Bayer tackles technology training at warp speed

April 1, 1999

Pharmaceutical Representative

Training reps on new technology.

On February 25, Gloria Harrell received a fax from Hank Osipa, the manager of sales training and development for Bayer Corp. "'You have to set the goals that are almost out of reach. If you set a goal that is attainable without much work or thought, you are stuck with something below your true talent and potential' - quote by Steve Garvey," Osipa's fax read.

Harrell, the director of client services for Tech Resources Group, laughed when she read the quote. She was still recovering from the largest one-day technology training event in TRG's, Bayer's and possibly the pharmaceutical sales industry's history, and its successful conclusion had certainly seemed like an out-of-reach goal when it was proposed less than six months ago.

A grand proposal

In August 1998, Bayer asked TRG, a technology training company based in Raleigh, NC, to send someone from operations to its headquarters to discuss a possible large-scale training project. That someone was Harrell.

"I went to West Haven, CT, and met with Hank Osipa and Brian Boardman, Bayer's remote applications supervisor," Harrell said. "When I went in, they said they would need 148 sales trainers for one day of training Feb. 1, 1999. I looked at them, smiled and said, 'We don't have 148 trainers.' And they said, 'We know. But we have no choice.'"

Bayer wanted to upgrade its entire sales force's hardware and software, and train the sales reps in a new operating system as well as a new version of its proprietary software. Because the new systems could not be installed or restarted until all of the old systems had been shut down and replaced, Bayer was faced with the task of collecting every last laptop, downloading each sales rep's personalized data and reinstalling it in a new piece of equipment within a short period of time when the reps wouldn't be using their laptops.

"We were jumping from old systems to new systems, including servers and support hardware on the support back end at headquarters, so it necessitated shutting down one system before starting up another," Osipa explained.

Since all of the company's sales people were going to be in Orlando on Feb. 1 for the company's national sales meeting, Bayer decided to weave the technology training into the week's itinerary. Because the sales reps would need the laptops throughout the rest of the week, training was scheduled for the first day of the meeting.

"Reps arrived throughout Sunday [January 31st], and the first thing they did was bring their PCs to a breakout room. There, we had people loading software and data, checking communications and ensuring that modems and software were working," Osipa said. The logistics of getting the sales reps to drop off their laptops in exactly the right room - where their new customized and personalized software was waiting to be installed - was "mind-boggling," according to Osipa, but the real challenge lay in the hands of the information systems and support teams, who had to complete all of their work by 8 a.m. the following morning.

"Don't ask when we got to bed," Osipa said. Within 18 hours, however, all 1,800 laptops had been adjusted and were waiting in the appropriate training rooms, where the sales reps received their training from TRG the following morning.

How exactly did Bayer and TRG pull it off? Where did TRG find and train nearly 150 trainers so quickly? How did Bayer coordinate such a large-scale effort? And how did everyone keep their sanity?

Prepare, prepare, prepare

Harrell and Osipa agree that preparation was essential to the effort.

From Harrell's perspective, the biggest challenge was finding and training enough bodies to lead what would ultimately be 149 classes of 15 reps each. Harrell reached into all divisions of TRG, recruiting anyone and everyone who expressed an interest in the project. Although Bayer had agreed that TRG could use up to 25% contract trainers, TRG hired and trained enough in-house trainers to lead all but 18 of the classes.

Perhaps most remarkably, after intensive Train the Trainer sessions, all of the in-house trainers were certified by the time they arrived in Orlando. "If that person had never trained, they would attend courses on platform skills, the pharmaceutical industry, Bayer specifics and more," Harrell said. "They were all certified, which means they were observed. "

Zedra Williams was appointed training project manager. She coordinated the Train the Trainer sessions, arranged the details of the actual training event and planned the curriculum, all of which were approved by Bayer.

Geography and the calendar were Williams' greatest challenges. It was just before Thanksgiving and Christmas, which made it tough to coordinate schedules and count on people being in their offices when Williams needed to reach them.

"People were in different locations - Dallas, Philadelphia, Raleigh, Boston - and it was a juggling act to get people in the classes they needed to attend," Williams said.

Technology-wise, trainers had a compressed timeline as well.

"We got the bulk of our hardware by Dec. 1," Williams said. "One hundred forty-eight systems came in and had to be configured before they were shipped to the trainers." They had less than two months, including the holiday season, during which to familiarize themselves with their systems to the extent that they could teach sales reps about them.

Meanwhile, the Bayer reps also received their new hardware in December.

"They had to complete two computer-based training programs before they came to training," Osipa said. "We only had eight hours to train them [in Orlando] so we didn't want everything to be brand new. The hardware was new because it had a new mouse and they were going from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 operating system, which looks and acts differently. We didn't want to waste time in live training telling them to open and close screens, click and drag. They had to know how to do that before they came."

Two weeks before the live training, the reps were tested on the computer-based training programs. Bayer's e-mail system provided the venue through which the reps' performance was evaluated. Reps' test answers were fed into a database that automatically scored every test. Osipa received printouts of the reps' results, which he then shared with each rep's trainer and manager.

"We didn't care if someone got a 90 versus a 95 [out of 100]," Osipa said. "But if you have 15 people in a room and 11 got a 90 but one got a 50, then the trainer should know the name of that person. Plus, it's good feedback for the reps' manager."

Because training only lasted eight hours, students had little time to ask questions. However, all sales reps were given a written reference manual they could take home with them, and the computer-based training programs were left installed on their laptops in case they wanted to review them later.

Behind the scenes

At the hub of the Feb. 1 training event was a room known as the WAR room. WAR was an acronym for Work Activity Room, and it was where extra laptops and other equipment were on hand in case of emergencies. A support team of various backgrounds worked hard to be sure that program casualties were kept to a minimum.

"Since there were 148 rooms, we assigned teams of seven people to blocks of training rooms," said Osipa. "Each team was comprised of Bayer people, TRG people and staff from our help desk. The teams would handle any problems that originated in those rooms, such as a computer freezing, a battery light not going on or if the data didn't take. In the WAR room, we had people with cell phones and beepers, and that was where problems were called in."

During lunch on both Sunday and Monday, Osipa met with the trainers to discuss any global problems that arose and updated them on any last-minute changes to the program. He also used the meeting to reinforce the good things that were already scheduled. Surprisingly, Osipa said, the stress level on Feb. 1 was fairly low.

"We had put so much time and effort into contingency plans and into making sure we had enough people to handle issues that, come Monday morning when reps were sitting down at their computers, the stress level actually went down," he said.

Satisfaction is best reward

Overall, results of the training were extremely good.

On a scale of one to five, with one being the highest possible score, TRG averaged 1.2 in the evaluation scores recorded by Bayer's sales reps. Eight percent of TRG trainers had perfect scores.

"With pharmaceutical sales, that's rare," Harrell said. "Pharmaceutical sales reps are so good at what they do, they are very impatient with training and they don't like to sit still."

Osipa agreed that results were "extremely good." Whether or not Bayer will do something so grand-scale again, however, is uncertain. The unique needs of this particular upgrade - exchanging operating systems, installing new hardware - made the one-day extravaganza necessary. Osipa is unsure if this scenario will rise again. Having all of Bayer's reps in one place at one time may not be happen again either as Bayer finds new, efficient ways to train its increasingly specialized sales force.

"Will we do it again? That's something that can't be answered," Osipa said. "Can we do it again and have high expectations? Definitely yes! If we did it once, we can do it again." PR

Related Content:

News