Trainers' Task: Do More with Less

A benchmarking study finds that, despite the need, companies are not increasing their training investment.
Oct 01, 2003

Although the number of pharma sales representatives has been moving toward 90,000 for several years, sales and training organizations are still feeling the aftershocks of the industrywide expansion. In particular, that expansion has intensified the challenges for thousands of corporate trainers who oversee the development of their companies' sales organizations-the industry's most unseasoned field force to date.

This article looks at some of these challenges, including increasing trainer-to-representative headcount ratios, a keener focus on management development, and a charge to measure return on investment (ROI). It also suggests how training departments can turn the challenges into opportunities to earn more credit for what they contribute to their companies.

Historically, pharma training departments have had to compete for funding against their more glamorous corporate siblings, sales and marketing. Part of the problem is that many companies view training as merely a cost center, not a revenue generator or a performance driver. Another is that trainers have been in the dark. They lacked the depth of information about their company's strategic objectives and competitive intelligence that companies provided to other departments.

About the Study
In response, the Society of Pharmaceutical and Biotech Trainers (SPBT), a nonprofit member association, worked with the Hay Group to collect the data to help their members work smarter. The 2003 SPBT benchmark study, the fourth of its kind, surveyed more than 40 US pharmaceutical, specialty, and biotech companies. This year, the participants represent nearly 80,000 salespeople, $160 billion in 2002 revenues, and ten of the world's largest pharma companies . The SPBT benchmarking study tracked training trends and identified best practices and organizational weaknesses. This year, the study revealed that the scope of training has increased considerably.

"A common challenge for trainers is to prove the value we provide to our organizations and, more important, tie that value to the business drivers in a way that will be meaningful to senior management," says Steven Rauschkolb, SPBT president and senior director of the University of Pfizer, the company's training organization. "Benchmark data can help us do that using solid, credible information. But the data have to be from our industry, otherwise it's too generic. We need those specifics if we're going to use the data to any competitive advantage, which is the whole point."

Doing More with Less Pharma companies that want to increase the number of their training personnel will find it interesting that during the past three years, sales force expansion rapidly outpaced the addition of training personnel. (See "Head Count Ratios.") The 2003 SPBT study revealed that the ratio of primary care sales reps to trainers was 160:1, up from 75.5:1 in the 2000 study. The ratio of district managers to trainers also increased. In 2003, the ratio was 70:1, compared with 26:1 in 2000.

Head Count Ratios
Many companies are asking trainers to instruct more people but without increasing their budgets. When asked how training dollars per headcount have changed over the past year, more than half of training directors said they have seen little change or a decrease in their dollars per headcounts.

That's especially problematic because the pharma sales force, less experienced than in previous years, needs more training. Many of today's reps and managers wouldn't have made the cut a decade or two ago, trainers say.

"Qualifications for a pharma rep are sales experience and a science degree or background," says Jim Fingar, director of sales training at Berlex Laboratories. "Recently, competition for quality candidates has required companies to accept one or the other. As a result, nurses, pharmacists, or individuals with a strong technical background without sales experience need to build their selling skills, while experienced salespeople often need to develop their scientific knowledge."

The data reflect that trend. Three years ago, trainers spent an average of 14 days educating new sales reps about products and eight days teaching selling skills. The 2003 report found that trainers now spend an average of 17 days on product and disease state knowledge and 10 days on selling skills. Although the number of products that new reps sell hasn't changed, companies are spending more time preparing their people.

Training the Experienced
Berlex Laboratories is among the companies that added more days of training, including out-of-territory classroom sessions. Fingar says he would like to dedicate more time to train reps on business acumen, such as managed care, reimbursement, and physicians' financial issues. Instead, he used the additional time to train them on corporate standards regarding public disclosure of company information, fraud and abuse, HIPAA compliance, and the PhRMA marketing guidelines.

He's not alone. Other companies are trying to squeeze in more regulatory training-and many are uncomfortable relying on CD-ROM-based training programs to shield them from accusations of off-label selling or questionable marketing.

To handle those additional training challenges, many companies have turned to outsourcing, often in areas that they would not have considered before such as time management, communication, and leadership skills. On average, companies spent about 20 percent of their 2002 training dollars-not including overhead, trainers' salaries, or travel and lodging-on outsourced training.

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