Being a medical device or pharmaceutical sales rep (PSR) is tough. In recent years the responsibilities of the average rep have increased as new obstacles and challenges impede success, examples include the rapidly changing healthcare landscape, fierce competition from generics, the complex value chain, and the highly regulated environment (Oracle).
One of the most important tasks for Healthcare Sales Reps (HSR) is their responsibility to supply healthcare providers (HCPs), patients, payers, etc. with up-to-date information and findings regarding the products that they promote. In order to accomplish this they must undergo continuous product training/learning.
We’re all familiar with the phrase ‘knowledge is power’, and for your pharma or medical device sales team product Knowledge is one of the best methods for reps to build trusting / prosperous relationships with their contacts, allowing them to create a positive customer experience, and make a lasting impression (InfoPro Learning, 2015).
A recent report found that compared to three years ago, 26% fewer physicians identify PSRs as a top information source (Bain, 2015). PSRs must combat this by becoming product knowledge experts – information concierges armed with the best evidence and valuable content for their HCPs.
(Image source: Bain, 2015)
Studies show that, only 41% of physicians report that reps are one of their top sources for information about a new drug, compared to 56% three years ago (Bain, 2015).
As you can see from the graph and statistic above, the majority of physicians are turning to digital sources for information and conducting their product searches online. Modern doctors are more than likely familiar with the information on your company website, social media pages, and have read the latest CME content. Meaning that the key way for reps to add value is by being prepared to answer questions, and provide knowledge that doctors can’t readily find on their own or online.
A common challenge for reps is standing out from the crowd, physicians must see something unique and valuable in a rep otherwise they won’t make time for them, remember them, or change their prescribing habits.
“Knowing and understanding the nuances of the healthcare marketplace is a really big piece of knowledge reps can bring to physicians, because I’m not sure that physicians get that in training, and I’m not sure they have access to that as much as they need to… If you provide that information to doctors who do allow access, you will build a reputation as a rep who brings value to the physicians.” (Hradecky, 2001).
So, how can we train healthcare sales reps and improve their product knowledge?
Ongoing and effective training plays a critical role in the success of healthcare sales reps. For example, according to Merck Capital Ventures; pharma companies worldwide spend more than a billion dollars a year on training their reps (Comm Lab India, 2015).
But, how can they ensure that their teams are effectively trained – able to read medical or science research data & studies and summarize/draw pertinent conclusions – to mitigate the challenges of the new healthcare environment?
Here are four key areas of effective training and product knowledge for modern healthcare sales reps (HSRs), followed by an actionable solution for long-term, scalable HSR operations:
1. Product Positioning
“Bringing a new product of any kind to market has never been easy, but the shifting centre of gravity within the pharmaceutical industry poses unique challenges. Broadly speaking, the industry has moved from being mainly driven by individual prescribers (i.e. doctors) to having to weigh input from a diverse set of stakeholders, including regulators, insurance companies, hospital administrators, managed care organizations, nurses, social media, and, of course, patients.” (Insead, 2014).
Which begs the question,
A subset challenge of product positioning for pharma is the new and complicated nature of speciality care products. The days of ‘blockbuster drugs’ are seemingly over for pharma; instead there is a focus on niche markets such as biopharmaceuticals and speciality medicines. For instance, in 2011, 15 of the industry’s top 20 products were specialty care (Insead, 2014). Due to the complexity of speciality care products, product knowledge and training needs have risen.
In addition to speciality products, another trend effecting HSRs and their training is the personalized healthcare (PHC) movement. The objective of PHC is matching medicines to specific patient groups. “For example, cancer drugs that target a subgroup of patients with elevated levels of a particular biomarker.” (Insead, 2014). In order to deliver these outcomes and the detailed level of care across these solutions; HSRs must be highly educated and informed about their products, outcomes, the types of patients that a physician’s sees.
2. Managing Objections
The evolutions in healthcare are making it harder for HSRs to establish trust with doctors. They have to overcome the bias towards them and manage daily objections, proving that they are a valuable connection and source of product/industry knowledge.
As we mentioned earlier, there are always those difficult questions that don’t have online answers, these must be effectively managed by HSRs. Also, physicians may have objections or negative perceptions about a company or their products, and it is the role of the rep to be capable of managing these situations. When they are armed with consistent training and knowledge about their products, as well as parallel information about similar products sold by their competitors, they will be confident in their ability to do so (InfoPro Learning, 2015).
Before going into a meeting, dedicated and thoughtful HSRs will take the time to learn everything that they can about that particular doctor and their practice. Including:
- Common obstacles that the doctor faces;
- A breakdown of typical healthcare plans in the area;
- The percentage of patients that are covered by each type of plan;
- Where their products will fit into formulary plans; and,
- Which of their products is preferred by the doctor
- (Hradecky, 2001)
HSRs can hone in on these crucial bits of information, and use them to gain the attention and trust of doctors.
If you’re interested in learning more about predictive insights, motivation and persuasion science and how it applies to sales training then download a free copy of chapter 2 from our eBook below.
3. Game-based Learning
The big challenge of training is knowledge retention and what is typically referred to as the ‘forgetting curve’ – the idea that as time goes on reps remember less and less about their training. The sad fact is that representatives forget up to 79% of new information within 30 days (Eye for Pharma, 2015). The high cost of all of this ‘lost learning’ is awful.
A common approach used to combat this challenge is reinforcement and game-based technologies for learning. These solutions are designed to be simple, fun, convenient (the majority are mobile-based) and quick. They motivate and push HSRs to maintain their product knowledge and practice their skills. This approach is currently in use by 8 of the 10 top pharma companies, and half of the top 50 (Eye for Pharma, 2015).
The graph below shows the ‘forgetting curve’ over a six-week period, and how participants using a mobile knowledge reinforcement platform increased their information retention by 20%! Also, the curve shows that participants who used the platform actually gained knowledge over time, in addition to retaining it (Eye for Pharma, 2015).
(Image source: Eye for Pharma, 2015)
These solutions can help to boost enthusiasm and create a belief in the company’s product that will come across as excitement and confidence in meetings with HCPs.
For example, “if a customer isn’t fully committed to completing a sale, the difference may simply be the presence (or lack) of credibility or confidence a salesperson has towards the product. Becoming educated in the product and its uses will help cement that confidence.” (InfoPro Learning, 2015).
4. Communication Skills
It is very important for healthcare sales reps to have strong communication skills. The healthcare landscape is full of complex ideas and products, such as biopharmaceuticals and end-to-end evidence, and doctors are overwhelmed with the abundance of data and information, it’s the task of the rep to simplify this and make it easy for them to understand. They need the skills to show doctors the true value of their products and how they can help their patients (Hradecky, 2001).
It is also important for HSRs to be empowered with different communication techniques and content. They should be able to confidently adapt their sales presentations and communication styles depending on who their audience is, in order to make a greater impact (InfoPro Learning, 2015).
Having strong communication skills will also allow reps to build trust. All customers, but especially those in healthcare where the stakes are so much higher, have to trust the product, company, and person that they’re purchasing from. This makes it crucial for healthcare sales teams to be seen as trustworthy sources of information, equipped with the most comprehensive and up-to-date product knowledge.
The right tools can turn you into a ‘trusted product advisor’
In a recent survey by NAPSR (National Association of Pharmaceutical Sales Representatives), 60% of respondents agreed that technology is a sales tool and not a distraction (SteamFeed, 2015). A mobile sales enablement app is a great solution for ongoing training and product knowledge, working hard to defeat poor retention rates and lost learning.
Product knowledge success through accessibility, not memorization. As we’ve stated previously, the human mind is not made to be a content repository. At SKURA we’ve found that having the knowledge easily accessible and readily available makes the difference for an effective HSR. While game learning and communication training can help, a confident seller is one who trusts they can find what they need when they need it, and focus on engaging and adding value, not memorizing.
The right sales enablement solution will have advanced content management capabilities, allowing pharma and medical device companies to easily manage and control their vast training content libraries.
All materials can be updated (by users with the right access) whenever necessary, and that content will then be updated in each HSR’s app as well, providing them with the most up-to-date product information. Also, this information is always available both online and offline, across all device types, without any additional downloads or software.
Content consumption tracking provides an intuitive feature for head office planners. The analytics offered allow users to see who accessed content, when they accessed it, for long, which slides or pages they visited, and the amount of time that they spent on each one. This can be used to ensure that remote training is being completed accurately by HSRs.
The best sales enablement apps allow users to upload interactive content, such as quizzes and games that can be effectively used for reinforcement game-based learning.
If you’re interested in learning more about the great benefits of sales enablement for healthcare sales representative product knowledge and training then request a demo below and let one of our sales specialists show you just how easy and effective rep training can be.