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The most important result for pharma firms of the changing sales structure is a reduction in the amount of training resources that are available to them.
Whoever says change is good clearly understands the direction in which pharma sales are evolving. With new guidelines pressuring companies to demonstrate superior value, and an environment that will tolerate little else, pharma firms are looking toward innovation and technology to create better training methods—this is particularly important as the sales force changes size and shape. Virtual classrooms and more focused attention to sales reps are just some of the strategies companies are now applying to training departments.
As president of the Society of Pharmaceutical and Biotech Trainers (SPBT), Steven Rauschkolb is practical in his approach and realistic in his views about concentrating on training veteran reps and getting upper management support early on. Rauschkolb maintains core values are still important in pharma training—targeting, product knowledge, and selling skills—but stresses that if firms want to get ahead of the game, change is important.
Pharm Exec: With the new sales structures, where is the biggest area of change for trainers?
Rauschkolb: The most important result of the changing sales structure for pharma firms is a reduction in the amount of training resources that are available to them; it could mean the reduction in manpower or the amount of time departments have to train people. It is also going to mean rethinking the structure of the training department to support the new field alignments.
Where training takes place will also change. Does it take place in the home or regional office, or is it Web- or self-based? This is an important issue, because if there is a reduction in resources, the training departments are going to have to be much more creative about how they get the training out to people.
We're also beginning to see that training centers' efforts are being shifted or split. While many companies in the past focused 100 percent of their training initiatives on the training department, you may see more companies going to a field or regional trainer to supplement what the home office does, if they haven't already done that. That's important because it allows reps to remain in territories, and that's really the biggest cost component in training.
What's your advice for implementing change to training methods?
As the new sales model begins to exhibit some changes, it's important for district managers and trainers to gain upper-management support very early in the process. These are the types of changes that you can't make unilaterally, and you need to find an early adopter or opinion leader among senior management who is on your side. You have to be proactive and get a supporter that will allow you to pilot different models and different ways of implementing training.
How will pharma companies affect change to training models?
One of the methods that is changing is an increased focus on training the seasoned reps. Ten years ago, the focus of the training department was really on the new hire, but I'm seeing more and more emphasis on training the vast majority of the field force that's been selling for a longer period of time.
If you're going to make a change in the way you train or the way you sell, they're the largest group to focus on, because they're the ones that have been trained to do it differently in the past. They are using the original methods and techniques that they were trained on—where the greatest change needs to take place. When you train a new hire, they don't know any different for the most part, and they'll take what you have to tell them at face value.
To be able to continue to provide a high level of support to the field forces, there will be an increasing need for training departments to demonstrate return on investment and show the value they bring to the companies. More and more, the training departments are being asked to measure what they do. The seasoned reps are the crucial element here, since they can get the quickest return on investment training, especially the ones that are already successful.
Do seasoned reps require different methods of training than new hires?
In the future, you're going to see training be much more individualized, as opposed to just taking the whole field force and putting them through one comprehensive program. There's going to be much more accountability for individuals to take advantage of the development opportunities that they have.
How are companies applying new training strategies in the face of limited access to doctors?
They have to change the way they sell, because they don't have the luxury of being able to do the same things as before the PhRMA guidelines. The focus is more on having a quality exchange with the physicians. On the other hand, in the past, the reps that demonstrated they could provide some value within an office and to a physician were the ones that got more time anyway. That's just magnified now because the weaker representatives don't have the things they used to have to fall back on in lieu of selling. Product knowledge, selling skills, and an ability to provide value are more important than ever.
How will smaller sales forces affect the role of the district manager?
The role of the district manager is becoming increasingly more important. Reps who get better coaching from their manager are more likely to retain that training and implement it in the field.
Do you think the industry will replace classroom instruction with Web-based learning?
No. I think e-learning is an effective tool for certain parts of training, but there is no replacement for face-to-face training when you're teaching things like selling skills.
In fact, trainers are increasing the amount of time they spend with sales reps. And trying to make training more realistic by bringing in actual physicians to role play with the representatives.
Okay, but will companies continue to shift their training methods online?
Yes and no. We are seeing companies increase their use of technology and e-training, but I'm not sure we're getting the productivity gains or incremental benefits that we thought we were going to get with the use of technology.
There's been a change in focus from buying off-the-shelf training programs to customizing programs and developing custom content. Early on, there was a big rush to get content out there to justify the cost of learning-management systems and Web-based training, but the return on investment was not there. What we are seeing now is not so much a game of making tons of training accessible and hoping people would take it; it's more of a game of focusing on ensuring that the training you put out there is highly relevant to what people need, and is customized to the way you do business in your company.
Do you have any other thoughts on how evolving trends or changes to the pharma sales structure will affect training methodologies?
It's important for the people in the training department and the people who are redeploying the field force to talk frequently and early, so that the training department can start to talk about what changes need to be made to the model in order to fully support what's going on in the field. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to have a training department that's structured from a business-unit perspective if the field force is going to be redeployed in a more therapeutic or specific-product area.
While change comes slowly, one obstacle will be getting senior leadership's consensus, and allowing them to give you the time to train the people. It comes down to looking at the changes that have taken place in our industry, and figuring out how we are going to adapt to them.
Steve Rauschkolb is associate vice president of leadership and management development at Sanofi Aventis. As president of the Society of Phamaceutical and Biotech Trainers (SPBT), he also serves on the editorial advisory board of Pharmaceutical Representative magazine (an Advanstar publication). Prior to joining Aventis, Rauschkolb was the senior director of the University of Pfizer, Hospital and Specialty Representative Training.