Pharma sales success relies heavily on a seemingly endless amount of knowledge—of the product, the targeted disease state and related physiology, industry regulations, policies and procedures, and of the rapidly evolving healthcare market. Similarly, reps' and managers' effectiveness relies on skills—compelling sales strategies, interpersonal communication and time management skills, among others. Providing those vital employees with the knowledge and skills necessary to excel is an ongoing challenge, exacerbated by the fact that much of what they need is constantly changing. That's why a steadily increasing number of pharma companies are discovering the unique benefits of partnering with institutions of higher learning for the professional development of their employees. The following article describes some of the activities of corporation-education partnerships and recommends strategies for helping pharma companies achieve the best possible outcomes in collaborating with educational partners.
Corporations commonly turn to institutional partners for the development of training programs that incorporate relevant coursework into comprehensive and cost-effective learning solutions, often for college or university credit. Programs are collaboratively designed to focus specifically on industry needs, providing a truly customized learning experience. A corporation's training organization can avoid reinventing the wheel by outsourcing portions of training programs to educational partners, often drawing from faculty partner expertise in medical and business curricula for courses that fit instructional needs.
Sales reps and managers benefit from engagement in a specialized curriculum, created to address their specific, job-related needs. Flexibility built into training programs allow employees to concentrate on the aspects most relevant to what they want to learn. Sales management gains from such programmatic designs because they address a wide range of learning needs, from the development of new skills and knowledge to remediation for pharma reps who may lack competencies in specific areas. College or university partners gain from such activities as well, getting a closer look into industry trends and issues that assist in their preparation of future professionals.
Educational institutions bring value to industry not only through shared coursework or customized training programs, but also through leveraging the intellectual property of institutional personnel for corporate problem solving. Institutional training professionals, whether faculty or instructional support personnel, can provide services such as needs assessment, performance gap analysis, instructional design, and evaluation of training programs.
Virginia Tech's Center for Instructional Technology Solutions in Industry and Education (CITSIE) works in this way. Instructional technology faculty—including co-author Barbara Lockee—and advanced graduate students work collaboratively with businesses to determine training needs and create effective solutions for them. Center personnel have developed corporate e-learning programs in conjunction with subject matter experts within the partner company. Members of the CITSIE faculty often serve as external program evaluators, lending a third-party perspective that often illuminates performance issues that training organizations might not otherwise recognize. And to round out the exchange, educational think tanks provide insights into a variety of industry needs while also keeping institutional partners at the forefront of current issues in practice.
The Right Fit
At the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia (USP), assistance goes beyond on-site, for-credit courses, internship programs, and continuing education for various members of the pharma industry. Consultative relationships provide valuable support. In fact, large pharma companies frequently ask the university to consult on a wide variety of issues, including identifying physician prescribing practices, clinical trial efficiency, or sales force habits and efficiencies. USP or individual faculty members are often approached with unique questions that afford them the opportunity to develop answers and solutions.