Sales Shadowing in Pharma Sales. An Application of Solution Focus

Solution FocusAn interview:

Olympia, we last heard from you about using SF to achieve and measure ROI in working with bank branch managers.

The following project involved working with pharmaceutical sales people in the field, i.e., during client visits.

1. The project role involved shadowing the team. How was that useful to the sales team during visits?

A “shadow” can be useful when it is a “good” shadow, an empowering one. While I was there, I first had to play the role of the little invisible doctor so that I wouldn’t attract the lights and stop being a shadow. My role was to detect what each medical rep was doing well during each visit and tell them what I saw. So after each visit, I would let them know of all the elements of the sales visit that had impressed me. Amongst these were their in-depth know-how of the products, their resilience present despite the limited time with the doctor, the ingenious links between the doctor’s needs and their products, and lots of others.

I suppose you can imagine their initial surprise when we came out of the first visit (I did four visits with each one) and I started telling them what I noticed and was impressed by and nothing else! So they all looked at me and asked “And what else? What should I do better?” And I said, “I don’t know. I am just here to tell you what I see you doing well.” Then we continued to the second visit and all I asked was “what would be an indication that this visit is going in their desired direction?” Then, again, I gave them my resource feedback and this is how we rolled out the whole day. At the end we had a coaching conversation with each person about what they wanted to work on and how they will “experiment” with this until our next session.

2. While sales people have products and services to sell, they also build relationships and trust by listening to the customer. How do you see Solution Focus being useful in the sales person’s role?

Atom Wave, Solution Focus behavioral sales coaching SF is liberating sales people from the inside Gremlins haunting a sales visit. The element of noting small positive changes can help a sales person on what they are doing towards the desired sales direction instead of self-whipping and eventually losing one’s motivation.

The “traditional” sales coaching is around feedback that points out some positive behaviors (they usually have to be outstanding to receive positive feedback points) and then emphasis is placed upon things that need to change ie. More open questions, better listening, handling objections, etc. So in order to get a “good” grade, a sales person has to score a list of points running a sales presentation – Opening / Need Questions / Presenting, etc. But again, how predictable can a sales visit be? And even if the doctor allocates the desired 20 minutes to them, how productive is it to have a sales person who acts like a live robot? I don’t argue that sales steps are not required, we all find good use for them, but Pharma selling has overdone it. It seems like the strict scientific nature of the product has influenced the nature of the selling process itself to more “rigid.”

So, SF behavioral sales coaching addresses experienced sales people who wish to move a step further in their sales results. It is about how to talk to the doctor with genuine curiosity and ask real questions, questions for which answers are not known.

3. If I were interviewing the manager of your client’s sales team, what would this person tell me was most useful for the team about your Solution Focus shadowing?

The manager was impressed by the power of resource feedback and how this enabled his team to open up within a couple of hours. Although he was the project champion, he was also a little sceptical about this SF project. It was quite different from anything they had done before, it was not traditional training and the process was not clear.

The project is not completed yet, but I had the chance to ask the manager about his thoughts so far and he reported that his people said that what they experienced was completely different from what they expected – they thought that I, as a coach, would TELL them what to do and of course this did not happen. AND they said that this conversation with me, during which they were “talking so much,” was thought-provoking and insightful.

They have all started changing and experimenting with new approaches to their sales as reported by the manager.

4. In both the banking and in the pharma cases, what pleased you most about using Solution Focus to help the clients make progress in their work?

  • I enjoy the joy of the client when we have the resource talk and get so much detail about what I notice them doing well.
  • I enjoy the surprise when they expect to get the “BUT… “ after our resource discussion and they don’t get it.
  • I enjoy my client’s transformation when they get “infected” by the SF way of thinking from negative focus to strengths.
  • I enjoy the gleaming eyes of people who finally feel appreciated for things they do well that are usually taken for granted.
  • I enjoy when the participants said they became a better person and better parents by applying the SF principles to their children!

Finally, I enjoy that, through the work as an SF practitioner, we can bring visible business results and ROI.

Atom Wave, Solution Focus

Olympia Mitsopoulou, Atom-Wave, solution focus, mentoring




ROI in the Application of Solution Focus in Banking

ROI, banking, solution focusAn interview: Olympia, welcome back. We’ve already heard from you about Solution Focus Mentoring in organizations. You work with a variety of organizations on projects using the Solution Focus approach to change and growth. You’ve been designing tailored leadership development programs blending coaching and mentoring in order to bring proven ROI (Return on Investment).

Let’s focus on two recent cases in banking and pharmaceuticals. First, we’ll cover the bank case.

ROI, Atom Wave banking solution focus1. The ROI of working with a bank’s branch managers and their teams. What pleased the client most about the outcomes of the project?

In this case the client is a. the organization, b. the participating bank branch managers and c. the teams of the participating branch managers. So I will try to describe what outcomes pleased each group.

a. The organization was represented by the Training Dept of the bank and the Retail Dept. We are talking about a bank with more than 12,000 employees with more than 350 branches and an international network in 7 countries.

Despite the severe financial crisis that Greece suffered, the Training Department of the bank managed to continue this SF project and so far, it has been introduced to 300 of its branches in the last 7 years.

Latest ECB (European Central Bank) stress tests (Oct 2014) brought this bank in the first position amongst all other Greek Banks and amongst the 20 strongest banks in Europe!

In 2013, this bank was the most profitable corporation in Greece.

This organization is hard to impress and as a provider, you need to bring tangible results to keep a project alive. The ROI case study provided the Training Department with the hard data facts to support that the investment is worth it. What also worked, was the word of mouth from participating managers saying that they were impressed by the organization investing in such a high quality program amidst these times. The bank management could prove to people that they have not forgotten their people despite the financial problems.

b. the participating managers – through SF, managers said that they found a way to become “better people.” They found how to motivate their people beyond the usual incentives (bonuses) which have now been slashed and salaries have been reduced. So for them, SF was like a new window of looking at their people, focusing on their resources, and listening to them more openly. They also said that having the chance to talk to our team of coaches (they each had four individual sessions) was something new and a welcome relief.Atom-Wave key ideas, solution focus

c. Each participating manager initially chose a team member to develop further and then, the SF way of working was extended to the rest of the team. Within the program framework, the first step was a performance development session between the branch manager and the selected team member. The meeting was an SF “resource feedback” session during which the manager was telling his/her report all the resources he/she had detected and NOTHING else. Half of the participants reported that significant progress took place immediately after this meeting. The relationship level between the two improved and they both said that it felt so good to speak and hear something positive for once!

2. What were the distinguishing aspects of using Solution Focus within the project that made a difference for the branch managers?

According to what they said, one of the most challenging and intriguing elements was asking questions without knowing the answer! This is counterintuitive to being a banker where everything needs to be concrete and risk minimized. They found out that they needed to put on another hat when it is about people development, because people are not linear, and manuals are not available in order to manage them.

The other SF element that was impactful was the concept of looking at resources versus looking for gaps. Initially there was a lot of doubt as to how you develop somebody if you don’t focus on what’s missing. Our program design, which had a 6-month time frame, incorporated a workshop and 1-to-1 coaching meetings aimed at instilling this resource focus and we really witnessed a metamorphosis. Our major method for achieving this was simply us being focused on their resources. In the beginning, we had them ask us for more “concrete” feedback in the sense of what they were not doing correctly. In the end, when we would ask a question about one of their people, there was always a list of resources which was hard to stop…

3. Demonstrating ROI on projects is helpful to the client. How did you use Solution Focus in setting up and having people respond to the evaluation process?

SF is by itself focused on action and differences and this is what we based our ROI measurement.

Each participating manager drafted a set of development objectives. These objectives referred to their own development as coach-managers and their team members.

Each objective was described in a SF Preferred Future format detailing actions that will take place when things have reached a specific state with an emphasis on what will be different.

Then we used the Scaling to position progress, which we were tracking at each of the four coaching meetings.

Our SF questions for each objective were: What went better in relation to the last time? What are you doing differently? How do others know that you are doing something differently? How did you manage?

And all we did was just take note of all the wonderful outcomes delivered and then calculate their worth in order to find out the ROI of this project!


Thanks Olympia. We look forward to our next blog where we’ll be hearing about your shadowing work using Solution Focus with pharmaceutical sales people 

Atom Wave, Solution FocusOlympia Mitsopoulou, Atom-Wave, solution focus, mentoring


Solution Focus applications. Beyond theory and coaching

Solution Focus applications. Beyond theory and coaching

At a recent conference in Athens some Solution Focused enthusiasts from the world of HR said: ‘I love it, but how do I get the people around me using it?’

My response: ‘Try applying it in your projects, not on the people’.  

Solution focus (SF) has been around for about 30 years. First, in the world of family therapy and more recently, in organizations. Deeply researched, it is an approach to help people find ways to move beyond the things they believe are preventing them from making progress, i.e., when they are stuck. One of the unique aspects of SF is that the client is in charge of the change – the changes they want to make.

Resisting the temptation to know better than your client. The toughest challenge in Solution Focus – Brief Solutions

There is a great body of knowledge about how SF works, both in theory and in practice. The SF therapists are especially strong in the research they do, constantly finding new ways to make their understanding of why SF works and, particularly how to make its applications work even better.

Focusing on clients’ failings invites denial and co-constructs resistance. Build preferred future instead – Brief Solutions

Something of a contrast lies in the example of an increasingly popular psychotherapy model, Positive Psychology (PS). It enjoys a vast body of research on how it works, but less so in the applications sense. Interestingly, Tony Hsieh of fame used the PS body of research to rationalize and operationalize the emotional intelligence he developed called ‘Delivering Happiness.’

Today, a growing body of organizational consultants, trainers and coaches apply the SF model in a wide variety of situations.

Solution focused therapy comes from a different starting point. If any therapy works it leads to the client ‘doing something different’ – Brief Solutions

People who use SF in organizational work are now developing more definitive applications. Some clients and individuals find the idea of SF interesting, at least intriguing. Yet they still have trouble conceptualizing how to use it. Back to that question; ‘I love it, but how do I get the people around me using it?’

There is an emerging body of SF applications. Here are some of the SF applications I have been using for some time with great success among a wide range of client organization types, namely:

and so on…

When presented in this fashion to organizations, the clients (or your colleagues) will see something they can buy into that relates to the issues they face and are therefore willing to try something new and different. Let them see SF working in this form and draw them into it on an individual basis, e.g., coaching.

What are some of the SF applications you use, or would be willing to buy into?


Betternxt is the Canadian centre learning for Solution Focus in organizations.
Betternxt Academy, solution focus, Toronto