of the division, had experience working in a franchise model in which sales and marketing report to the same leader. She brought those insights to Pfizer and we put the model into practice. The franchise model allowed sales and marketing to have a seat at the same table and work through business challenges together.

Was it an immediate success? Few initiatives are. Think about it. You’re telling a lot of high-performing professionals (and pharma attracts many of the best) to think about the business in completely new way, put aside some of their long-held attitudes and practices and play by a somewhat different set of rules. And, in a way, you’re telling them to play on a team they considered their rivals. Of course there’s going to be some resistance and friction. There always is when a new team comes together.

So, no surprise, the first year for us was an adjustment. Sales and marketing may have worked together before, but to operate under one head, following the same rules and aiming at the same goals, they went through the traditional phases of unification: storming, norming and, finally, performing.

We had to build bridges, teach them to work as a cohesive unit, using trust and transparency. The leaders had to set expectations and hold people accountable. And that meant the leaders, too, had to learn to work together. This helped everyone align, even if that had to come after a lot of discussion and debate.

Eventually – actually, in a fairly short period of time – it paid off in a high-functioning group of sales and marketing pros all playing the same game.

And I mean “paid off ” in a literal sense, too: by 2013 our products were exceeding business and financial goals for the first time. We ended the year at 107% of our budget! And exceeding goals is important to the company and to individual performance awards. It is also good for morale.

At its core, the idea is simplicity itself: streamline (don’t silo) the organization so you have a mutual vision of where you’re going, and how you’ll get there (instead of “This is my budget and I’m not sharing!”). Do what is right for the business, and enlist everyone in seeing things that way.

Hey, we all work for the same company!

Does that mean we’re happy with where we are? Well, we still have many challenges, as everyone does. Access to HCPs. Using digital capabilities efficiently, and keeping up with what’s happening in that realm. Analyzing data. Developing aggressive but achievable targets. Facing competition head-on. Pipeline, product life cycle, regulation.

But now we’re facing all of that together. And I can tell you – it works! •

Kristen Sharron-Albright is Vice President of Anti-Infective Marketing and Institutional Sales Specialty Care Business Unit, at Pfizer. Kristen is an experienced business leader with 20 years of experience in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. She has a strong track record of delivering results in highly competitive and complex markets. Starting her career in sales at Eli Lilly, she then held positions of increasing responsibility at Lilly, Neurogen, and Pfizer. Today she is responsible for sales and marketing in a franchise business model. In her spare time she volunteers, serves on the leadership committee for her church, and enjoys hiking.


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