New pharmaceutical sales representative usually look forward to training with a mix of anticipation and anxiety. It's exciting to begin a new journey. It's fun to meet new people. And it probably means that you're done with home study manuals and online tests. At the same time, it's natural to worry about being away from your family or not performing well at training.
Many experienced representatives approach training with a mix of enthusiasm and trepidation. It's nice to get out of territory for a little while and see far-flung friends, but the time out of territory may hurt your sales numbers. And besides that, you now know the mind-numbing reality of role play grinders.
Take heart! Pharmaceutical companies are constantly evolving their training to better meet the needs of their sales forces. And whether you're a new or veteran rep, here are some practical things you can do to get more out of your company-provided training.
Read all correspondence about the meeting, including details of what to bring, what to study, and when and where you are expected to be. Complete all pre-work assignments by the specified deadlines.
Prepare yourself by identifying three specific challenges you are facing in your territory. List each one individually and indicate what you have done to try to overcome them. For example:
Challenge: My primary product requires prior authorization from the largest HMO in my territory.
My response: I have distributed prior authorization forms to all of my target prescribers.
Challenge: My highest target physician will not see pharmaceutical reps.
My response: I call on the practice regularly and leave product brochures and invitations to educational programs.
Challenge: I am new to pharmaceutical sales and I don't know who the key opinion leaders are in my territory.
My response: I am following the territory routing schedule that I inherited from the previous rep.
Think of this list as a springboard to make the training more relevant to your territory. Use the strategies in the rest of this article to gain insight and ideas into how to overcome the challenges you've identified.
Ask if there are any opportunities for you to be involved with the planning or presentation of the training. Many training meetings include regional or district break out sessions with more flexible agendas. Think about some of the skills and best practices you've developed that your peers may benefit from. For example, have you boosted your sales numbers by calling on NPs and PAs in your territory? Do you have a creative approach to program recruitment? How does your background in nursing help you sell against the competition?
If you came to pharmaceutical sales from another industry you may have strategies for routing, call presentation, or gaining access that are applicable for your peers. Whether you're a new or veteran rep, presenting to your peers is a great way to polish your presentation skills and deepen your understanding of the material.
Realize that once the training is complete and you are in territory, you probably won't have time to go back and study your training material. This is your opportunity to practice saying "subungual onychomycosis" and "macroglobulinemia". Now is the time to ask the difference between CABG and off-pump CABG, and find out why a physician may recommend one procedure over the other.
Realize that role plays, although artificial, are the best way to develop your product presentation skills. If you spend the time now to become absolutely fluent with the PI, your visual aids, patient profiles, prescribing information, and features and benefits, you will be able to really listen to prescriber questions and objections, and you will have excellent responses in the forefront of your mind.
Take tests seriously. You need to be very comfortable with the science of your products in order to sell them to physicians, all of whom are scientists. The most successful sales reps are those who use first-class selling skills to communicate the scientific evidence that underlies the benefits of their products.
Of course, you need an engaging opening to your call. And yes, you need to ask open-ended probing questions. But if your understanding of your product is limited to the features and benefits highlighted in your visual aids, it will be very difficult for you to gain commitment from a non-user or to convert an occasional prescriber to an enthusiastic advocate.
Initiate conversations with people in and out of your region or sales team. It's good for your business and your career. Find out what companies other representatives came from and what products they've sold. Ask how they handle common objections and managed care challenges. Most sales people love to talk, and most are willing to offer suggestions and best practices.
Introduce yourself to all levels of management. It will make you (and them) feel like you are part of a team, and it shows respect and initiative. Listen closely when they talk about their experiences; you may hear something that sparks a light bulb moment in your own mind.
Challenge yourself. Find something in the PI that you're not confident presenting, and ask for help. Role play with someone you don't know well. Get up earlier than you have to and review your notes from the previous day. Challenge yourself to gain knowledge, confidence, or an idea from every single workshop; challenge yourself to contribute knowledge, confidence or an idea to someone else in every single workshop. Challenge yourself to leave training knowing that you put your best effort into the experience.
Partner with another representative for skill development and support. Find someone you work well with, and practice delivering core selling messages to each other. Get together to study and compare notes. Check in on each other's energy level throughout the day. Training sessions that run several days or weeks can be exhausting. It's helpful to have someone you can count on to make you laugh or encourage you to take a walk outside.
The sole value of training is in your application of the information to your daily work, so make sure to apply the training to your life in territory. With each concept or strategy that is presented, ask yourself:
- What does this mean for me in my job?
- Who is like this in my territory?
- How does this change the way I do business?
The goal of training is to make you better at what you do every day. It does no good to dissect a clinical trial in a training workshop if you don't use that experience to gain new business. Why spend an afternoon developing creative call openings if you're going to revert to "Hi, I'm Sally with Bacchetta Pharmaceuticals. Do you need any samples today?"
Before you leave a workshop, jot down at least five prescribers who you think will respond to the closing techniques or core messaging or whatever you covered in the workshop. The important thing is for you to take ownership of the training and use it to make a difference in your territory.
Sales trainers do what they do because they enjoy helping people improve. They are usually passionate about their work and genuinely pleased with your progress. Let yourself be motivated by their energy. Join them with enthusiasm.
Trainers spend a great deal of time developing and re-working their presentations and activities to make them educational and meaningful for you. They deserve your full participation and your honest feedback about their efforts. If you have ideas about how to improve a workshop or there are topics you would like to see added, share this specifically and constructively.
Many pharmaceutical sales trainers have experience in sales, management, or health care. They are valuable resources for information about disease states, clinical trials, managed care, selling skills, and your products. Take advantage of this opportunity to learn from them.
Extend the benefits of training with a formal follow up plan for yourself and for your district.
For yourself, write up a contract identifying strategies from training that you will incorporate into your work. Make them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, Time-bound), then sign the contract. Keep a copy for yourself and send a copy to your supervisor or territory partner. It's amazing how much more accountable you'll be, knowing that someone else has a copy of your contract.
For your district, make plans for monthly follow up conference calls or email updates. Use that time to share successes and challenges you've encountered since the training. Discuss which portions of the training you have found most relevant and helpful in gaining market share in your territory. Generate a list of topics that the district would like to cover at the next training workshop. Most importantly, offer each other support for your ongoing efforts.
Prepare, Ask, Realize, Tests, Initiate, Challenge,., Partner, Apply, Trainers, Extend. The only letter missing from PARTICIPATE is also the most important. It's "I". I am responsible for my experience at training. Only I can invest myself in the opportunity to improve and only I can take what I learn and be successful with it.
I wish you well.
Originally published in the April 2008 issue of Pharmaceutical Representative magazine. Copyright 2008 Sally Bacchetta. All rights reserved.
Sally Bacchetta is an award-winning freelance writer and sales trainer. She specializes in writing and presenting pharmaceutical sales training programs that are relevant and engaging from start to finish. She also publishes articles on a variety of topics, including sales training and motivation, pharmaceutical sales, and emerging technologies. Contact Sally at firstname.lastname@example.org or read her latest articles on her freelance writer website.