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The B2B sales landscape is evolving at a rapid rate, and pharmaceutical sales are no exception. As sales teams move to keep up with these changes, finding the right approach to training is now more important than ever. One way that trainers are responding to this new environment is by using computer-based simulations. This modality is a great approach to pharmaceutical sales training because it is engaging, realistic and helps develop critical skills for a data-driven world.
Simulations are a type of so-called “experiential learning.” Experiential learning is a tried and tested approach to training, and pharmaceutical sales trainers like Peter Perron, President of Strategic Partnerships at Covetrus, have long understood its benefits in the context of sales training. Indeed, methods such as role-playing exercises and on-the-job-learning (e.g., accompanied sales calls to doctors) have been a staple of sales training for decades. However, given the current prevalence of remote-work and the likelihood that virtual sales calls are here to stay, these training approaches need to adapt to remain effective.
Rising to the challenge presented by this new training environment, trainers such as Cam Tipping, President of training consultancy IIBD,1 have adopted state-of-the-art computer-based simulations. These simulations place learners in a realistic, competitive landscape where they must make commercial decisions over a number of business cycles. Both immersive and effective, these simulations, which can be delivered both onsite or remotely, offer three key benefits for sales teams that make them a particularly relevant training approach in today's landscape.
1. Engagement through collaboration and competition
Salespeople are, perhaps more than any other executive, focused on results, so training needs to be engaging and to the point.Simulations, with their learner-led, team-based and competitive format, have been shown by researchers to be more engaging.2 Furthermore, other researchers have found gamified e-learning (of which business simulations are a prime example) to be more effective.3
Simply put, pitting learners in teams against each other creates excitement and encourages collaboration. Equally, practicing decision-making with uncertain outcomes (where your success depends largely on the skill of your competitors) helps to keep them motivated in a training program. As distance learning becomes a more dominant model in corporate training, the power of simulations to stimulate engagement and collaboration — even between remote trainees — makes them more relevant than ever.
That said, engaging training modalities can only be truly helpful if they are also true to life — leading us to the second benefit of using simulations for sales training — their realism.
2. Realism without the risk
The importance of training realism is so well understood that many may argue that the only way to develop the skills needed to be a successful salesperson is by learning on-the-job. Yet, while being thrown in at the deep end can drive rapid learning outcomes, any mistakes made on-the-job can cost businesses time and money. Also, purely on-the-job training, especially for those completely new to a role, can create too much stress for the learner, leading to training failures and higher staff turnover.
Simulations, on the other hand, allow learners to take risks and make mistakes in a realistic environment but without real-world fallout. Each simulated business cycle shows the successes and failures of the learner’s previous decisions and provides feedback to help the learner improve their understanding and confidence, making simulations a win-win training approach for sales forces.
However, no matter how realistic a sales training program is, ultimately its success depends on its ability to develop critical skills in trainees, and at the forefront of these skills in today's landscape is data fluency and quantitative literacy.
Critical skills for a data-driven world
The importance of data fluency as a sales skill has grown with the use of computer software such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Sales Performance Management (SPM) systems, whose very purpose is to facilitate the gathering, storing and analysis of sales data. So important is data fluency in today’s sales environment that according to many practitioners,data-driven decision-making is the key to staying competitive.4
However, as summarized by David Forder, CEO of Sentia, most sales organizations struggle to extract value from CRM systems.5 To remedy this, the realistic commercial datasets at the heart of computer-based sales simulations help trainees understand how the type of data captured in CRM systems permits efficient allocation of their scarce sales resources. This understanding ultimately leads to a more strategically minded and responsive sales force that is more likely to be both willing and able to engage and extract value from the systems available to them.
Adapting to an ever-changing business environment
With the volatility of the current environment, effective sales training continues to have a central role in the success of any pharmaceutical sales organization. Yet the challenges of remote work mean that training approaches must be adaptable and engaging. As such, simulations (whether delivered in onsite or remote training formats), with their power to engage learners, and develop strategically minded and data-literate sales teams, are destined to become a key component of the future pharmaceutical sales training landscape.
Jeremy Lovelace is the founder and director of HFX Training.