Article contributed to PharmaLeaders and authored by: Jeremy Lovelace, founder and director of HFX Training.
Across all industries, sales teams face an uncertain future, and pharma is no different. Many key sales practices, such as healthcare provider meetings and terrority-focused engagement have been replaced by the unfamiliar environment of zoom calls, emails and remote work.
Learning and development has also largely been neglected during the pandemic, both in terms of funding allocation and qualitative benefits. Most sales teams have had to make do with conference call style lectures with a few PowerPoint slides, if they’ve experienced any learning opportunities at all.
The lack of innovative learning and development opportunities coupled with the fatigue many have experienced from working remotely have led a lot of sales professionals to become both demotivated and impatient to get back to ‘business as usual.’
However, recent research shows that the sales teams that have managed to thrive during the pandemic all share a few similarities. They are adaptable, motivated, constantly learning and, above all, data literate. And while we may soon be seeing a staggered return to sales-as-we-know it, these new skill sets accelerated by the pandemic look like they are here to stay, in the pharmaceutical industry and beyond.
As award-winning management consultancy firm Curzon Consulting recently wrote in their ‘framework for change,’ “It’s clear as medical professionals endure the uncertainty caused by Covid-19, changes are here to stay, and adaptation is crucial to success.”
Curzon Consulting suggests that “in order for this to be fully realised, pharma companies need to adjust and develop their salesforce capabilities.” They cite a study that shows how “only 26% of pharma representatives get coaching personalised to their needs.” So instead of going back to business as usual, Curzon Consulting recommends that “a focus on sales coaching, through integrated, personalised and value-driven interactions will support representatives to identify target prospects and align the products to the needs of the healthcare professional, through their preferred communication channel.”
Whatever happens in the next few quarters, it’s clear that the sales teams who succeed will be those that can continue to see the opportunities in uncertainty. The best sales teams also need to adapt that old ‘gut-feel’ approach of sales to a more data-driven environment, yet without losing their personal touch and motivation.
One way of cost-effectively teaching essential skills while motivating a sales force is by using a state-of-the-art training simulation. Training simulations are a fantastic opportunity to accelerate sales performance while simultaneously streamlining the learning and development delivery challenge.
Once the remit of a few large multinationals, these immersive simulations are increasingly scalable, flexible and affordable. They’re also an incredibly motivating way to learn for someone who has gotten used to watching experts talk over remote zoom calls for the past year. Flipping the classroom around to put the participant in-charge, training simulations allow your sales team to learn more effectively as active learners rather than just as passive note takers.
A sales training simulation will place learners in a simulated market, complete with territories, prospects, products and T&E budget. Assuming the role of either a sales rep or sales manager, they are then challenged to allocate their resources to maximize revenue over a number of business cycles. Such simulations should come fully-equipped with supporting instructional materials, such as videos and even live classes.
Training simulations provide real skills development along the 70:20:10 learning rule. This rule demonstrates that 70% of a person’s learning is done through their experiential learning – or ‘learning by doing’; 20% comes from social learning – interacting with other people, whether in the office or in-person, and where peer-mentor interactions help to deliver learning; and 10% happens through formal learning – such as traditional training methods e.g. lectures, workshops and assignments.
Pharmaceutical sales increasingly demand complex analytical and decision-making skills, and training simulations can help speed-up behavioral changes in sales behaviour, strategy and resource allocation, by teaching how to ensure effective alignment of limited resources with local market opportunities. These simulations use real-world data that ensures that the skills learned are transferable to the market, while avoiding the real risk that comes with learning on-the-job, where a poor strategy can lead to lost business.
After completing a Sales Training program from a leading simulation-based training provider, a Shanghai-based pharma executive was able to show his sales resources were not aligned with market opportunities. He re-aligned his sales force based on lessons learned in the program resulting in a doubling of sales the next year, pushing the company past the $1billion in revenue mark.
There is no doubt that in the second half of 2021, the sales landscape will continue to shift and defy projections. So now it’s more important than ever to have a motivated sales team who can combine soft-skills such as teamwork and communication with the hard-skills of data literacy and strategic thinking that will ensure sales success for years to come.