Get Back Into Training

By Malcolm Fleschner

Nowadays, every pharmaceutical company wants to claim that their sales force is the best trained in the industry. Yet when it comes to investing the time and resources necessary to deploy a genuinely top-notch sales team, few are willing to make the commitment. Add to the mix the need to meet the demands of Wall Street, which requires reps be out in the field generating prescriptions and not in a conference room honing their skills, and the significant challenges facing today’s pharmaceutical sales training organizations become clear.

Pam Marinko, director of professional development for North Carolina-based aaiPharma (www.aaiPharma.com), says that to address the needs of a rapidly changing marketplace today’s pharmaceutical training organizations have to develop a matching level of flexibility.

“Training programs and vendors need to remain dynamic. Marketplace conditions, strategies and tactics change almost daily in this industry, and so should training programs,” she says. “While most training professionals continuously update their deliverables, vendors are not always flexible or willing to adjust a program to meet emerging needs. The responsibility then falls on the training department, which usually is tapped out of resources. We need to remember to ask: How can we improve this program? Unfortunately, the time and work required to update and modify programs often is a luxury.”

In an era where the ability to demonstrate ROI has become an almost baseline requirement for any capital expenditure, Marinko says training organizations often are unable to unequivocally prove their effectiveness. That is one reason why training resources are so often difficult to come by.

“Many people have authored books and articles on this subject and a few have built the best mousetrap,” she says. “Because there are so many groups supporting sales efforts, it’s hard to prove that success can be attributed to the training received. In any given product promotion, the variables include the tenure and talent of the representative, the number of representatives calling on specific physicians, the quality of the prescribing data, the visual aids and marketing pieces, the tenure and talent of the management team, the availability of samples and give-away items, the compensation structure and incentives and, finally, the training reps and managers receive. It’s tough to say: It was our program that made those reps successful!”

Despite these challenges, Marinko remains confident about the quality and importance of sales training and its role in improving reps’ effectiveness. The key, she says, is to involve participants in the process when developing training in the first place so they’ll be more likely to buy into the resulting program.

“Reps, managers and people in general seem to be more enthusiastic about training programs when they have a personal stake in them,” she says. “Whether they are involved in the planning, execution or follow-through of a specific program, if they are involved in some way they buy into it more. When a program is served up to a sales force that has had no influence on the direction or content of the training, it’s more difficult to produce success. Training based on actual business needs, such as driving sales performance, is far more successful than training that develops a specific skill or competency that may or may not be relevant to a rep’s job.”