One thing that will transform your pharma sales team: confidence

Posted on Mar 17, 2017

Selling takes confidence, and nowhere is it more important than when your customers are the experts.

Dr Claire Smart shares her experience on building confidence in one of the toughest jobs in pharma.       

Spare a thought for the pharmaceutical salesforce. They must master complex product information, cope with updates at a moment’s notice, and be ready to answer technical questions from experts in their field, who won’t hold back on challenging anything they disagree with. Above all, they need to find a way to engage with busy healthcare professionals who have little time (and sometimes, little patience) for their visit. As an added pressure, all this often happens on the move, at high speed, and with little opportunity to meet with colleagues who can offer support and reassurance.

Even the most knowledgeable of people will benefit from a little extra help under these circumstances.

According to Dr James Bruno, Professor of Education at UCLA, it is the fusion of knowledge and confidence that leads to mastery: 

Knowledge + confidence = mastery

Building confidence needs to be a central consideration in any online training programme for your pharmaceutical sales teams. Confidence in knowledge will translate to better performance. But how can you instil more confidence in your salesforce?

There are five key ways that a salesforce can build confidence:

  • Knowing their products
  • Knowing their customers
  • Knowing their consumers
  • Having resources at their fingertips
  • Monitoring their confidence levels

Knowing their products

Being easy to update, fast to roll out and available everywhere, it’s no surprise that digital learning is becoming one of the most common methods of delivering product knowledge training within the pharmaceutical industry. But efficient and accurate information transfer isn’t the only benefit.

Digital enrichment such as animation can be extremely effective for conveying complex scientific information, while interactive assets and gamification provide opportunities for learners to practice applying new knowledge in an engaging and risk-free environment.

But simply providing one-time only training isn’t enough to make sure your sales staff are ready to face the questions physicians have. Reinforcing that knowledge through continuous learning opportunities can make a huge difference when it comes to building confidence.

A microlearning platform like Axonify enables you to keep topping up product knowledge and sales skills daily. Adding gamification helps encourage employees to take on more training, and if it’s baked in to your platform, all the better.

Sharing successful approaches across teams used to be something that happened at meetings. It’s now possible for team members to communicate with each other quickly and easily as part of their training. Adding a social learning element to your strategy will get people talking about their successes and their failures.

Knowing their customers

The Life Sciences Trainers & Educators Network (LTEN) stress how important it is for sales people to be aware of the basics such as when to access physicians. With busy schedules, it’s not unusual to have sales calls squeezed in at the last minute. Simply being aware of a customer’s routine can help secure time to share the benefits of your products.

Dealing with high-level trends that help sales teams perform is the manager’s role and a digital training platform helps keep teams up to speed with these insights effectively. Dealing with these issues centrally allows team members to focus on their customers’ individual situations.

Getting an update from a colleague on a customer’s needs and preferences can be a huge benefit when you’re about to call or attend a meeting. Modern digital learning platforms make this easier.

Integrating your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system with your learning platform can help tie your customers’ preferences to your products. Consider this integration when you develop a learning strategy or choose a platform.

Knowing your consumers

The performance of healthcare professionals is increasingly being measured through clinical outcomes. Accenturereport that 90% of Medicare payments in the US will be tied to patient outcomes by 2018. In the UK, the NHS is also shifting to a value-based healthcare system. In parallel, patients are now more informed – and arguably, more demanding – than ever. Having a sales forces with a firm grasp of how your products can directly benefit patients is a clear way to add value for physicians.  

For your digital learning programme to succeed, it needs to take a patient-focused approach at every turn. Using techniques such as storytelling and branching scenarios, and technologies like interactive video and virtual reality, sales teams can gain a greater understanding of the impact their products have on patients.         

Having resources at their fingertips

Easy access to the right resources and information is a huge confidence booster for any sales team; in pharma, it’s essential. The pace of pharmaceutical product development is very slow compared with other industries, but once a drug is launched, things that impact the salesforce, such as updates to treatment guidelines or the release of new data from a competitor, can change overnight.

Being able to find the latest information live when speaking with a customer is a huge advantage. Sharing resources with customers is much easier using a digital learning system that supports updates natively and extends your reach within the organisation.

Any time you need to make the entire sales team aware of new information, it makes sense to do it digitally. Many elearning platforms allow a manager to curate external sources to make it easier for a sales team to stay abreast of anything relevant to their brand.

Monitoring your confidence levels

Asking your sales team how confident they feel seems a rather obvious thing to do, but it is crucial if you want to help them access the right learning at the right time.

According to Dr Bruno, there are four quadrants that learners fit into: Masters – employees who know the facts and are not afraid to use them; Doubters – those who know their facts, but lack the confidence to act without hesitation; Misinformed – people who confidently believe incorrect information; Uninformed – workers who haven’t yet acquired all the knowledge they need and know this. Confidence-based learning focuses on the gap between what people think they know and what they actually know. The aim is for learners to eventually reach ‘mastery’.

A 2003 study by Dr. Darwin Hunt at the University of Illinois found that students using confidence-based learning methodology had 15–20% more effective knowledge acquisition and retention than those using traditional learning methodologies. Confidence-based learning methodology is built into the Axonify microlearning platform, enabling the principle to be put into practice.

Next steps

Look at your training strategy, platform and content and identify which of these five areas should be your priority. Once you're committed to improving one area, many of the same techniques and tools can be applied to the next challenge, until you have a comprehensive plan to increase confidence in your sales team.

Once you've implemented your confidence-building strategy, you'll also have a solid foundation for delivering other types of training for your sales team using a flexible, digital approach.

Dr Claire Smart is a pharmaceutical and life sciences specialist at Sponge UK. She has more than 15 years’ experience in medical writing and digital communications in the pharmaceutical sector.

Download: Why pharma needs an emotional reboot

Patient centricity revisited

You may also be interested in