Build Your Model Training

By Malcolm Fleschner

In response to the many daunting challenges facing the 21st century healthcare industry, it seems pharmaceutical sales organizations have decided the best solution is to simply deploy more and more salespeople. In fact, today’s top medical experts predict that if current trends continue, by the year 2020 physicians will be followed everywhere they go – on rounds, in surgery, into the bathroom – by roving bands of signature-demanding drug reps.

As an alternative to the strength-in-numbers approach, Steve Lunz and Peter Pisarri of Huthwaite Healthcare, a health industry sales training organization, offer a different prescription for pharmaceutical sales organizations that begins with a shift in training priorities. Following are their five key suggestions.

1. Give them the business. Today, more than ever before, the practice of medicine is a business enterprise. Training must focus on what makes a medical practice succeed, including everything from profitability analyses to the impact of float. Drug reps’ goal should be to improve their overall practice management knowledge. This also will help reps deal with customers who are solely focused on price.

2. What’s my stake? Before building new training curriculum, get input from every stakeholder. Your goal should be to obtain a consensus on the training’s objective, determine which behaviors need to be changed, establish what’s expected of everyone involved and determine how the program’s success will be judged. This kind of investment will produce greater buy-in down the road.

3. Establish metrics. When beginning a new training initiative, companies must be willing to forgo, at least for a time, the immediate gratification of sales results. Focus instead on changing behavior. Establish metrics that encourage reps to practice new behaviors on a succession of safe calls. Managers also should use metrics for conducting strategy reviews and reporting those figures to regional managers for review.

4. Follow up. Put as many resources into your post-training follow up as you put into the training itself. The best training programs always include a system of ongoing instruction, feedback and encouragement. Managers should teach reps to work on new skills one at a time and in safe scenarios. For less experienced reps, managers should model new behaviors in coaching calls.

5. Provide executive support. Change involves struggle and unexpected challenges. Management needs to anticipate these stumbling blocks and acknowledge them at the outset. When sales drop off temporarily, which often happens, management must maintain composure and emphasize how the organization is working together to succeed under the new regime, not just the frontline sales reps. Top-level executives also should maintain a dialogue with stakeholders throughout the transition process.