In 2008, California-based Watson Pharmaceuticals Inc., the nation’s third-largest prescription drug provider, found itself at a crossroads. It had a new CEO, Paul Bisaro, at the helm, as well as three upcoming product launches, all in the same specialty — an undertaking virtually unheard of in the industry. Indeed, all eyes were on the company. Even Wall Street was paying close attention.
“Prior to launch time, we needed to come up with a blended learning strategy to better prepare our sales representatives for success,” said Jason Zeman, associate director of sales training and development at Watson. “And we needed to do things differently than we had in the past.”
In years past, Watson would fly sales representatives in at launch time and train them for one week. Prior to their arrival, the sales force would review pretraining learning module binders; once on site, they would take an assessment. After the launch meeting, they would hit the streets to sell the product — while the sales training team would collectively hold their breath.
To help deliver on its new vision, Watson worked with Blackboard Inc. to provide its sales force with access to an interactive online training program.
The online learning environment became an around-the-clock virtual classroom. Participants were able to view model presentations, upload video presentations for coaching and learn extensively about the new prescription drug products.
To the surprise of upper-level management, some representatives practiced 70 times before posting their best videos.
“Prior to implementing the Blackboard solution, the chances of someone standing in front of their mirror and doing this even five times were slim to none,” Zeman said.
The online learning environment also encourages learning before and after the actual event. Participants receive pre-work material prior to class so everyone comes in to training more prepared. After the training, many sales professionals also use the a platform for colleagues to provide immediate feedback.
“It’s that coaching environment that will enable our sales representatives to learn to sell with passion and enthusiasm more quickly,” said Bill Reggio, director of sales training and development at Watson. “In sales, we need to tell stories and connect on an emotional level. We can do that from a distance, which is absolutely innovative.”
One of the more unexpected outcomes of implementing the online learning environment was the fact that senior management got involved, too. According to Zeman, their curiosity about the technology drove them to test it out.
“Area sales directors, the VP of area sales directors, and directors of marketing — even Lynne Amato, vice president of sales — logged on to see where the representatives were on the learning curve before they even got to the launch,” Zeman said. “That spoke volumes.”
In fact, for companies looking to save money and at the same time raise the bar with training efforts, the first step is to have buy-in from upper management.
“The fact that we had support from the top helped us to rally and secure engagement from all of the vertical groups within our company,” said Mel Solomon, manager of sales training and development.
The key part of securing buy-in is to find out exactly what upper management wants, Reggio added.
“You really have to listen to what the CEO, president, VPs and directors of marketing and sales are looking for,” he said. “In our case, the Blackboard platform fits in well with our CEO’s strategy and transformational way of thinking, and aligns with our company’s values of accountability, innovation, collaboration, commitment and leadership.”
All that said, no program can be considered successful until the company can point to substantive bottom-line results. Within the first week of launch, one of the new drugs, Gelnique, boasted close to double the amount of prescriptions as a large competing company. And another drug, RAPAFLO, had a similar success story.
“With our new training system, representatives were arriving to the launch good and leaving great,” said Lou Candura, manager of sales training and development.
The representatives were engaged, and empowered to sell with confidence. This led to a high level of credibility, which came in especially handy when mitigating customer concerns and closing business.
Overall, the sales training department gained visibility throughout the organization, and there was a dramatic shift in employee behavior — not to mention cost and time savings, as well as a boost in sales. To top it off, the sales force gained self awareness and belief in their products — and that’s priceless.
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