Need of the hour: Pharmaceutical Sales Training 2.0


Pharmaceutical sales representatives spend pharma-sales-trainingmost of their time on the road, talking with  pharmacists and hospital personnel and physicians to promote their company’s products and the volume of their sales. Pharmaceutical sale is not for everyone. Apart from basic selling skills, like how to ask questions and how to do presentations – Reps must learn every aspect of the product they will be selling, from the underlying anatomy and physiology to competitor products!

The evolving training needs of the pharma sales force


Sales force training is one of the most critical aspects of success and most pharma companies have realized this fact and have gone to great lengths to ensure high quality of their training procedures and materials. Some have even set up corporate “sales universities”, where internal and external experts train incoming and experienced sales representatives. The main reasons for relying on a thorough training process are:

  • Control (delivering a consistent message);
  • Improved customer relations;
  • Increased productivity;
  • Increased sales;
  • Better management of demanding accounts, time and territory;
  • Improved morale and confidence;
  • Reduced turnover.

What are the various Pharma Sales Force Training settings?

The role of sales force training is to provide sales reps with an opportunity to overcome
deficiencies wherever they exist. Capability gaps arise when the sales reps do not have
the knowledge, skills or capabilities to implement the most appropriate customer
attraction and retention process for the company’s market segment.

Below are the most common pharmaceutical sales force training settings.

  1. Classroom training: Initial in-house training on disease, products, company, software, and skills.
  2. Field training (on-job-training – OJT): Initial field training with trainer, supervisor, and manager.
  3. Double calling: Sales calling with senior colleague, supervisor, or manager.
  4. New product classroom training: Additional training before new product, formulation, or dosage launch.
  5. Reminder training: Training coinciding with regular sales cycle meetings as a refresher course.
  6. Initial training at corporate headquarters (HQ): Sales specialist teams invited to corporate HQ
    for training and motivation.
  7. External training: Selling techniques or computer or presentation skills training by consultants.
  8. e- Learning: Correspondence or web-based training on business administration, biology, etc.

Pharma Sales Training & ROI

Pharmaceutical companies spend in huge numbers to train newly hired sales reps. Let’s take a close look what makes up this cost:

  • Cost of paper-based training materials, which can run as steep as $1,000 per new hire.
  • Cost of transportation to get reps from their respective sales regions to a city for sales meetings
  • Cost for Hotel reservation, meeting center booking, food provided, and staff accommodated for.
  • other miscellaneous expenses

Usually most pharma companies send Reps to get into training; they sit there for a few days, sometimes for a whole week, get their information, their handbook, and then they’re sent back to field. Studies and polls reveal that most of the Reps would sit through the training program with a mind full of fear and apprehension.

Product launches provide information overload as more needs to be done in less time. Reps are not given enough opportunity to practice and role-play. Worst case: Trainers and PMs are not qualified and trained themselves!

What is a Robo-rep?pharma-sales-robo-rep

Aside from giving away a few free samples, some shiny pens and embossed calendars, or maybe a magnetic frame to put on Doctor’s  fridge – do pharmaceutical sales reps have enough sales and marketing knowledge to engage & enthrall physicians? If the answer is no – then you probably have an army of robo-reps!

Is traditional form of Pharma Sales Training sustainable? Is it built-to-last?

Traditional form of training can’t live up to the individual learning styles, preferences, and needs in a room of Sales Reps. Due to this learners get frustrated with their fellow learners, themselves and the course. That’s where e-training, sometimes called “distance learning” or “virtual sales training comes to the rescue. Pharma companies can bring down cost of printing paper materials and give ongoing feedback & support through a deeper interaction with learners. It’s faster, cheaper and there’s higher sustainability in keeping relevant “On demand” information available in the long-run.

Synchronous e-learning is self-paced. It allows advanced learners to speed through or bypass instruction that is redundant for them. Through self-paced content, new learners slow their own progress, get enough time to make notes and re-play lessons at their own pace. This eliminates frustration with their fellow learners, themselves, and the course altogether.

So what are the Pros of Virtual Sales Training for Pharma Reps?

  • Cut costs of bringing Reps to the Training venue or booking a Banquet hall for training.
  • Information transfer is efficient and consistent
  • Learning curve is 60% faster
  • Average content retention of instructor led course is 58 %. E-learning adds 25% more to this.
  • More fun, less fear and apprehension
  • Allows courses broken up in shorter sessions for self paced learning
  • With broadband speeds and wireless internet access – its more practical than ever
  • Possibility of providing Interactive training with myriad possible error outcomes. More the errors – deeper the knowledge as the consequences of errors are explained.
  • Used best in conjunction with conventional training.
  • Deliver in a consistent manner, across all the employees of organization, particularly if they are located in different geographical locations
  • Be it ever changing Gov regulations or new advancement in drugs – training content needs to be periodically modified. It is relatively easy to update e-Learning courses with new content.
  • It’s a big challenge for Pharma Sales Reps to take time off the field & attend face to face training sessions. However, through e-Learning, valuable fresh industry information,indication,  dosage, clinical trial, product information and patient care information can be easily shared as courses or modules which they can access from any location in real-time.
  • Studies prove that simulations have a better retention, than verbal description of the process. Do’s & Don’ts of a process, can be easily explained through multimedia simulations, without causing any real damage to the equipment or individuals.
  • Most of the regulatory or compliance courses are mandatory; periodic online assessments helps the organization adhere to the mandatory rules and regulations of regulatory bodies.

 Role of Tablets in Pharma e-learning

Many western countries have adopted Tablet computers like iPad and Android based tablets. They are pre-loaded with everything—textbooks, manuals and training videos. The best part is – it can be carried everywhere. Time lost during waiting rooms an be best utilized with tablet based training and e-detailing strategy.

e-Learning – meeting sales reps training needs

e-Learning is the use of digital technologies to deliver knowledge effectively and efficiently to pharmaceutical sales reps. While computer-based access to the Internet is the basis of most e-Learning solutions, MP3 players, tablet PCs, and other handheld devices representing mobile learning, can provide even more convenient access to e-Learning. The pharmaceutical industry is experiencing a big push toward using e-Learning followed up by knowledge checks or tests to validate a foundation of learning.

Case study – e-Learning as part of AstraZeneca’s sales training strategy

In order to respond to rapidly changing market and customer needs, AstraZeneca is aggressively pursuing an e-Learning strategy. All sales reps at the company are trained on tablet PCs and the company is incorporating different modalities, including mobile learning, simulations, virtual worlds and social media. The combination of technology and training has allowed AstraZeneca to be more responsive to customer needs and to incorporate the input they receive. Rather than giving new sales reps a standard 30-60 minute e-Learning module and then have them take a multiple choice exam, they are now breaking down modules into smaller pieces of information, called “Learning Bites”. This allows for a more direct, targeted and individualized learning capability. This more flexible training model supports a trend toward more of a relationship-driven model with the physician as opposed to the standard reach and frequency model.

Sales reps can also visit and interact with a virtual community that includes doctors’ offices, pharmacies, hospitals and clinics, depending on what drug they are selling. In each of these areas the sales rep can click into case studies that they have to solve. The program is focused on providing reps with a significant amount of time to practice in a simulated environment, this means focusing on how they will interact with physicians out in the field. The new method has enabled reps to achieve a higher level of proficiency in half the time that traditional instructor-lead training is getting. As a result, sales reps can start detailing physicians more quickly and effectively. Sales reps themselves have responded very well, the interactive e-training removes any nervousness and makes them more confident. AstraZeneca’s example illustrates how pharma companies alter their training strategy to keep up with the changing needs of their sales force. Moreover, as the demand for flexibility and nimbleness increases, pharma companies will appreciate that e-Learning can deliver very specific, targeted training in a very short time to the sales reps without needing to remove them from the field.

How to Transition from Conventional Training towards e-Learning in 3 steps?

  1. The best way is to start by re purposing existing paper-based training materials.
  2. Next step would be to create dynamic multimedia content. Sales reps are presented with a range of engagement techniques—video, games, pdfs, quizzes, etc.—woven together in a challenging, fun manner.
  3. With all that in-place get the help of a professional virtual knowledge-base software to manage a central repository of your Rich media content. This will take care of knowledge dissemination and assessments.

Encourage managers and management heads to add brief videos that keep reps motivated and informed about new usage and drug trials. Create ways to measure progress and success so that you can be assured of your investment.

But wait…

Considering the slow rate with which pharma companies typically adopt new methods, and given the proven benefits of on-site training (team building, face-to-face interaction, human connection), a drastic move to an e-learning model is likely not the most prudent course of action.

So What’s the solution: Blended Training – best of both worlds

A blended model is the key for Pharmaceutical Sales Training 2.0. Managers and product teams reinforce soft skills and product related training on-site backed by e-learning sessions. Reps with more field experience, will gradually rely less on on-site training. Training is a vital part of every rep’s job and that committing yourself to a structured on-site and virtual training delivery model will translate into real results for your company.

Trained and skilled Pharma Reps can communicate scientific information as educators, and not just act as a Robo-rep!

About the Author

Dipesh Majumder

I am a Marketing Technologist, a strategist & a visionary with over 8 years of experience in traditional & digital marketing. I have been responsible for the development & execution of sales force effectiveness strategies, tools, processes for global Pharma sales organizations. Lead key initiatives, critical projects & continuous improvement activities.

Chennai, India ·

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