July 15, 2024

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The Potential Advantages of Web Conferencing for Use in Training Pharmaceutical Field Personnel

The Potential Advantages of Web Conferencing for Use in Training Pharmaceutical Field Personnel

Pharmaceutical companies typically hold between 3 and 4 meetings for field personnel per year to update sales and marketing strategies, bring new products to market, re-certify personnel on compliance and regulatory practices, and potentially to roll-out new hardware or software for sales force productivity. These meetings typically
coincide with the quarters of either the calendar or fiscal year. Sometimes these meetings are undertaken in small groups over the course of several weeks with some key training teams traveling to the various sites to roll out training initiatives and deliver live presentations. In some cases, in lieu of a multitude of small meetings, the entire field sales force, marketing team and in-house component of the sales organization is brought together at one location. With medium and larger companies, this can mean hundreds, even thousands of employees at a single meeting. It is not difficult to imagine the costs of travel, lodging, and training facilities for meetings of this size. Also, the amount of time lost in transit to and from the meeting can be anywhere from a few hours to an entire day.

Often at face to face meetings and trainings corporate direction places a stronger emphasis on cookie-cutter presentations, re-certifications, examinations, and corporate long-term planning. There is often so much content included in large, on-site meetings that very little of it is truly impactful. By utilizing online collaboration and training applications, companies could eliminate some of their costly travel and training expenses, allow their training staff to better allocate their time and efforts, maximize the time spent in face to face meetings with more impactful content, and deliver convenient and timely ongoing training to their field personnel. Also, throughout the course of the year, smaller groups of employees are routinely brought to central training locations such as company headquarters or regional offices. These smaller meetings, often with very focused or ‘refresher’ content, could easily be held online. The same benefits apply with the potential, in these cases, of field sales personnel only needing to take a portion of a day out of their territory.

In addition to face to face trainings that could be complemented or replaced with web conference trainings, pharmaceutical employees participate in asynchronous trainings frequently when launching new products, learning new indications for existing products, or completing training on updates for CRM software to name a few topics. Often these types of trainings are completed in advance of travel-to meetings, with large or small groups, to help build a foundation of knowledge about the topic before employees are brought together for more training and certification testing. These asynchronous trainings could be made much more impactful by utilizing an interactive, web-based solution.

Making the Leap

Pharmaceutical companies have been utilizing CRM (Customer Relationship Management) or SFA (Sales Force Automation) software for years, and the leap to utilizing online collaboration software seems to be the next logical step. Many industries have moved toward online training as either a component of their corporate training model or as its backbone. The figure below gives a distribution of training offerings from a survey of over 500 hundred corporate trainers surveyed over 2006-2007. In this study there was almost a 14 percent decline in face to face trainings by corporations and an almost identical increase in web conference trainings (Wainhouse Research, 2007, p. 3). Other training mediums remained relatively flat in the same study, showing a convincing trend towards the benefits of web conference training and collaboration as shown graphically below (Wainhouse Research, 2007, p. 3)
Figure 1. In 2006 – 2007 Methods for delivering
training courses in a study of 533 training personnel

For pharmaceutical companies, face to face training has been a staple of the industry for decades and some will argue that it is a necessary part due to the need for sales people to practice and certify on new messages pushed down from marketing. Although there is something to be said for sitting in front of someone to practice ‘detailing’ them on a product with a new sales message, being careful to include appropriate marketing and regulatory messages, there are also some important reasons to evaluate the roll of online trainings. In a study by Wainhouse Research in 2007, over 500 trainers from various vendors and client organizations in a broad range of fields demonstrated a variety of reasons for implementing web conferencing for training purposes. The figure below shows a graphical representation of the results of one component of the study. Some of the reasons further down the list may be more important to pharmaceutical companies than the study responses reflect. Being able to bring subject matter experts and targeted content to the audience for example, are both pivotal to pharmaceutical trainings where direct input from key opinion leaders in an area and tailored messages are both important elements to understanding and communicating complex topics.

Figure 2. Reasons that study participants cited for
using web based training.

(Wainhouse Research, 2007, p. 5)

Although saving on the cost of travel for meetings is the number one reason for most companies implementing web-conferencing solutions for training, there are several important reasons other than those that directly impact the bottom line.
The factors that impact the pharmaceutical industry more than others are the following:

o Cost of travel, lodging, and meeting.

o Saving time away from home.

o Including subject matter experts (Key Opinion Leaders).

o Delivering targeted content that meets regulatory requirements.

The costs involved of bringing employees together, or to meet with customers, is high especially when participants have to travel by air and stay for an extended period of time. In a case study performed to compare various web conferencing solutions to in-person meetings, the online alternatives realized a 66-95% savings over face-to-face meetings (Webconference-test.com, 2007). Pharmaceutical companies could realize tremendous savings implementing web conferencing solutions in place of even a portion of their face-to-face meetings.

Saving time away from home effects sales representatives to some extent, but this factor would greatly affect field sales managers who are often away from home as much as 80% of the time, either in the field with representatives or in meetings with each other and upper management. Often times the content of manager-to-manager meetings could easily be conveyed through web conferencing applications. Managers utilize phone conferencing routinely, but the vast majority of strategy and evaluation meetings take place in person, often with travel involved for all parties to a central location.

Including subject matter experts or key opinion leaders as they are often referred to in pharmaceutical sales, as part of the learning process gives employees an opportunity to gain knowledge and perspective from experts in clinical medicine in the fields that are applicable to their daily activities. Often times it is difficult to schedule stage appearances or seminars based around these experts at face-to-face meetings due to the constraints of their practice and the demands of travel. Utilizing web conferencing could bring the resources that these experts can provide within easy reach of meeting attendees without them having to rearrange busy clinical schedules and/or academic obligations.

Delivering suited content is a must-have for the pharmaceutical industry. With additional regulations, both voluntary within individual corporations and some mandated by governing bodies, the content of presentations given to and from employees are more highly scrutinized than ever before. Information that is delivered to sales managers and representatives has survived a number of different approval processes and provides ‘fair balance’ to the end user so as to show the benefits and potential disadvantages of a particular product. The more information that is printed, mailed, emailed or faxed out as ‘training only’ or ‘not for use in detailing’ is information that could be mishandled or misappropriated; often training materials are ‘in context’ materials that do not provide fair balance as they only deal with a small segment of the total picture of a product at one time. The majority of training type material is sent out as part of asynchronous ‘at home’ trainings or as preparation for face-to-face meetings. By utilizing web conferencing to augment these types of trainings, corporate training departments could maintain more control over training elements that could be shared online during a presentation but that do not have to be reprinted and mailed/emailed in bulk.

Choosing a Solution

When a corporation decides to take on web-conferencing as a component of their training delivery strategy, the next step is choosing a solution that fits the needs of the trainers and participants. In a study by Wainhouse Research, some of the most critical factors that a solution provided were ease of use, reputation, customer support and transparency of installation.
Figure 3. From a study by Wainhouse Research, here is a distribution of attributes that participants are looking for from their web conferencing solution.
(Wainhouse Research, 2007, p. 6)

Ease of use and transparency of installation will be very important as the majority of end users in the field will be ‘non-tech’ personnel. Most field personnel have familiarity with sales force automation or CRM software, but these applications are extensively trained upon hire so that employees will be able to use them effectively in the field. Where web conferencing is concerned, the application will need to run easily with a minimum of training for it to be embraced by employees and managers. Also, while they didn’t score as highly as some attributes in the above mentioned study, scalability and flat pricing will be important given that the first usage may be in a pilot format and then scaled up to include the entirety of the company. There are many web conferencing options available, but not all options will fit the needs of a primarily non-tech user base and a potentially varying number of users. Some solutions are too ‘feature rich’ to be easy to use while others have pricing that makes costs difficult to project. Two of the most popular offerings, WebEx and GoToMeeting, focus on ease of use and a predictable pricing structure, both features that would be important in driving adoption.

Breaking Down Barriers to Adoption

The most basic factor that will make or break the push towards utilizing web conferencing for training purposes is the ability or inability to have the same level of interaction, participation and effectiveness that can be delivered by in-person training. A study by Wainhouse Research in 2007 demonstrated that 51% of respondents rated web conferencing as just as effective as in-person training with another 36% rating it as almost as effective; also, 70% of respondents in the same study rated web conferencing more effective than asynchronous training (Wainhouse Research, 2007, p. 1). Many of the available web conferencing solutions share similar features such as attendance reporting, screen sharing, the ability to change presenters, integrated voice capability, and chat and instant message capability among others. These features coupled with a focus on ease of use, that will be essential for less tech savvy users, make web conferencing a viable alternative to in-person training and a valuable addition to an asynchronous training program.

Mid-level and field managers, as a whole, are very likely to embrace a training/collaboration solution that decreases the burden of travel on their direct employees as well as themselves. Also, the ability to quickly get new employees up and running without having to wait for a scheduled in-person training would be extremely valuable in the pharmaceutical field where empty sales territories can quickly decline in market share and volume. It is not unheard of for employees to wait on a scheduled training for weeks or even. At the same time, micro-managers and traditionalists will no doubt take a skeptical view of a web conferencing solution rolled out on a large scale as a direct replacement for in-person training. These individuals are likely to view web conferencing as a loss of control rather than a value added resource; in fact, it is likely that cost will be an obstacle with certain parties. Addressing cost by looking at the return on investment is an easy way to justify rolling out a web conferencing solution as there is an enormous amount of data provided in the form of case studies, both vendor sponsored and vendor independent. In a study performed by Frost & Sullivan in 2005, one key WebEx client achieved a greater than 465% ROI on their investment and utilization of WebEx; from a training perspective, the main advantages of utilizing WebEx were the ability to increase the frequency of trainings, provide targeted content, and reduce training preparation time (Frost & Sullivan, 2005, p.6). Another example from a case study from Clarity, utilizing GoToMeeting, showed the company saving $5,000-10,000 a month in travel costs and using the All-you-can-meet pricing solution which ‘paid for itself in under 2 months’ (Citrix Online, 2006, p.2).

Addressing the changing of ‘time honored’ standards of face-to-face training and meetings will be a more challenging obstacle, especially when dealing with new employees who are entering the industry. For home office personnel this is not as big of an issue, but for field personnel, especially sales people, who have an enormous amount of autonomy, integrating web conferencing into the training paradigm, will be more difficult. Resistance will vary depending on corporate culture, average experience of employees, championing by different levels of management and training department, and the evolving need to find a more cost effective solutions for training.


For some companies, to hire and train a field sales representative over the course of one year can range from as low as a few thousand dollars up to $100,000 or more. A component of this cost is the search, interview and hiring process, however, a substantial aspect is the initial training of new employees and their integration into the in-house or field team. Furthermore, training for pharmaceutical employees, like most industries, is an ongoing process driven by changing regulations, new product offerings and changes in corporate strategy. By utilizing a web conferencing solution to augment in-person and asynchronous training, companies can realize real benefits ranging from decrease in travel costs, increases in flexibility, better allocation of resources and more control over quickly changing training content. Return on investment can be realized quickly with the right choice of web conferencing solution, and the only barrier to adoption that is left for companies to break through is the reluctance to diverge from historical precedents.