National survey benchmarks sales training's best practices

December 1, 1997

Pharmaceutical Representative

The National Society of Pharmaceutical Sales Trainers has announced the results of its survey of training practices in the pharmaceutical industry.

The National Society of Pharmaceutical Sales Trainers has announced the results of its survey of training practices in the pharmaceutical industry. The survey is an overview of the industry's training organizations and sales training practices and allows companies to benchmark "best practices" of training salespeople in the pharmaceutical business.

The research, "A Survey of Training Practices in the Pharmaceutical Industry," was developed in response to requests from pharmaceutical companies. "NSPST was approached by the industry to conduct this groundbreaking research because NSPST is the significant representative of sales training in the pharmaceutical industry," said Bob Rodman, NSPST's business manager. "We were able to provide complete independence, credibility and confidentiality to the companies that chose to participate in the study."

Profile of a sales trainer

The survey results painted an interesting picture of average sales trainers and their responsibilities. The survey revealed that sales trainers are typically former sales representatives - 83% of sales trainers were promoted from a sales force - and that the most important criterion for these trainers was prior performance as a sales representative.

Companies utilize their training departments as means for developing high performers, but more than 60% of companies promote their sales trainers to other positions within two years and 19% of companies promote trainers within one year. Where do they go? Forty-eight percent of trainers accept positions in sales management, while 38% are promoted into marketing positions.

Companies' sales training departments spend 55% of their time training sales representatives who are newly hired by the company. Almost a quarter (24%) of that effort is spent training experienced sales reps. However, 72% of the companies who were surveyed indicated they planned to increase their training time for experienced sales representatives.

According to the survey, sales trainers focus half of their training time on two primary subjects: product knowledge and selling skills. Product knowledge consumes 34% of training time, while selling skills take up 24%.

Gaps in technology knowledge

The survey also showed that computer technology has changed how training departments conduct their training programs. Because sales representatives are more often equipped with computer technology today than they were 10 years ago, companies are taking advantage of this new technology for training purposes.

Computers are employed to deliver a significant portion of "in-field training." According to the survey, 59% of companies utilize computers carried by sales representatives to deliver self-instruction.

In addition, 56% of the companies use the computers representatives carry to test their knowledge and skills. Distance learning and polling are important additional training uses of new computer technology.

The use of computers is not without some problems, however. Almost two-thirds of companies that provide their sales reps with computer technology indicate that a lack of familiarity with the technology is a common problem. This seems to indicate that while the industry is using the computer as a sales training tool, companies need to improve how they train reps to use the technology. Problems are also reported about equipment breakdowns and software.

Computers are being used more frequently by sales forces, but there is still significant opportunity to improve use of new technology in sales training. Future surveys will record pharmaceutical companies' progress in this area.

Benchmark survey

Many survey participants are heralding NSPST's survey as a significant source of information for sales trainers in the pharmaceutical industry. The information that has been gathered will contribute to their ability to find new and effective methods to develop sales representatives and sales managers.

This study will be conducted at regular intervals in order to help companies continually improve their operations. NSPST and the pharmaceutical industry have partnered in this endeavor to continually improve the professional performance of the pharmaceutical representative.

"We have already received requests for the survey from [industry professionals] in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom," said Bob Rodman, who also indicated that NSPST will market the survey to health care and training organizations around the world. The information will benefit both pharmaceutical companies and vendors who market their services to the pharmaceutical industry, he added.

The survey results are making an immediate impact on training organizations of all sizes. One of the unique features of this study is that it compares training practices among companies of similar size and function. This data is available upon request through the NSPST office.

Jim LaMartina, first vice president of NSPST and an employee of Parke-Davis, believes the importance of this study will last into the future. "This research will help us benchmark our company's training practices and determine what the best practices are in the pharmaceutical industry," LaMartina said. "For example, we now know the current practices of other companies in the industry. This will allow me to justify budgeting requests from my management. I can show them that the things I am asking for represent accepted industry practices." PR

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