Meetings: Before and After
To increase profitability and boost shareholder return, expensive production extravaganzas and celebrity speakers must take a backseat. Effective meeting planning and management rides shotgun. A key to making this happen is starting the learning relationship with reps prior to the event—and continuing it well after the meeting ends.
This article offers some advice for planners and their partner companies on how to maximize the value of a sales meeting. While this is not a comprehensive list, it offers some tools for boosting pharma companies' investment in sales reps and training initiatives.
Most companies spend a substantial amount of money on meeting incentive programs. Attendees often earn points or accumulate raffle tickets throughout the meeting to be "spent" on prizes. There is no reason why companies shouldn't jumpstart these programs in advance to build momentum for the meeting. Attendees will arrive more prepared, and they will have already invested time and interest in learning the information.
Training is becoming an increasingly significant portion of the actual sales meeting. Pre-meeting training can increase the effectiveness of the education delivered at the event. Electronic or distance-learning tools have become a popular and relatively cost-effective way to conduct training, without the need to huddle everyone into one location. Training departments can host these tools on a Web site or distribute interactive DVDs and CDs to reps. Companies also may want to consider live webcast training (with two-way communication between a trainer and trainees in different locations), which can be set up using a handful of laptops and an Internet connection.
Companies should structure their training programs so that they are effective when delivered through the selected medium. In general, e-learning tools are very effective at building knowledge through disease-state and clinical-study training, and product knowledge. This allows companies to use the limited time at live meetings to focus on teaching reps effective selling skills and coaching them on client interactions, customer service, and sales techniques.
Although companies often invest heavily in developing meeting content and materials, opportunities can be lost if no attempt is made after the sales meeting to ensure that what participants learned can be translated into action.
Many executives view their sales goals as something that can be accomplished at the meeting—they assume success immediately after the event, and quickly begin planning the next one. A more effective approach is to view these goals—improved sales, market share, and company image—as things that are jumpstarted at the meeting but not fully realized until post-meeting follow up is complete.
One way to maximize post-meeting education is to have reps develop personal action plans with scheduled 30-, 60-, and 90-day coaching programs with managers. Attendees design personal action plans during their training, often by completing pre-made action-planning worksheets. This will help reps implement the strategies learned at the meeting. For example, a sales representative should identify three clients that can be affected by a new concept or by information obtained at the meeting, and then design a specific plan to target those clients over the next 90 days.
This type of planning also serves as a tool for mangers to track and coach reps following the meeting. Managers can follow along with the coaching program to keep reps accountable to their plans. This approach ensures that the learning curve continues long after the training has ended.
A fairly typical scenario is for sales reps to attend meetings, listen to the "This is where we have been, this is where we are, and this is where we are headed" speeches, and shrug them off as just talk.
Companies have an opportunity to extend their message after the sales meeting by using videotaped case studies featuring sales rep success stories. These mini-documentaries highlight and reinforce training that took place at the event. These programs feature reps explaining the success they have achieved as a result of the meeting. They also detail how goals were accomplished, and offer practical tips and suggestions to peers.
A high-quality, professional video production will lend a large degree of credibility to both the program and the individuals. If these videos are done on a predictable and regular basis, they will create competition among reps, who will want to see their own achievements and those of their region or district showcased. A well-produced video can build morale and help reinforce key objectives introduced at the meeting.
Pharma meeting planners should use these tactics to solidify sales rep participation and interest prior to a meeting—and most important, motivate them long after the event is over.
Josh Barricklow is program designer for Critical Thinking Company. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Richard Bandy is president of Critical Thinking Company. He can be reached at email@example.com
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