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All things Pharma

The lost weekend

As the sales conference season begins, Mark Murphy offers an essential weekend pack of things to remember in order to ensure that you take full advantage of the professional opportunities a sales conference offers – and resist some of the temptations!

Weekend sales conferences are an increasingly popular element of healthcare industry culture.

But what are they for? Are they primarily an opportunity for the sales force to ‘get acquainted’ in an informal environment – or do they serve real professional purposes? How can a healthcare sales professional make the most of a conference while avoiding the social pitfalls?

Morning after

Picture this scenario. Drifting slowly from a deep sleep into a semi-conscious state, he began to recall last night’s gala dinner. Having run through the events of the previous night – the professional faux pas, the excellent wines, the fuel for office gossip – he turned his attention to the day ahead. Day two of the conference: presenting to the whole company at 8.30am the new bonus and incentive scheme devised by their US parent company. This was his big day, and he intended to use this opportunity to his advantage by delivering some of his presentation in German. People would think he was great.

Having boosted his already over-inflated ego, he settled back onto the not-so-comfortable hotel pillows. Slowly opening his eyes, he became aware of the pounding in his head, a product of the excesses of the night before.

Hardly surprising: in six months of constant change under three Managing Directors, a guy had earned the right to let his hair down. He reached out for the glass of water that he vaguely recalled placing straegically on the bedside table, and as he did so finally opened his eyes. Great, he thought: it’s still dark, a few more hours of shut-eye and he would be as fresh as a daisy when he walked up onto the stage at 8.30 am. As the red LED clock on the TV in front of him came into focus, he read the numbers 10.37. Confused, he lay there trying to make sense of what he saw, but no amount of squinting would change the digits that confronted him.

A feeling of panic began to rise from his stomach. It couldn’t be: the dinner had finished at 9.30pm, and he was as sure as he could be that he’d partied for quite some time after. It also couldn’t be 10.37am as it was too dark; so he concluded that the clock on the TV must be set to New York time. He took a gulp of water and lay down. As he rolled over in an attempt to get comfortable, his eyes focused on the alarm clock on the table next to him, which displayed in bold: 10.38am. He struggled to find his watch and the light switch. Now it was 10.39am. He moved towards the window and pulled open the curtains, only to be almost knocked out by the brilliant sunshine that streamed through the windows – followed by the haunting realisation that his 8.30am presentation slot had long gone, along with his chance for recognition. How on earth was he going to get out of this?

Well, I could tell you but alas, as an ex- Director of Human Resources, I am bound by confidentiality to stop here. If only this was an isolated incident. During my 20 years in HR, I have had to deal with many individuals who, having behaved worse than this, have had their careers terminated as a result of inappropriate behaviour at conference. In various companies, it has been known for me to send HR Managers to conference in order to deal with behavioural issues as they arose. Our workload would always increase during the week following.

Don’t lose your foothold

As a conference delegate, you need to remember that even though the location may be different, it is still a work event and so you need to abide by your Company’s code of conduct. Please do not kid yourself that should you choose not to abide by the Company’s code, you can blame it on your employer since you were placed in a situation where alcohol was freely available. Oh, the number of times I have had to listen to this in post-conference disciplinary hearings. Well, I have to tell you that while this may be factually correct, you still have a duty of care to manage your consumption and act in a responsible way.

When attending conferences, think about how you can get the most out of them. If you want to progress your career, try to get yourself on the speaker list so that you have an opportunity to gain company-wide recognition. It’s a great way to get yourself noticed and raise your profile. Conferences can also provide a means of gaining knowledge about the company’s future plans and how you can contribute to them. However, if you are going to take it all in, you need to be psychologically as well as physically present!

For some, the life of a representative can be lonely. Courtesy of territory planning, they can be miles from any of their colleagues – so it’s a good chance for them to get to know each other and strengthen their network.

Think ahead

Sometimes conferences are used to deliver training on company-wide topics or product information. This can be a great way to reinforce what you know or to learn new facts and skills. Problems can arise at conferences because people have different expectations and requirements. Some may view it as a company party, with their mission being to have fun, while others may be leaving several dependants at home. For those who have had to move domestic mountains in order to attend, it is essential that the conference is worthwhile. Of course it is great if everyone can have an enjoyable time, but be mindful not to spoil it for yourself or others.

If you have the task of arranging a conference, take some time to consider the following:

• What is the main purpose of the event?
• Which of the following will it contain: whole-company presentations, team-building activities, professional training activities, talks given by company members, evening social gatherings?
• Does it make business sense to deliver these sessions at conference rather than at another time? • Does the timing take into account term-time and school holidays, so that working parents can attend?
• Is the location suitable for the purpose, and does it reflect the company’s image?

So, whether the aim of the conference is for staff to ‘get acquainted’, learn new skills or find out just how successful the company has been, make sure that you return full of enthusiasm for the future and not full of regret for the past! 

Mark Murphy is a partner of The Portland Partnership, which specialises in offering professional skills programmes using accelerated learning principles. For further information, contact Mark at mark@portlandpartnership.com or Susan Glenn at susan@portlandpartnership.com or call 01494 670264.


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