Editor’s note: As we ended a difficult and unique year and entered a new one, the Training Industry editorial team asked learning leaders to write in with their reflections on 2020 and predictions for 2021. This series, “What’s Changed and What Hasn’t?: Taking Stock of 2020 and Planning for 2021,” is the result. Plus, don’t miss our infographic, “5 Tips for Turning 2020 Disarray Into 2021 Direction: Insights From Learning Leaders,” which shares insights from the series.

In 2020, the life sciences industry has been in the spotlight, with hopeful eyes across the globe fixed on the pharmaceutical companies working to combat the devastating COVID-19 virus.

The Sales Challenge

This year, life sciences sales professionals have faced tremendous challenges. With many medical practices closing their doors to visitors and busy physicians proving considerably more difficult to engage, it has been harder than ever for sales representatives to ensure prescriber awareness of treatments for diseases and conditions afflicting millions.

Clinical sales training professionals play an important role in this new era. As we work to equip sales teams to achieve their goals, there is little room for error. Given that opportunities to promote products and educate medical professionals are currently few and far between, life sciences sales representatives must be fully knowledgeable and highly confident whenever an opportunity presents itself.

The Sales Training Solution

When the coronavirus first took hold in the United States, scores of commercial life science learning and development (L&D) departments were in the midst of preparing for the large, live team meetings that have been signature events in the industry’s calendar. These gatherings were commonly recognized as the ideal venue for in-person sales team sessions. Once it became clear that they would be impossible, L&D professionals immediately began adapting their programs for virtual formats. With health care needs and the delivery of medication now more important than ever, delivering effective training was a necessity.

The first step was working with technical experts to determine the best platforms for virtual workshop delivery, keeping in mind that training modules needed to be accessible from a variety of devices. Next was a careful review of all programming designed for live interaction — including competitions, breakout rooms and broadcast presentations — and conversion into robust virtual content.

Once they established functionality, L&D professionals turned their attention toward the individuals poised to interact with the program (subject matter experts, sales managers, learners, etc.); these individuals needed not just technological familiarity but also the confidence to smoothly and competently maneuver through content. In addition, with team members no longer gathering together but instead spread throughout the country, virtual programming had to support simultaneous engagement across time zones.

By implementing these procedures and strategies, training professionals were successful in empowering their organizations to achieve expected training outcomes amid less-than-ideal circumstances.

Looking Ahead

With the pandemic showing little sign of abating, training professionals are preparing and presenting learning and development campaigns in the virtual space from the start this year, an approach that’s likely to continue. Thanks to valuable feedback from the industry, it is possible to identify challenges as we all work to more confidently shape the virtual training path ahead.

For example, in the early days of the pandemic, broadband providers scrambled to accommodate a sudden uptick in home internet use, which left training participants battling for bandwidth. Fortunately, online connectivity has improved considerably.

Furthermore, facilitating successful workshop programming is part art and part science. Whether engaging in workshop flow management, working within the confines of a firewall or wrangling technical glitches, virtual training demands a constant learning process.

We’ve all read the encouraging headlines about a COVID-19 vaccine becoming more widely available soon. However, some of the changes that have occurred due to the virus may be here to stay — including the use of virtual platforms for training programs. Although the 2020 pivot to virtual training wasn’t planned, it ultimately came with some benefits.

Firstly, a virtual curriculum is preservable. In fact, it’s now advisable to develop virtual training center that include fully rendered sessions for new hires that replicate the in-person training their more experienced colleagues received.

Regular team meetings can occur using videoconferencing platforms that allow for collaboration, camaraderie and training sustainment programming without requiring travel. In other words, virtual platforms have emerged as a viable way to deliver important training that negates the need to pull reps out of their sales markets.

In 2021 and beyond, having team members fly to a central location, stay at a hotel, and rack up a bevy of expenses associated with attending live meetings may be unnecessary. After all, now that the clinical sales training industry has proven itself adept at achieving the goals of in-person sessions remotely, do life sciences firms really need to expend time and money on live meetings?

One thing is for sure: The adjustments made within the clinical sales training arena over the past year have expanded the industry’s ability to deliver training programs that uplift and empower sales professionals to overcome challenges and achieve important goals.