Flying Under the Radar

Pharma companies are overlooking the importance of training for regional managers and directors. What they don't realize might hurt them in the long run.
May 01, 2006
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

Former GE CEO Jack Welch's no frills—and sometimes cutthroat—approach to business helped him make General Electric a $400-billion company by the end of his tenure in 2001. Though criticized for his desire to make GE a more competitive company, Welch is probably most admired for his leadership style. The CEO enjoyed tailored suits, private jets, and an eight-figure salary per year, but that didn't stop him from sitting face-to-face with a team of 15, 150, or 1,500 employees to talk about what they needed to do to make GE a better company. He knew the value of his team and customers, and he knew that strong leadership made for strong employees.

The growing complexity of the healthcare environment demands salespeople who better understand customer needs. In turn, the industry also demands highly trained managers who understand the needs of their workforce. Amid a greater segmentation in the marketplace that requires salespeople who have more specialized knowledge about their products and customers, it's now more important than ever to concentrate on providing proper attention to the regional managers (RMs) and directors (RDs), a group that companies sometimes neglect. Without great leaders, pharma companies cannot have great sales reps.

Methodology of the Study
For training executives, these challenges mean that pharma's sales organizations need better, and more exacting, training. To uncover the areas of the biggest need, the Society of Pharmaceutical and Biotech Trainers (SPBT) and the Hay Group conducted a study of more than 100 pharma, biotech, and medical device companies in May and June 2005, representing more than $300 billion in global health revenue and training nearly 90,000 pharma employees (see "Methodology of Study").

This article looks at some of the key trends in learning and development (L&D), including more formalized regional director training and the use of technology. It also suggests how training departments are adapting to the current challenges and rethinking their role—now and for the future.

"RM" Is For Role Model

According to the industry's training heads, the scope of L&D departments continues to expand. Take, for example, one marked reversal of tradition concerning regional director development. Companies now offer—or plan to offer—more formalized training development programs for regional directors or regional managers.

Eric Otterbein Director of field sales management development, TAP Pharmaceuticals
"We are doing three or four times as much training for RSDs [regional sales directors] as we have in the past, or that I have seen at other companies," says Steven Rauschkolb, associate vice president, leadership and management development, at Sanofi-Aventis. "We are covering a wide array of topics, including a thorough review of our core management practices, business acumen, understanding customer needs, strategic thinking, and the ability to deploy resources strategically."

While many companies have had formal training programs in place for reps and district managers for several years, RMs and RDs have flown under the radar. Why? The SPBT and Hay Group study found that these tenured, well-compensated managers are expected to know the business before they get promoted. Still, that doesn't mean RMs and RDs don't need development, says Eric Otterbein, director of field sales management development at TAP Pharmaceuticals. Companies hope the effort results in better retention, improved performance, better overall leadership, and higher sales.

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