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When it comes to gaining a competitive advantage, the puck stops with you

6 mins read
Matthew Moxon

Lace up your ice skates

If you want to know the steps your field teams should take to maintain a competitive advantage and deliver tangible business results through deep knowledge, the right mindset, actionable insights, and real-world application, you might need to start on the ice…

“On the ice?” I hear you say. Yes, where my 13-year-old son first found his competitive edge. This year has been his first season playing for a team and it has been an incredible learning curve. His development in terms of skill, tactics, and mindset has been a joy to behold.

He has progressed from the 3rd line to the 1st as a Defenseman and really engaged with the tactics. I remember his first ever game (a close 3-5 loss) and his disappointment, but also his resilience and determination to improve, which is critical when it comes to competitive advantage, no matter what field you’re in.

He quickly realized that the other team had 2 top-class players (both playing for England U15s), while the rest of the team were of a similar standard to his. This is a common feature of the teams he faces, which means the tactical approach is quite simple: get our best Defenders to limit their best players, and get our best Forwards on the ice where they aren’t. They continuously work as a team and with their coach, to plan their tactics as the season progresses.

This way, they defend and nullify their competitor’s strength, whilst attacking and optimizing their own strength.

Makes sense, right?

Good, because this thinking can be translated from the hockey rink to the (pharma) field.

Balance offense and defense

In the pharmaceutical industry, there are always new competitors bringing new or biosimilar products to market, or new data to defend against. This, combined with the needs and expectations of customers continually evolving, means things never stay still for long.

It means our field teams have to be continually sharpening their competitive edge.

Add to that the challenge my son’s ice hockey team faces – the need to balance defending against the competition with proactively playing to your strengths – and it makes for a tough task.

So, what to do?

We’d recommend following our SONAR process:

First, we need to scrutinize and take a deep dive into the competitive landscape. Just like the opposition on the ice, we need to have a deep understanding of ourselves and our competitors. How does the data compare on clinical efficacy, safety, persistence, and guidelines? How do the corporate and marketing messages compare? This is not surface-level, like thin ice on a lake; it is deep insight.

“If you know your competitor and you know yourself, you have nothing to fear.”

Adapted from Sun Tzu, Art of War


With that data, we can then start to identify strengths and weaknesses. Where are they confident? What are they concerned about?

But this is not just about understanding the data. We need to get into the shoes (or skates) of our competition, see things through their eyes and observe: How are they thinking and feeling? What are their tactics? What will they be dialing up and dialing down? What opportunities are they looking to take? How are they going to counter the threat of our product?

This insight into both our product and the competition enables us to truly sharpen our edge and balance offense and defense.

Just like my son’s ice hockey team. If all they did was react to the opposition and try to prevent them from scoring, they would never score themselves! They need to combine that with leveraging their own strengths. It’s this competitive mindset that led to a magnificent 5-4 victory the next time they played that 1st team – leading to a huge celebration at the end.

Tailor your tactics

The right mindset enables the team to carry out the right tactics – tailored to different scenarios and opponents.

This is how field teams need to be, tailoring engagements to each customer. There is so much data that customers have to deal with; we need to cut through the noise and pick the one or two things that matter to that customer at that moment in time. In an omnichannel world, unless everything is joined up, tailored, and focused, messages will get lost.

This is why deep knowledge, a tailored approach, and selling skills all have to come together.

There is always more we can do in our conversations to gain a competitive edge. Using the latest behavioral science techniques, we provide teams with practical ways of influencing sustained behavior that can be used immediately, helping to build engagement and reduce pushback.

We need to help field teams navigate through this, to use the right tactics at the right time. Then, it’s all about practice, practice, practice.

Perfect practice makes perfect

My son would live at the ice rink if he could. Any opportunity to practice and he’s there.

One of his coach’s favorite lines that she gets the team to repeat is: “It’s not practice that makes perfect, it’s (all together now…) perfect practice that makes perfect.” After the laughter, as they almost always fall over this tongue twister, there is a profound truth!

Not only does my son have his team Under 14s training sessions, he’s training up with the Under 16s, practicing his skating in public sessions, and attending hockey camps. Each element of his practice brings value in its own way.

Which is exactly what field teams need to do. There is no better way to learn than practicing and receiving great feedback. Now, this is where ice hockey and field teams separate. To truly build a competitive mindset, teams shouldn’t just practice their engagements; they need to prepare and practice engagements as the competitor rep. How does it feel to sell your competitor product? What messages are you getting across? How are you balancing offense and defense? Then, after feedback: How does this insight sharpen my engagement? What is the impact?

Always sharpen your edge

That last question: “What is the impact?” is the crucial one at this stage. How do we appraise our insight and skills and review the impact? Back to ice hockey, there is a huge amount of data to learn from – wins and losses, number of goals, number conceded, ice time, as well as continual feedback from coaches on how your skills are improving (faster, tighter turns, better puck control, etc.).

That’s the same with field teams – continually reviewing performance to identify ways to sharpen our competitive edge.

It’s true on the hockey rink and it’s true in the field.

So, as your field teams are looking to maintain their competitive edge and step up in an increasingly competitive landscape, where are you looking for answers?

For more information on our SONAR program, visit this webpage or contact one of our SONAR experts to uncover how this program can help accelerate your brand’s performance.