Déjà vu

June 1, 2006
Patricia Strandboge, Jim McGuire
Pharmaceutical Representative
Volume 0, Issue 0

Getting the most out of second and third orientations.

"This is like Déjà vu all over again!"

As New York Yankees Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle hit one home run after another during the 1961 baseball season, Yogi Berra summed up the barrage of round-trippers by uttering his now-famous saying about feeling like he had seen it all before. He could have been talking about sales orientation training circa 2006.

In the not-too-distant past, many pharmaceutical companies hired new sales representatives from outside the industry. But with the hiring trend for pharmaceutical sales positions becoming flat in recent years, there now seems to be a sizable pool of experienced pharma reps from which companies can draw their new hires. The resulting situation is that some representatives are going through orientation sales training two, three or even four times during their career, leading to the Déjà vu feeling that Yogi immortalized.

All reps know that accepting a position with another company, or making it through a merger, means another orientation process to go through. But the second, third or fourth time around is significantly different from the first. To find out what orientation training is like when the majority of the class has pharmaceutical selling experience, we asked reps and trainers about their experiences.

The rep's view

The sales representatives we spoke with said that in contrast with their first orientation, their subsequent trips to home office orientation programs provided them with opportunities to learn about more than just the new products they would be selling. One senior representative who voluntarily changed companies summed it up this way: "The training is the first glimpse into 'Holy crap, what did I sign on for?' " While the training session can be an eye-opening initiation into a new company, the orientation experience also provides the newly hired rep with a variety of information and experiences.

Comparisons and projections. Representatives told us that the sales orientation programs they attended allowed them to make predictions about what kind of company their new employer might turn out to be over the long haul. By comparing the current orientation with others they had participated in, several representatives indicated that they could get a good read on what to expect from the new company. While many felt that training was a good barometer for overall company performance, it was not always the case. One representative described how the optimism he felt upon graduating from a well-run and well-organized training program quickly turned into a feeling of helplessness due to the micromanaging leadership style that was prevalent throughout field sales management.

Another representative told us that she learns what to expect from the company during orientation training by observing how the home office handles the small details that can make life difficult for a rep if they are not done well. "During orientation, when the different departments come in to present, I can see how on-top-of-things people are by how they handle the small details. If the details are not handled well, then at least I know about it upfront. For instance, [if] I know in advance that I will never get a copy of a study from medical, I won't be waiting around in the field for something that is not going to happen. It lets me know right away if I need to take things into my own hands."

Key players. A common idea touched on by the representatives we spoke to was using the training session as an opportunity to get to know the key players in the home office. Most felt that during their first orientation, they were too busy worrying about passing tests and acing role-plays to concentrate on learning who was who in the home office. With the benefit of experience, these representatives found that they could use some of their time during the training session to introduce themselves and spend a few minutes with home office sales and marketing managers who visited the class or attended group dinners.

The trainer's view

Most of the trainers we talked to said that their companies tend to hire experienced representatives with specific expertise and that there seems to be a ready supply of sales talent these days. One trainer told us that over the past two years, his orientation classes have consisted almost exclusively of experienced pharmaceutical salespeople. "With the talent that is available now, we are filling most of our open positions with reps who are looking to make a change or who are coming from a competitor," he said. The following are a few of the key topics that came up during our conversations with these trainers:

Results. "With experienced reps, we don't see the level of anxiety related to role-plays and assessments that you see with brand-new people, so we can get to work right away on making their presentations even better than they already are," said one trainer we spoke with. Another trainer echoed these thoughts, saying, "I take the good presentations that they have already developed, and I look to make them better by cutting down on inaccuracies or the wordiness that presentations sometimes have." Another trainer has noticed that experienced reps arrive at orientation sessions very up-to-speed with their pre-session material, which makes it easier to spend more time on skill development activities.

Assessments. When it comes to testing during orientation, trainers indicated that written or computer-based knowledge assessments are not of much concern. As one trainer summed it up, "Everyone does well enough to pass." Role-playing and sales simulations, however, are areas where trainers felt they could get a better feeling for how the rep might perform in the field. In order to assess how reps handle themselves in selling situations, several companies said they rely on field managers and trainers to assist the in-house team in making sure that everyone is ready to go with their sales presentations and that everyone is comfortable answering questions and asking questions that move the sales call in the right direction. "I am looking for improvement from baseline when working with representatives who may be having difficulty with our style of selling," said one trainer we spoke with. "Where they were when they came in and where they are when they leave counts for a lot with me."

Another time around

Buy-in. According to one trainer, an experienced rep can be a great asset or a great obstacle to accomplishing the goals of sales orientation training. "The difference between new and experienced reps is the level of support you get when the reps agree or disagree with what you are saying during training. With experienced reps, you can get great buy-in if they agree. On the other hand, they can be an obstacle if they disagree with something you say." Another trainer expanded on this. "We know that the reps have a great deal of valuable experience – that is one of the reasons why they were hired. But before telling me how you've done it in the past, give our way a try."

Was Yogi right?

Maybe in the case of the 1961 Yankees it was Déjà vu all over again, but we found that when it comes to orientation training sessions, quite a bit has changed for the participants and the trainers alike.

Do you remember when you were hired into the pharmaceutical industry as a sales representative? If you would like to share your experiences or contribute your thoughts to a future article, contact us at info@tpptraining.com