Sales training using laptops grows

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Pharmaceutical Representative

This article, the second in a series of three, covers the integration of multimedia computers and interactive software into sales training programs.

Editor's note: This article, the second in a series of three, covers the integration of multimedia computers and interactive software into sales training programs.

Training managers confront two major challenges today in the pharmaceutical industry: bringing expanded sales forces up to speed and continuously updating the rest of the current force.

Companies like Ortho Biotech are using laptops to meet these challenges. Robert Danna, director of sales training for Ortho Biotech, said multimedia laptops provided a powerful teaching tool to successfully train a new, nearly 50-rep sales force over the last 12 months. He trained this start-up team on a new indication for Ortho Biotech's successful Procrit.® They are now calling on specialty surgeons, a new audience for Ortho Biotech.

An important part of the successful deployment of the new force was a training program flexible enough for individual learning and stimulating enough for a wide range of ages and previous careers. Danna started with computer hardware compatible to his needs and then began building software to support his objective of thorough training that would allow all newcomers to learn at their own pace.


Interactive software

Ortho Biotech's use of multifunctional, interactive training software helped the company build a new sales force capable of discussing complex biotechnology formulations. Interactive programs have at least three criteria: They must be compelling, educational and completely self-contained, Danna said.

Danna immediately saw that he needed to provide for ongoing individual training in the field, as well as in group settings. The strength of CD-ROM-based training modules, he noted, is that every new representative learns at his or her own pace. Reps currently use traditional paper-and-pen tests to judge how much they are learning, but an intranet testing program will soon allow them to measure their success electronically.

Studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense in the early 1990s found that new recruits learned faster and retained more of what they learned when using multimedia interactive training vs. any other single mode, such as print, audio or even video. (See figure below.)

Databases can help

CD-ROMs have tremendous storage capacity. They allow training departments to support product training with an arsenal of materials. Using CD-ROMs, pharmaceutical companies can link a myriad of support materials: clinical reprints, high-resolution video and formulary plans throughout the country, according to Robert Gessert, president of the Gessert Group, a Milwaukee-based company that produces cost models and other multimedia programs for the pharmaceutical industry.

Training via this long-distance route is a win-win situation for both rep and company. The rep doesn't have to leave his or her sales territory to train and the company doesn't have to spend additional money on travel. Plus, Gessert added, "CD-ROMs can account for successful long-distance training because representatives learn best at their own pace."

Beyond training

Training departments also need to operate within tight budgets. The cost of computer-based training programs, especially involving CD-ROM based multimedia, is not cheap. For example, we have seen CD-ROM conversion training modules that use existing print materials and add voice-overs, pronouncers (verbal glossaries) and linkages to bibliographies cost $25,000 to $50,000. A full multimedia training program - using new audio, video, voice-overs, digitized videos and animated graphics with valuable linkages - can climb up to $250,000. The key elements in cost are programming, content and links.

At Ortho Biotech, Danna received upper management's buy-in to multimedia training early in his planning. "Management supported our investment in new computer training when we demonstrated high interest, education and profitability of the systems," he said. Part of multimedia's appeal to management was its capability to expand reps' exposure to wider audiences and their needs via CD-ROM. Danna has been able to teach reps about pharmacists, managed care groups, health systems and hospital case workers using CD-ROM technology.

Training reps faster

Full multimedia interactive learning allows training departments to move new sales forces through initial training quickly, compared with historic learning curves. Some studies have shown that learning curves leap as much as 60% when trainees use multimedia devices rather than standard print modules. Portable learning tools, like CD-ROMs, compress the time from training to productive selling. PR