Quantum Blog

06 Aug

Field Based Trainers Playbook: Rock, Paper, Scissors

The below article written by Jill Fenton was featured in a Special Field Training issue of LTEN Magazine’s Special Digital Issue – Focus on Training, Summer 2017.

Although they are utilized differently across the industry, field based trainers (FBTs) tend to have certain characteristics in common: They are high potential, high performing individuals on a developmental career path. They strive for success, exceed superiors’ expectations, and set an even higher bar for themselves. But despite their talents, many FBTs don’t achieve the same level of success in their training role as they did in the field.

According to George Mimms, Sr. Training Manager, Emerging Managers and Field Based Trainers at Genentech, “Most field trainers have dual responsibility (territory management and FBT duties), therefore strong “primary” job performance is a must. At the same time, performance as an individual contributor doesn’t ensure someone will be a great field trainer. As field trainers are responsible for training, mentoring, and providing supplemental leadership within the team, the exceptional field trainers I’ve worked with were great influencers.”

From my experience, an FBT’s success is directly linked to how well we set them up as successful player-coach influencers.

Why is this?

Most successful sales people aren’t consciously aware of how they do it; it’s in their DNA. Their default behaviors are spot on and instinctive.  Although they exhibit these behaviors consistently, they do so unintentionally. This carries over to how FBTs train their peers: Many use a “show and tell” approach by teaching their peers to sell the way they do. The FBT “tells” the rep what he or she is doing wrong and then “shows” him or her how they would do it themselves.

While transferring this knowledge and then modeling what “good” looks like can be effective, research has shown that most sales execution gaps are behavioral in nature. In other words, the rep has sufficient knowledge and skill to perform at a high level but has developed some bad habits that are holding him or her back. Too often we try to resolve a behavioral gap by throwing more knowledge and skills training at the problem. This rarely results in behavioral change that sticks. People naturally revert back to their old habits shortly after the field ride or workshop ends.

So how do we set these player-coaches up to be highly successful field based trainers?

It all begins with level setting on the three critical aspects of sales excellence: knowledge, skill, and behavior.  Although acquired independently, collectively they determine one’s ability to consistently drive sales results.   It’s a little like the game, Rock, Paper, Scissors. Having all three options available gives you the ability to win the round, provided you deploy them at the right time and in the right combination. But if you only had Rock or Paper available, your chances for success would decrease significantly.

The same is true of sales success. Knowledge and skill will take us only so far – it’s our consistent default behaviors that ultimately determine our fate.  Since the FBT’s natural tendency is coaching to knowledge and skills, we can set them up for success by training them on how to create behavioral change that sticks.

4 Simple Steps to Changing Behavior

FBTs often confuse teaching and training. Teaching involves the transfer of information and answers the question, “what?” However, that generally doesn’t lead to lasting behavioral change. For change to stick, you must go beyond providing the “what” to answering the “so what?” This requires establishing both an intellectual and an emotional connection.

In over 20 years of first-hand field-based research into what separates top performers from their middle-performing counterparts, Quantum Learning has identified 4 simple steps that are

proven to create lasting behavioral change; in other words, providing the “so what?”


To bring these 4 steps to life, let’s look at the scenario of Steve and Nicole:

Steve is new to the company having recently been downsized from a large pharmaceutical company where he had the same territory for 10 years.  Nicole, the FBT in Steve’s district, has been in this role for 6 months.

Nicole’s DM has just left her a voicemail sharing that he recently observed that Steve is having trouble closing.  The DM tells Nicole to “take a half-day off territory and work with Steve to fix his closing problem.”


Even before meeting Nicole, Steve is familiar with her significant sales expertise. He knows that Nicole is the number one rep in the district and among the top 5% of reps in the company.
But to have credibility with Steve, Nicole must not only demonstrate her expertise; she must also establish a relationship.

Nicole recognizes that before she starts to talk to Steve about closing, she must ensure that he feels understood. Does he think he has a problem? Does he want to change? What drives him and motivates him to succeed? How does he perceive his ability to be successful? If he could be more successful, how would that help him achieve his personal goals and objectives? Does Steve really have a closing problem or is this a byproduct of another gap such as inadequate strategic planning, or failing to engage the customer in dialogue? Does Steve make assumptions about the customer’s commitment or does he test the customer’s readiness to commit by asking a trial close?

This step takes time and preparation. And here is where Nicole’s efforts could be derailed. In the back of her mind, she hears her DM’s voice telling her to only “take a half-day off territory and work with Steve to fix his closing problem.”  Given this time restriction, Nicole might be tempted to simply provide a solution for Steve, rather than work with him on the necessary behavioral change.

The big “ah-ha” in this step is to see things through the other person’s eyes and frame your arguments to appeal to them. Nicole should share her specific observations of what Steve is doing well and encourage him to intentionally do more of it. She should also highlight specific behaviors she’s observed that may be holding Steve back, inviting discussion and encouraging honest feedback from him.  By tailoring her recommendations through Steve’s eyes and packaging them in a way that shows Steve how changing will help him achieve the things he wants for himself, Nicole is demonstrating best-in-class influencing behavior.

To master a new behavior, it’s most effective to connect a new behavior to something you’re already doing well that you want to keep doing. For instance, Nicole observes that Steve is not testing the customer’s readiness to commit by asking a trial close, but that he is proficient at delivering clinical messages and getting buy-in from the customer on the significance of the data. She recognizes that because the customer agrees with the data presented, Steve assumes the customer will connect the dots between the clinical study results and the desired patient outcomes. Steve hopes that this will result in increased utilization of his product. But, hope is not an effective sales strategy. Trial closing is.

After pointing out what Steve is doing well, Nicole explains that he’s not connecting the customer’s buy-in of the data to something the customer may want to achieve in his or her own practice. She suggests that every time Steve delivers a clinical message he remembers to ask the customer’s opinion on whether these clinical results are consistent with what he wants for his own patients.  Nicole points out that if the physician says, “Yes,” Steve should pivot to asking him to prescribe and then review steps for streamlining patient access. If the answer is “No,” Steve can ask, “Why is that?” The answer will tell Steve what his next incremental goal should be for this customer.

By linking the behavior change Nicole seeks to influence (asking a trial close) to something Steve is already doing well (delivering clinical data) she’s made it easy for Steve to say “yes” to the change. And she’s provided a simple process to make it stick.

Nicole cannot be successful at influencing Steve without balanced emotion.  Steve must believe that Nicole’s commitment goes beyond her need to comply with what her DM has asked her to do. If Steve perceives that Nicole genuinely cares about his success, believes in his ability to achieve his goals, and is his partner in helping him to achieve them, he will give discretionary effort to fulfill Nicole’s belief in him and live up to her expectations for his success.

This is often referred to as “Pygmalion Management.” A sculptor in Greek mythology, Pygmalion, carved a statue of a beautiful woman and then fell in love with her.  He treated her as a real woman and she came to life. This notion that the one person can transform another by the way they treat him or her was the inspiration for George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” which was the model for the musical, “My Fair Lady.” Express your belief and expectation in someone and they will respond by fulfilling that belief. Conversely, if you signal that you don’t believe in them, they will fulfill that belief as well.

Applying the story of Pygmalion to Steve and Nicole that people respond the way they are treated, we see that Steve will respond to the way he perceives he is being treated by Nicole. The extent of Steve’s belief that Nicole genuinely wants him to be successful and that she believes in his success will determine whether or not he actually achieves that success.

“There is a great deal of research to suggest that peer influence is far more effective in creating sustainable change and performance than traditional methods such as contests and target incentives,” says Mimms.

“Strong FBTs are uniquely qualified to accelerate team impact and performance.  The best FBTs don’t just rely on their positional authority as the designated trainer to set them apart,” Mimms continued. “They are exceptional in building relational authority given to them by the people they work with.  It’s this latter authority earned through unfettered competence and selflessness towards others that make them a force-multiplier and catalyst to strong performance.”

As Directors, Managers, and mentors of Field Based Trainers, we have the opportunity and responsibility to empower FBTs with these 4 simple things. In doing so, we’ll ensure that they have the “Rock,” “Paper,” and “Scissors” they need to influence behavioral change that sticks.