How Roche Diabetes Built a Better Sales Force


What success looks like, and how we got thereBy Jay Graves, Vice President of Sales, Roche Diabetes Care, Inc.

With the introduction of the Affordable Care Act and the ever-changing healthcare landscape, the diabetes care market is one of many areas that have been significantly affected over the last few years. As VP of Sales for Roche Diabetes Care, I have had to evolve and adjust with each change that comes our way, including how we set up our sales team for success. Here’s a snapshot of what has kept my people competitive.

First off, selling diabetes products and medications is extremely complex. This isn’t just a pill, a potion or a shot. Our patients not only need a lot of education— they need ongoing care and attention.

When I thought about this complicated market and then looked at my reps, I saw a percentage of my team that continued to excel, no matter what the market threw at them. It was clear that they were driven, strategic and proactive, but I knew that wasn’t the whole story. What influences this curve of talent, I wondered. How do you identify the core DNA that allows some individuals to succeed no matter the marketplace dynamics?


In our case, there was a large lower tier who, only a few years ago, were doing very well. However, as the selling complexity grew, their performance declined. Next, there was a middle, or core, tier of talented, but struggling people, and lastly, there were our top level performers. The question was, could we uncover a way to unlock the potential of the middle and lower groups and move them toward the top?


I happen to be a geek about behavioral science. So I reached out to a behavior analytics consultant and commissioned a Map of Mind study. This type of study looks at key attributes of top and core performers and then measures the distance between them in experimental, behavioral, motivational, emotional and psychological areas. Additionally, it looks at life and work experiences.

The study assessed randomized groups of 18 top and 18 core performers. Each performer was interviewed extensively to get a mind map of their whole environment. What built you? What motivates you? And finally, how do those traits measure up against results?


In the top tier, the main attribute that identified a high-performer was what is called the “Challenger.” This is a person who will be most likely to succeed in complex solution selling. Here are some of the components of a “Challenger”:

  • They are expert at demonstrating differentiation
  • They deliver meaningful insights
  • They have a flex approach to individual customers—they adapt to each as a unique person
  • They build relationships with an end goal in mind. What am I trying to achieve with this HCP, and what’s the best way to get there?
  • They’re not afraid to challenge the HCP, especially with useful information
  • They are assumptive in their selling approach
  • They create constructive tension: education rather than automatic agreement is vital

In the core group, the main attribute they had in common was what is called the “Relationship Builder” which spotlighted a slightly different personality:

  • They are the least successful at complex solution selling
  • They build relationships in the hope that it will lead to a goal, rather than with a detailed strategy about reaching the goal
  • Their selling tends to be passive
  • They avoid conflict—don’t challenge, don’t differ, just connect and build relationship
  • When forced to push, they are often unsuccessful—they aren’t prepared to deal with any kind of confrontation

It’s important to note that the Challenger is not necessarily aggressive, but confident, knowledgeable and has a passion to teach and direct. The Challenger’s relationshipbuilding skill is one component of a larger goal: to deliver the right information in the right way. One key example where this is illustrated is the Challenger’s focus on the patient. A Challenger will incorporate the story of the patient’s point of view, and how they shouldn’t have to suffer the worst effects of diabetes. This angle drives the conversation in the direction of what HCPs are most concerned with— outcomes. It also indicates a shared mission between the HCP and the rep which ultimately helps establish a path for success.


Stated simply, my goal was to evolve our team culture and dynamic by using the Map of Mind output, ultimately enhancing our results by identifying those on my team who had the ability to shift toward this Challenger mindset. I also wanted to put some swagger in the culture, insofar as it was possible, to hold up an image of what makes a Challenger, and to inspire everyone to reach for it.

It isn’t as easy as that, of course. It involves a wide range of areas, resources and commitment. (See graphic below.)

First, we overhauled the training. Engaged the top and core performers in action groups. Started conversations. Established new standards of performance. Mirrored the behaviors we wanted to see.

And, not surprisingly, there was a lot of feedback. We found that the sales staff was eager to adopt these changes and wanted to be involved in providing their viewpoints and learning as a group. As a result, more peer leadership emerged and we even did some off-site peer led brainstorming sessions. This is where we started to see our core performers emerge into higher performers, and it was exhilarating.

We stopped hiring merely for experience and began hiring for the Map of Mind attributes

Another interesting output of this exercise was that we stopped hiring merely for experience and began hiring for the attributes the Map of Mind had identified. So, for the first time, we recruited new people from non-pharma backgrounds, which expanded our team’s creativity and diversity. Of the fifteen new hires we’ve had recently, one previously sold cars, and another sold mattresses. And they’re all performing spectacularly, with engagement scores through the roof.



  • Roughly 25% of the core performers shifted toward the top performer category
  • The Diabetes Sales Representative was built on behaviors of top performers, which led to the most sales growth
  • Created a bench to fill open positions
  • Lower head count expense due to early in career hiring based on Map of Mind attributes
  • Incredibly low turnover
  • Positive cultural impact

Lessons Learned

  • Be mindful of how you announce an initiative like this, if at all
  • Multiple sales teams allow proof of concept, but it can be cumbersome
  • Requires a significant commitment of time and resources

Looking Ahead

  • Monitor long term sustainability
  • Keep an eye on career mobility expectations of early in career hires


It’s not easy to sum up what makes the ideal rep, but one prime indicator is that they’re motivated by more than money. They see compensation as encompassing involvement, education, improvement and other traits that propel a career.

They’re hungry for all the things that truly define success. They get up early with a purpose every day, and some even spend their “vacation” time working at diabetes camps. They do more preparation, know more detail, and have a plan every time they step into an office. They do personalized micro-strategizing and ensure a deep understanding of each HCP. As a consequence, access to the HCP is not as much of an issue for us as it is industry-wide. Our people don’t categorize doctors as no-sees. They find a way. Even at the larger, corporate practices and hospitals, they learn how to get through to executives and talk their language. And they tell the story: we’re here to make sure you’re doing the best for your patients.

Our people don’t categorize doctors as nosees. They find a way.

They’re not going out to sell products. They’re going out to provide solutions. Which means they get down in the weeds with detail about every aspect of the lives of doctors, nurses, clinicians, executives, and especially patients.

And the proof of all this is in the contrast between our legacy staff and our new hires. (See Pilot Results, next page).

Perhaps the most revealing aspect of this example is that our reps typically have contact with patients, an activity not common across the industry. Because of this and our patient-centric culture, our reps have a high degree of empathy, knowledge and passion around helping patients.

Beyond my professional responsibilities, diabetes affects me personally, as I am one of the millions of people managing this condition every single day. For example, when I’m about to give a talk, my blood sugar levels tend to drop. My team knows to put a bottle of OJ on stage for me versus water. In our culture, this isn’t something seen as odd, but rather just a fact of life when you are living with diabetes. The team understands what it is like to live and adjust to having a chronic condition, and together we are always looking to provide practical solutions that can help all the patients we serve.

That’s how I know they’ve embodied the central principle of our business: “I’m the solution.”

Jay Graves

Vice President of Sales Roche Diabetes Care, Inc.

Jay is responsible for leading all field sales and sales operations functions. Since joining Roche in 2006, he has held several positions within Diabetes Care, including Physician Field Sales Representative, Region Business Manager—Health Care Provider, Region Business Manager—Managed Care, Retail and Distribution, Area Business Director for the Central and Western US, and Region Marketing Director for Blood Glucose Portfolio. Jay began his professional career in 1998 as an Intelligence Officer in the United States Army, where he held multiple leadership positions and global deployments, including tours in South America, Central America, The Caribbean, South Korea, The United Kingdom, Jordan and Iraq

Roche is a pioneer and leader in diabetes care. For over 40 years, Roche has been committed to delivering products that meet the needs of people with diabetes as well as their healthcare professionals. Monitoring systems with software for storing and analyzing data, all-in-one blood glucose systems and state-of-the-art insulin pumps are key parts of Roche’s diabetes care portfolio. These features not only help glycemic control for many users, but also offer greater convenience.

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