Staying in the Game

May 1, 2008
Sander Flaum
Pharmaceutical Executive

Volume 0, Issue 0

The tech-savvy creative team at Concentric Rx has its sales force mixing work and play

One doesn't normally associate fast-paced rock music and flashy graphics with online sales training tools. But Rep Race: The Battle for Office Supremacy, the innovative role-playing video game from healthcare marketing agency Concentric Rx, has all that and a lot more. With Rep Race, Bayer sales reps have a training option that offers far more entertainment than the staid old multiple-choice skills test. Most surprising of all is the fact that this sales training/testing tool is actually fun.

According to Ken Liss, national sales director of specialized therapeutics at Bayer, "We were seeking a fresh way to help our specialized therapeutics sales representatives apply the in-depth information they learn about Betaseron and the MS category—a new, innovative, and active approach."

Bayer was especially intent on energizing the sales force for three reasons. First, the drug had recently received a new indication for usage after an initial MS event; second, important data on the drug had just been presented before the American Academy of Neurology; and third, the company wanted to keep the sales force "focused and excited" despite talk of a possible merger with Berlex.

Bayer and Concentric Rx also sought to create a game that would be educational, motivational, and entertaining for Bayer's relatively young field force, comprised of reps from the video game/Internet generation. Another goal was to provide simple access to a tool that could teach and test reps in preparation for and as a follow-up to each Plan of Action (POA) meeting.

During the game, sales reps face situations in which they must successfully pitch a doctor on Betaseron (interferon beta-1b), Bayer's high-dose, high-frequency interferon treatment for multiple sclerosis. In a Bond-esque opening sequence, the player chooses a character, gets into a sleek, high tech car, and receives an "urgent communiqué" from a higher-up that gives some background on the impending sales call.

Next, the player might happen upon a medical receptionist, a doctor in private practice, a group of doctors in a cafeteria, or a doctor in a low-cost medical clinic (to name a few possibilities). The game then generates a multiple-choice question that either requires the player to choose how he or she will open the sales call or requires the player to respond to a doctor's initial overture. After the player makes a choice, he or she sees a text box explaining why the choice was or was not correct. The doctor character responds to the rep based on the rep's answer to the previous question.

Said Michael Sanzen, one of the founding partners at Concentric Rx, "It's not just a fun way to learn the data. It really is training them in

situational selling." And because of the number of possible questions

and scenarios, no rep plays the same game twice.

First rolled out in early 2007, Rep Race has gone through approximately five incarnations, updated each time to reflect new insights and information. Despite some initial technical glitches, the first version of the game met with glowing reviews. "The video game approach reinforced what they were learning through other avenues, and allowed them to actively engage in the materials and the learning process," said Liss. "They complete the video game component according to their own schedules."

One characteristic of the game is particularly attractive to sales reps, according to Sanzen. "Reps tend to be very competitive with one another, and that's been very successful with this game. We designed a Top Ten Leader Board to show players and management who the highest scorers were." Scores are also tallied by sales district, in order to determine which district has the best educated sales reps. Those scores are posted on the District Rankings Board.

In order to be certified to attend the next POA meeting, reps must first attain a certain score on Rep Race. Players begin the game with the knowledge that managers will be able to view their scores. "We were up-front with the reps about the metrics of the program, and it's important to note that it wasn't designed to penalize them," said Liss. "What it did was allow managers to better identify which people might need some additional training."

Because reps are encouraged to rack up enough points to reach the Top Ten Leader Board, they generally play the game over and over again. The game is arranged so that players receive new questions and new situations whenever they play.

Rep Race evolved from an earlier gaming platform that Concentric Rx had designed for another client. Because Concentric Rx constantly tinkers with the format, the latest version of Rep Race is far more complex and involved than the initial version of the game.

Since January 2007, when the Betaseron sales force first began playing Rep Race, the Concentric Rx team has settled into a relatively predictable schedule with regard to developing each new version of the game. During the three weeks prior to a new Betaseron sales meeting, Sanzen and his team burn the midnight oil in order to generate a new and improved version of Rep Race. Three different writers divide the workload and churn out questions, explanations, and other content. Editors run the new content through the fact-checking process, sometimes relying on a field advisory board for advice.

According to Sanzen, one of the most challenging aspects of the project is keeping content short. "In training pieces, we're used to giving people every single bit of information they could possibly need. But online, you really have to limit yourself," he explained. After the new content makes it through Concentric Rx's team, it moves on to the regulatory team at Bayer. Added Sanzen, "It takes a long time to review this much content. But we're very process-driven; if you follow the process and hit your timelines, things get done on time. That's really the only way to do it."

Whether or not Rep Race has inspired the sales force more than previous programs is a matter of conjecture. But the numbers are favorable. When Pharm Exec interviewed Liss in late 2007, he noted that Betaseron had been the fastest growing interferon for the previous three months.

In one version of Rep Race, Sanzen and his team even incorporated real-life Bayer managers as characters in the game. "The managers sort of taunt them throughout the game. You're playing against their high score," Sanzen said.

Concentric Rx has plans to come up with other features for the next version of the game. Sanzen has tentative plans to turn the game into a more multifaceted destination. "Right now we're talking about evolving this into more of an intranet, so that instead of just a game it becomes more of a knowledge portal," he said. Possible additions include a best practices chat room and a virtual suggestion box. It's all part of the effort to keep the sales reps playing—and selling—well into the future.

Sara Donnelly is Pharmaceutical Executive's associate editor. She can be reached at sara.donnelly@advanstar.com