How to make the jump from sales to training

September 1, 2002

Pharmaceutical Representative

The training department serves as an ideal landing spot for many salespeople, whether their assignment lasts two years or 20.

For some representatives, becoming a trainer is an exciting, well-earned promotion on the road to becoming a district manager or regional sales manager. For others, training itself is an inviting career path that fulfills their passion to help others and their commitment to learning. Either way, the training department serves as an ideal landing spot for many salespeople, whether their assignment lasts two years or 20.

We've asked some of SPBT's board members to offer pharmaceutical representatives advice on how to land a position or launch a career in training. Here is what they said:

Getting the gig

If you're pursuing your first training position, it's important to prove yourself as a high-performing - probably award-winning - representative with a lot of potential. This often means attaining top performance for several years in a row.

Once you have a proven track record, the next step is letting your manager know your ambitions. Then, you can work on your skills and find opportunities to bring training into your current job.

"Bug your DM for as many opportunities as possible to assist in district development," says David Solomon, director-at-large. This may include volunteering to lead a product training session at a district meeting or coaching a new representative during a ride-along.

In other words, take the initiative. "Look for opportunities to participate as a guest trainer or facilitator at a new hire training class," says James Toole Jr., director-at-large. "You will gain exposure and a better understanding of what it takes to be successful in this position."

If your manager is supportive, it is also a good idea to share your career desires with those in the training department. There, you might find a good mentor.

"Ask the trainers in your company about their job and responsibilities," says Treasurer Ed Nathan. "Ask them how they got their current position and what they like and don't like about training."

As you climb the corporate ladder, be prepared for the possible downside of advancement: relocation, relocation, relocation.

"Be careful what you wish for; you might just get it," says Ted Miller, immediate past president. "Moving into the training department will, in most cases, require a relocation. And if you're on a career track for DM, a second relocation, most likely, will not be far away."

Making it last

To sustain a successful career in training, the ambitious must rely on their work ethic, judgment, team-building savvy, business acumen and, especially, interpersonal skills.

"Take your communication skills to the next level," advises Secretary Dennis Kalsow. "Join Toast Masters, take a Dale Carnegie course, become a great listener and great presenter. Learn to use Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Take a time management course. Know your products and your competitors' products. … But foremost, know yourself. Ask yourself if you want to help others succeed and excel. You need to love the satisfaction it gives to you."

Beside this passion, the right qualifications also are important for the long haul.

"To build a career in training, attaining credentials in instructional design and adult education - coupled with sales experience - is the ideal way to succeed," says Vice President Marie Mickey.

Knowing how to lead others is another vital asset for the career trainer. "The best thing you can do for yourself and your department is to develop leadership skills, preferably as a field sales manager, prior to attempting to gain a training leadership position," says John Constantine, director-at-large. "In senior positions in any area - and training is no different - leadership deficiencies invite failure."

Director-at-Large J.M. LaMartina agrees. "If you want to make a career of training, you should move within the department and try teaching skills of leadership," he says. "This will allow you to make a larger contribution. But most important, you should bring the respect you had as a top-performing sales rep to the training position."

As trainers climb higher in their organization, they are required to interact with other functional areas, such as finance, marketing, medical, purchasing and human resources.

"Career trainers require a certain political savvy, as well as polished group presentation skills," says Vice President Bob Lanting. "As you reach the top of training's organizational structure, you will find the need to be a visionary an absolute must. You must be able to look down the road and anticipate industry and organizational changes that will be required to remain successful." PR

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