Whitepaper: Find Your Sparq

Best practices for building resilience in pharmaceutical and biotech sales.

Being a pharmaceutical or biotech sales representative is hard in today’s world. The decline in HCP access has flattened out but remains significantly lower today than in years past (Sturgis, 2017). Factors reps may not be able to control, such as market access and reimbursement, are becoming more and more critical to success. Going forward, reps will be challenged to become more digitally-focused and will likely need to coordinate their efforts across a broader set of team members. At the enterprise level, the organizations these reps work for are also facing changes in the macroeconomic environment which frequently result in uncertainty, ambiguity, and changes to management, teams, jobs, and available resources.

You already know this. You live these difficulties day in and day out. The best sales representatives “grind” in the face of these challenges. But why? Why do some reps continue to strive for personal and professional growth in these situations and why do others not? What do these people believe about themselves, their teams, and their work? How do they stay motivated when times get tough?

In this white paper, we combine our experience from engagements with dozens of pharmaceutical and biotech salesforces with cutting-edge research from the world of positive psychology to provide you best practices to build and maintain resilience and perseverance – characteristics we see as absolutely critical to success in today’s environment.

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1) Develop an internal locus of control

Resilience and perseverance are also tied to having an internal locus of control (LOC). Individuals with an internal LOC believe they impact the world around them and they have an active role to play in causing things to happen. This is contrasted with an external LOC, which describes a mindset where people believe things happen to them and they are a passive recipient of the environment around them (Rotter, 1966). In the context of pharmaceutical/biotech sales, sales representatives with an internal LOC are more effective at handling difficult elements of the sales environment such as competition, market access, and fulfillment challenges because they believe they can have an impact despite them.

When confronted with a challenge, ask yourself the question “what can I do to change this?” instead of “why did this happen to me?” Frame your thinking around the belief that your actions can and will make a positive difference.

2) Find and build high quality connections

High quality connections (HQC) are characterized by feelings of being energized, intentionally focusing on seeing the best in the other person and being shared by both parties (Dutton & Heaphy, 2003). HQCs are energizing, life-giving, and genuine. Throughout the day, reps have interactions with a wide variety of people. Calls with teammates to discuss best practices, a check-in with your manager on a stretch project, conversing with a doctor about new clinical data, or sitting side- by-side with an office manager on new prior authorization processes all afford opportunities to have HQCs. Be sure these interactions demonstrate care or mattering to the other to ensure they feel the connection is genuine and meaningful. Establishing and maintaining HQCs is the key contributor to resilience as there is a greater capacity to communicate ideas and opinions, and a support system in times of stress or struggle (Reivich & Shatte, 2002). Simply put, people who have people are more resilient. 

Be intentional about your interactions during the day and be purposeful about building high quality connections with at least a few of the individuals with whom you interact on a frequent basis.

3) Reflect and focus on your long-term goals

So many of the incentives put in front of sales representatives are short-term focused – monthly leaderboards, a President’s Club trip to Hawaii, or that next promotion. These goals are fine

to pursue, of course, but research tells us that “grit” comes from the pursuit of long-term goals (Duckworth, 2016). By having this long-term focus, we are less likely to get demotivated when we do not attain something in the short-term. We learn lessons better and are able to reframe the failure as something that helps us be better suited to attain our long- term goals.   

Write down and commit to achieving two long- term goals. Share these goals with someone close to you – it creates accountability and a stronger support network. Ask yourself at least once a week how what you are doing helps get you closer to achieving those goals.

4) Find mattering in your work

If “mattering” seems like an academic word, that is because it is. Mattering refers to whether they feel they are recognized for their contributions and whether their work and presence makes an impact (Prilleltensky, 2014). This can take many different forms, such as how your work makes a difference to patients, to your family, or to the success of an organization. When we feel as if our work matters to someone other than ourselves, we can tie our effort to a higher purpose and persevere more effectively when we are frustrated or disappointed.

Take 15 minutes and make a list of five people or groups to whom your work matters. Then, engage in a thought experiment where you imagine how their lives would be different if you didn’t do this work. When you’re feeling discouraged or frustrated at work, revisit this thought experiment.

5) Demonstrate gratitude

You might think people are more resilient when people thank them and tell them their work is impactful. That is true, but research indicates gratitude does more for the person demonstrating it than it does the person receiving it (Seligman et al., 2005). Think about the manager who hired you when you had no industry experience or the trainer or the sales operations professional who helped you build that awesome pivot table. By demonstrating gratitude for those who have helped you, research indicates you will be more optimistic and thus better equipped to handle the challenges life and work can throw at you (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).

Think about someone who has helped you get to where you are today. Write them a handwritten letter saying thanks and, if possible, read it to them in person. You could also keep a gratitude journal where you record, on a daily basis, three things for which you are grateful.

6) Plan for obstacles

When we have thought about the challenges we may face on the way to achieving a goal, we actually become more committed to the pursuit (Oettingen, Pak, & Schnetter, 2001). As a result, resilient individuals who persevere through difficult times tend to be objective in appraising what obstacles they might face – they are not “dreamers” who just believe everything will work out fine without any action from them. When these obstacles present themselves, such as budget cuts or increased requests for reporting to the home office, you will be better prepared to react to them and do so in a calmer, more level-headed way. Your reaction is within your control – so plan for both what action you will take and what you want your mindset to be as you persevere.

Identify potential obstacles to your long-term goals and possible ways you can overcome those obstacles. Visualize yourself engaging in those actions to overcome the obstacles.

7) Get a daily win

People with a high achievement orientation often focus on what “needs to be fixed” or “how they can do something better” rather than identifying what went well or what successes they have had. Creating positive momentum through “getting a win” each day builds a bank of positive emotions from which you can draw when you encounter challenges. Maybe you finally got that office manager to crack a smile. Or the pharmacist at the hospital agreed to have a conversation about the formulary. Find something to be excited about before you get out of your car at the end of the day. People who experience more positive emotions relative to negative emotions have greater well-being (Fredrickson, 2013).

Before you get out of your car at the end of the day, identify at least one win for the day and recognize yourself for it.


We believe by employing these best practices, pharmaceutical and biotech sales representatives will be better prepared to thrive despite challenges they encounter. Beyond applications in a work context, research in positive psychology indicates many of these best practices can also be used in your life outside of work to increase well-being and happiness – and who doesn’t want that?

To learn more about incorporating these concepts into your talent acquisition or talent management practices, contact the author at chad@mix-talent.com

About Mix Talent

Mix Talent is a talent acquisition and management consulting firm headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. Founded in 2018 by a group of veteran consultants specializing in life sciences, mix talent is focused on partnering with companies to ensure they identify, attract, develop, and engage the talent they need to make their business successful.

Chad Thompson, PhD

About the Author

Chad Thompson, PhD is the Principal of Mix Talent’s consulting practice. An industrial/ organizational psychologist by training, his expertise is in defining and measuring people, behavior, and culture in organizations. He has worked with a variety of companies in his career, from the Fortune 10 to start-ups. He has built over two dozen behavioral models and selection systems for pharma/biotech sales roles over the last decade.
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