Training the pharma sales rep for a digital age

As every pharma company invests in digital technology to arm its sales force for more efficient prescriber engagement, MXM Health kicks off a three-part series exploring whether we are overlooking the potential of such techniques for internal training.

The way in which we communicate has changed radically over the last ten years, with the advent of social media and associated mobile technology resulting in a new generation that is used to immediate feedback and two-way communication. Within the health care space, this has dramatically impacted the way in which the pharma industry must engage with its customers, as prescribers are no longer interested in didactic product details, but instead seek interactive engagement to respond to specific information gaps.

In response, the pharmaceutical industry has rapidly adopted novel technologies that facilitate this type of interaction, such as the iPad, with these devices playing a key role in ensuring each individual prescriber can be efficiently equipped with the right data in a way that is visual and interactive.

“One component still remains at the core of this model – the sales representative”

But one component still remains at the core of this model – the sales representative. While the role may have endured, despite some scaling back, the skills required to deliver in this new environment have changed significantly.

A new role for the pharma sales representative

Today’s pharma sales representative is expected to know a lot more about their customer in order to drive more personalized interaction. No longer a simple product detail, each discussion must now be a fluid two-way conversation that meets the needs of both sides.

To achieve this, they must be well versed in:

• Segmenting and understanding the needs of their customers at an individual level.

• Engaging in two-way dialogue to understand the requirements and deliver against them, while remaining on label and compliant.

• Navigating and understanding the information delivery technology at their fingertips.

• Tracking outstanding requirements and maintaining an accurate record of more complex conversations.

But perhaps the biggest change in this relationship is that the sales representative is no longer imparting a one-way brand message, but must instead be able to convey the key values of the brand as part of a story that is unique to every physician, depending on their perspective.

Articulating the clinical product characteristics is not enough – the rep must now place it in the context of the prescriber’s patients, helping them understand its role in the treatment pathway and any barriers they may come across in using it. In addition, when pieces of the story are missing, they must be able to quickly source the relevant information.

So what is the best way to provide the pharma rep with the knowledge they need to be successful within this new sales paradigm?

“Why not use exactly the same digital tools and techniques internally for training the sales force?”

Adopting external digital techniques for internal training

The answer, when you step back for a moment, is staring us in the face. The whole purpose of two-way engagement with prescribers is that it is a more efficient way of imparting knowledge and driving behavioral change. So why not use exactly the same digital tools and techniques internally for training the sales force?

Rather like customer engagement, this has to be a continual process, utilizing live and remote, presentational and interactive techniques to ensure new skills and behaviors are ingrained. To do this right, we must consider learning and performance to require transforming learner Engagement into Action. Consider, for example, the different ways in which we learn, as shown in figure 1.

Figure 1: Essential learning activities important in training new skills.

Traditional training (and indeed sales force engagement with prescribers) has been focused on the See and Hear components, where an ‘expert’ is conveying their knowledge via a presentation (or detail aid) to the recipient. However, new digital techniques facilitate the equally powerful two-way learning techniques where the ‘trainee’ can Do, Question, Discuss, and Teach back to others to amplify engagement with learning content. The critical step that finally drives performance results, rather than learning results, is to Do what is learned — in practice, and then with customers.

Looking beyond the pharma industry, these are also essential components of how business-to-consumer industries are engaging with their customers, employing social media to get people interacting with the brand. Leading marketplace engagement with consumers has adopted a social feel — ongoing conversations, mobile engagement and information bits driven through digital channels. These consumers are the same learners that we are training every day, and content should reach them in better ways: driven by digital to deliver what is called Content Powered Engagement, personalized and memorable information available through interactive web, mobile, and technology-driven solutions. Also, in higher education, the volume of classroom-based and paper training has dropped considerably, with engaging digital media such as ebooks, audio and video rising to prominence. This is because they deliver better results!

Keeping the sales rep on board

Finally, in the same way that prescribers will not see sales reps unless they feel it will deliver value for them, the same rule needs to apply to internal training. Taking reps off the road is an expensive activity in terms of opportunity cost and will also be seen as unnecessary by the rep unless there is a clear ‘What’s in it for me’ factored in.

“We know that such interactive, technology-enabled information sharing drives the right results”

Training must therefore be positioned in such a way as to clearly articulate the downstream benefit, showing what results can be achieved with a change in behavior and the role each learning session plays in driving performance improvement. Live events and workshops will continue to play a key role in application of learning, but must themselves be supported by sustainable digital techniques to facilitate more continuous engagement and interaction with learning content between live events, which is something we will explore in the next two parts of this series.

Ultimately, as with prescriber engagement, we know that interactive, technology-enabled information sharing drives better results, so why not use it to empower your sales force too?

The next part of the series, looking at the use of mobile technology and gamification in training, will be published next week.

 

About the author:

Todd has over 10 years of significant digital expertise and has implemented various integrated digital solutions across enterprise systems and for small specialty businesses with unique business models. He has led award-winning programs and innovations for a top 3 US biotechnology company, among other extensive work with established and emerging pharmaceutical leaders. As MXM’s Digital Team Lead, Todd has a proven history of engaging client leadership, anticipating and understanding business and project needs, and maximizing delivery effectiveness of digital solutions.

MXM Health, part of the broader MXM group, is the premier agency in the health care training and marketing arena, offering full-service learning design and development solutions for the life sciences industry. We recognize the need and importance for social factors and communication between stakeholders in the learning and performance process: Learners, Coaches, Managers and Leadership. Through processes like social integration, commitment journal activities, and alignment to field call reporting, digital learning design should create a continuous feedback loop of information and analysis between learners and enterprise stakeholders. Both improvement successes and learning gaps stand out through the process of analysis and insight gathering built around every individual’s ability to specifically apply, implement or coach new skills in the field.

Todd Herman can be contacted at +1 248 246 5368 or via email at Todd.Herman@mxm.com.

For more information on MXM Health visit www.mxm-health.com.

What is the role for digital in training your pharma sales force?