Sales has always been a challenging field, and it hasn’t gotten any easier.
Over the last two years, impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic — from social distancing to remote work to changing business models — have presented many new impediments to sales professionals, regardless of sector or specialty. And there’s another issue that we’re all facing: Sales goals continue to rise.
For sales professionals working in the pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device industry, today’s landscape is even more daunting. Health care professionals already stressed by COVID-19 are busier and more difficult to reach than almost anyone. When a life sciences sales professional does get the opportunity to discuss a new medication or updated prescribing information, it’s likely to be a brief and distracted interaction.
Salespeople can’t afford the luxury of getting back to a prospect tomorrow with answers to the questions they pose today. They need to know their stuff, in the moment. Convincing a doctor to consider a new drug has always required the ability to speak about that medication with confidence and competence. You can’t inspire trust if you can’t speak with certainty. A successful life sciences sales professional speaks fluently about how their product addresses a disease or condition and possesses a thorough understanding of the wider competitor marketplace. There’s a lot to learn.
Years ago, if you were a sales representative engaging in the learning process, you might recall the thump of a large box landing on your front steps. This box was filled with bulging binders containing reams of information about your product. It was your duty to review this dense medical information and commit to memory as much as possible before your team’s product launch meeting. Even then, we knew that this method was not ideal — but with limited alternatives, it was standard practice.
Over time, however, advances in technology have provided fresh and more engaging methods for training program developers to present challenging curricula, beginning with online quizzes and video presentations.
Training program developers have built upon these new approaches, parsing and packaging dense curricula into smaller modules and more entertaining frameworks that are more appealing to learners. By introducing fun and fresh methods of learning, users are encouraged to engage in training more often, and can establish a base of knowledge much sooner, opening up the opportunity to effectively build upon it.
There’s another key benefit to including fun surprises in your training program, beyond generating interest. It turns out that the most effective programs for enhancing memorization present materials in unusual formats, filled with unexpected moments. This strategy is validated by scientific research demonstrating that “novelty enhances memory.”
For sales training program developers, this is clearly the time for fresh methods of delivering complex training information that truly sticks, placed within training platforms that encourage incisive, on-the-spot thinking. It’s time for creative solutions.
Training On the Go
Notable recent methods for presenting information in more creative, entertaining and accessible ways include:
- Placing product and prescribing information into game formats, from true/false and multiple-choice quizzes to matching pair puzzles and more, is a great way to encourage repeat play. The uploading of training games to phones and other mobile devices makes it easy for learners to advance their knowledge at any time, in any place. Online games can also incorporate audio, video, charts and photos in dynamic ways that will more easily cement the material into the learner’s memory. We are also able to monitor a learner’s answers in real time and tailor the game to their specific areas of weakness.
- eLearning, where participants once passively scrolled through curriculum screen-by-screen following audio prompts, is now a much more robust, mobile-friendly offering that includes customizable and interactive content, video and animation, the ability for learners (and trainers) to review their progress and other appealing and fun features.
- Role-play is another arena where new approaches allow for greater impact. For one, consider employing professional actors (or “simulators”) to perform with your learners. These spirited encounters, filled with unexpected roadblocks, often produce unanticipated solutions and ensure a productive session that hits all necessary marks. Using simulators allows managers to fully engage as an observer and do what they do best: coach.
- Sales representatives can also take advantage of technology platforms to record and submit role plays to their manager, who will review messaging strategies and provide further coaching and feedback. Research has found that learners, on average, record up to five times prior to submitting for review. This desire, to make their practice sessions perfect, is invaluable.
- A virtual training facility is a very innovative method of framing content that can be shared remotely (a requirement that we’ve all come to recognize during the COVID-19 pandemic). Building virtually means that you have limitless opportunity to insert engaging features that will combat screen fatigue and keep learners actively interested. In this setting, learners arrive for a videoconference session by “entering” a building and traveling down virtual hallways before clicking to join their meeting. Between sessions, they can travel throughout their online world and explore additional features, from company and product information shared via clickable “wall tiles” to private “meeting spots” for one-on-one chats with colleagues or trainers, and almost anything else you’d like to add. And of course, you will maintain the beneficial novelty factor by continuing to introduce new features.
- To effectively advocate for their product, sales professionals must have a thorough understanding and awareness of all existing treatment options. Interactive eLearning platforms are available to provide awareness of the larger competitive treatment landscape.
These advances are helpful and far better than a box of binders, but a successful sales representative will need to do more than absorb and retain the curriculum. They must also develop the creative ability to think out-of-the-box, come up with fresh solutions to anything that might impede success and deliver agile responses to questioning prospects.
Training in Person
The solutions listed above elevate the training process via remote, online and mobile platforms. But there are also in-person training practices that have been revitalized to better support learning and the development and growth of creative selling tactics in learners.
Alternative approaches for role-play were noted above, and while there are demonstrated benefits to using professionally trained actors to enact selling scenarios, actually participating in mock encounters remains a valuable and tested method for building the confidence and creative problem-solving of sales professionals.
However, the performance aspect of role-play can be overwhelming and not terribly conducive to learning new skills. The coast-to-coast detail at the end of a launch meeting, for example, may not be the most productive moment for achieving competency. Instead, consider establishing a role-play circuit with individual stations that each focus on a key skill. This allows your learners to move along in micro-skills sessions, mastering the skills as they learn them, which is a more effective method of skill transfer.
Of course, this isn’t just an online strategy: During in-person sessions, break up teaching moments with unexpected moments or opportunities for participation. Some methods for doing this can include sudden game-show-style competitions, with prizes offered to those who correctly recall recently taught information, surprise guests, songs and video presentations. As we know, the introduction of novel elements assists in the memorization of content.
Content is key when developing an effective training program. But don’t forget another “C” when building your curriculum: creativity. Creativity — the use of imagination or original ideas — is the tool that makes your work engaging, interesting and effective.
By introducing creative elements to your training curriculum — from role playing to gaming to simple surprises — and placing those materials within formats that inspire curiosity and exploration, you will have a much stronger chance of achieving learning goals. Thankfully, we are well past the days of relying on rote memorization!
And the timing couldn’t be better. Today, COVID continues to impact access. Even when the pandemic is behind us, changes to how, when and where we work may be lasting. Virtual communication and remote work are likely to remain popular options. We may also see reduced opportunities for in-person learning. As we commit to creativity in our training, situations like these, once thought of as challenges, can now be considered opportunities to get creative.