A standout sales manager can be the catalyst for a pharma team’s success, driving strategy, building a cohesive team, and managing budgets and resources in a way that dramatically benefits the business.

But what are the ideal skills and qualities of successful pharma and medical device sales managers?

Whether you’re looking to become an exceptional pharma sales manager, or are looking to recruit a star sales manager to run your team, here are the critical qualities that you should be seeking.

1. They have to be able to wear multiple hats.

A sales manager is almost always promoted to their position because of an impressive history of sales success, but that is not enough to even ensure they will be a competent sales manager, let alone a great one. The best managers are highly adaptable and well-rounded, able to switch from a big-picture strategy to analysing daily sales figures, and from balancing the budget to intervening smoothly in a team conflict.

Promising candidates have a diverse resume with many strings to their bow, and can comfortably switch from chatting about budgets to strategy to sales techniques to leadership in the interview.

2. They genuinely want others to shine.

This may seem an obvious one, but unfortunately, many ex-sales stars promoted to management can face a tough time adjusting to other salespeople being in the limelight. Micro-managing and forcing salespeople to use their own preferred sales tactics are two ways that the difficulty to transition from ‘star’ to ‘supporter’ can manifest.

Promising candidates are those who share the credit and talk about the role of teamwork in their past successes. Additionally, they happily acknowledge their mistakes—a great sign they’ll remain accountable and won’t blame the team for their mistakes.

3. They treat each salesperson as an individual.

Some pharma managers have a particular style of management, whether authoritarian, easy-going, high praise or hands-off, and expect everyone to adjust accordingly. Star managers, however, know that different people respond to different management styles, learning styles, and motivational techniques and the manager then adapts to the individual’s preferences accordingly. The importance of a manager being adaptable in this way to get the best results from their team cannot be overstated.

Promising candidates are those who show they’ve maintained good relationships with different members of their team and managers and senior leaders in the organisation (particularly with people that others often find ‘difficult’). People who can interact with people from all walks of life and form mutually beneficial relationships are desirable sales manager material.

4. They can inspire a team to change.

Inspiration is a powerful driver of human behaviour, and the best sales managers can carve out a vision, communicate it, and get the team on board. A great leader is a storyteller, one that can tell the story in slightly different ways to different people so that they can see how they fit into the big picture as an individual, and how their input is vital to the team’s success.

5. They are organised and detail-focused.

It is not enough to be inspirational. Sales managers who talk big but fail to keep momentum, or are unreliable or erratic in the delivery of their plan, are doomed to failure. A top pharma sales manager will be extremely detail-focused and have a step-by-step plan for the project.

Promising candidates are those who can prove how they attained success in the past, what steps they took, what was the goal/obstacles etc. Additionally, if asked what they believe they can do for the team, promising candidates don’t just talk about their strategy and ideas loosely or grandly but show they have a plan to deliver the outcome. Their references should highlight the candidate’s reliability and organisation skills.

6. They know when to intervene.

Being a sales manager means knowing when to act decisively, whether that’s jumping in to coach a salesperson when they notice a bad habit creeping into their calls, knowing when to intervene to head off a team conflict, or knowing when to put more resources into training an underperforming team member versus when to let them go.

Promising candidates are those with high emotional awareness who give excellent answers to competency-based questions such as ‘Tell us about a time when you had to discipline a team member or resolved a conflict with a colleague.’

One thing is sure, pharma salespeople going for sales manager roles generally have the gift of being able to ‘sell and persuade’. It’s therefore up to sales manager candidates and hiring managers to ensure that there’s detail behind that pitch.