Pharma meeting planners are realizing that hosting the "biggest and baddest" sales meetings in town does not necessarily translate
into actual results. Live meetings will continue to be the main event, but companies must take control of pre- and post-meeting
initiatives to make the total meeting package a success.
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
Companies should communicate with sales participants prior to the meeting. This does not mean save-the-date reminders and
travel packets. Instead, meeting planners should liaise with the appropriate departments within pharma companies. They should
send them e-mails, newsletters, and snail mail, which will bolster attendee interest in the meeting months in advance, and
keep sales reps updated on any changes to the agenda.
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.
Online gaming is one example of a creative tool that companies can use to build a competitive spirit and excitement for the
meeting. Pharma companies host the games on a Web site, where different sales districts can compete to win points and rank
on high-score lists. Games can range from simple trivia to complicated virtual sales calls, through which teams of sales representatives
earn points for completing sales case studies. The points earned are then incorporated into the activities at the live meeting
and count toward the meeting's incentive or reinforcement program.
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.