By George Witter and Michael Wallace
This is it! Your Phase III data readout exceeded expectations and leadership is moving forward with hiring a new sales team and has tapped you to lead launch training. Your boss says he has the utmost confidence in you but reminds you that everyone is depending on a successful launch. You are confident and have effectively trained teams most of your career.
The difference here is you are responsible for leading the effort, not just being part of the training team, and you know a well-planned training curriculum is integral to your success. The question is where to begin?
This article focuses on key considerations when planning and building a training plan in preparation for product launch.
Where to begin? Start with the big picture in terms of your training strategy, then drill down to specific elements you will need to deliver. A successful training strategy centers on three critical elements:
Success begins with setting clear objectives that align with each of these elements. Let’s start by considering how your company culture and key stakeholders will shape your training.
What is your company’s culture and leadership style? How does your company’s mission statement guide how customer-facing teams are expected to interact with customers? How does leadership want representatives to be viewed by customers and patients alike? Aligning your approach with the company’s vision and mission helps gain leadership buy-in from the outset.
Key stakeholders typically include leaders from marketing, sales, medical and market access. Set up meetings with each stakeholder at the earliest opportunity to involve them in the planning process and gather crucial information. When you meet with stakeholders, it is important to identify their launch objectives up front and review their expectations as to how your trainees can help to achieve those goals.
Make sure to spend time with each stakeholder identifying how they will define success. Are your key performance indicators (KPIs) aligned with the key stakeholders’ needs and objectives? Are they measurable and attainable? Will your training plan be appropriately resourced to allow you to succeed?
Once you have done your homework with stakeholders and understand what will drive success, you need to take stock of where your trainees are currently and where they need to end up to meet stakeholders’ objectives.
Sales leaders often say their plan is to hire the best representatives available. How does this apply to your company and launch? If you understand the hiring profile, you’ll be able to prioritize your training plan based on the strengths each rep brings and areas that will need to be developed or enhanced.
Understanding the objectives of key stakeholders will enable you to identify the competencies or skills that representatives need to optimize their sales performance. Given each rep’s current skill set, what additional skills will your training program need to provide?
Some competencies that can drive success include:
Finally, how your representatives will be deployed in the field is an important consideration when building your training program. Will representatives function more like strategic account managers (SAMs) who are the primary conduit through which your customers gain access to company resources and information? SAMs are responsible for leading the account team, understanding when to leverage other company resources on behalf of customers and ensuring that time in front of customers is effective and efficiently managed. As their trainer, you must understand this and identify the skills each representative needs to succeed.
Once you have met with key stakeholders to learn about the hiring profile and what competencies are required for success, now it’s time to identify what your trainees will need to know to effectively launch your product. There’s usually a lot to cover, so you need to hone in on what trainees “need to know” and jettison the “nice to know” whenever possible.
While these topics constitute foundational modules that will need to be developed, your launch may require additional modules to supplement training. Some examples include:
Your company’s learning management system will dictate how you will house and deploy training content. It is up to you to determine the plan for effectively delivering the information. There are several format options for delivering home study materials — each with its benefits and drawbacks. Key considerations include learning needs and engagement, volume of content, budget and schedule.
The journey for your trainees starts the day they are hired for the launch product. Mapping out the steps along the way provides trainees with an organized pathway to being ready for the product launch and launch meeting.
Bringing a sales force up to speed on a new therapeutic area and treatment market takes time. It can typically take two to four weeks for trainees to work through each deliverable, depending on its size, at a pace that allows them to internalize, apply and retain the knowledge. Provide trainees with a snapshot of the entire curriculum and a plan that gives them an estimate of the time needed to complete the training, the specific learning objectives and a way to customize their learning to focus on what they need to know.
Ideally prework should be self-directed and self-motivated; your curriculum should have enough structure to provide trainees with a clear path, while allowing for flexibility.
Build in an element of sharing and learning from others. Create cohorts where peers can discuss the topics and how they apply to them. Simply stated, cohort learning is small group learning that allows for integration and application of the materials with peers. Traditionally this occurred in face-to-face sessions in which participants might observe a video or listen to a presentation, then break into smaller groups to discuss. This approach also provides trainees with opportunities to learn from more experienced group members.
The most effective home study programs adopt a cohort learning strategy by having trainees complete a portion of prework and then engage with a small peer group and a trainer through Zoom or a discussion board. It is not enough as a trainer to schedule “office hours” during which trainees can contact you with their questions. It’s important to have regularly scheduled calls for your cohorts during the home study period to discuss and apply specific topics along the curriculum journey.
Prior to the trainees attending the launch meeting, you should assess their knowledge of and proficiency with the material. This approach allows you to identify and remedy areas where trainees may lack understanding or confidence.
An added benefit is that pre-launch assessment enables another way to involve field managers in the training process and give them some ownership in getting their teams ready for the launch meeting. There are multiple ways of accomplishing this with various levels of complexity and effort required including digital assessments, oral assessments where managers assess their representative’s ability to apply their knowledge and roleplays that give trainees the opportunity to practice verbalization skills safely before being formally certified during the launch meeting.
While planning and building your first project launch isn’t rocket science, there is much to consider when building a successful launch training curriculum.
First, to build your plan, you need an understanding of your company’s culture and how the culture will influence the way you map out your training curriculum and the training tactics you will incorporate into your curriculum. Next, by taking the time to bring key stakeholders into the planning process, you will make sure your plans align with their objectives, leverage them into the process and strengthen your ability to collaborate in the future.
Finally, by understanding your representatives’ skills and leadership expectations of how representatives will engage with customers post-launch, you will be able to create a training curriculum that sets trainees up for success.
George Witter is chief commercial officer for Educational Resource Systems. Email George at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Wallace is an author, speaker, coach and president of Fascinnovation. Email him at email@example.com.