Pharma sales: How simulation can help reps sell
Andrew Tolve explores how ‘selling simulators’—realistic virtual encounters with physicians—can help reps achieve real sales growth
Physicians today expect more of pharma reps—more convincing data, more interactive presentations, more compelling messages. Those reps who fail to deliver are relegated back into the pack or, worse, denied access in the future. What’s the best way, then, to inculcate new messages and ensure reps are adding value to their presentations?
The standard reply is by way of sales meetings, where sales managers convey new messages and data to their reps. They can also partake in role-playing, where the manager assumes the role of a physician voicing an objection or bobbing and weaving away from a rep’s intended purpose.
The problem, of course, is that sales meetings happen only a few times a year—generally, once a selling cycle—and then reps are off on their own and free to revert to old behavior. “If there were a way to recreate that learning experience from a sales meeting and have it ongoing throughout the year with new scenarios as they arise, it would be a very powerful tool,” says Michael Banner, managing partner of Concentric Pharma.
Simulate the selling environment
Concentric has devised a novel solution, called a “selling simulator,” for that very purpose. The simulator combines computers and game dynamics to create a virtual world in which reps can continuously train and improve their rank, embedding new messages and data in the process.
The simulators are designed to be fun—part video game, part ongoing professional education. “We try to keep it engaging so the rep wants to continue to play as new scenarios become available,” says Banner. “Reps not only learn the data but also how to use it in a selling environment and how to overcome common objections. As a result, you can actually introduce new data to a brand and have it be compelling.”
Concentric can tailor its selling simulators to specific companies so that the tone of the game matches the tone of the sales force. The basic idea stays the same, though: A rep suits up at the beginning of a day with a certain number of calls on his or her agenda.
The real reps can control their avatars as they hop into cars and cruise to doctors’ offices or hospitals. En route, they can pick the music they want to listen to and do some background research about the physicians they’re meeting with on the in-vehicle dashboard.
Once at the office, they encounter various selling situations, from stubborn nurses to disenchanted physicians to eager listeners, each of whom presents multiple-choice questions the reps must answer. The questions are designed so that several answers could be right, though only one drives home the new message that sales managers and marketers have agreed upon.
Reps are scored based on how quickly they answer and how many questions they get right. As they rack up points, the scenarios change and reps can rise up onto the Top Ten Leader Board. “Eventually, this becomes like pilot training,” says Banner. “It doesn’t mean they aren’t good pilots, but you’re constantly refreshing their skills.”
Getting real-world results
Concentric has implemented its selling simulator in several environments to date, the first of which is at Bayer, where the game takes the title of “Rep Race: The Battle for Office Supremacy.”
Bayer embraced Rep Race because its drug, Betaseron in the MS category, had just received a new indication for usage, and the company had presented new data to the American Academy of Neurology. The company has given its selling simulator glowing reviews, and now updates the game whenever a new sales meeting rolls around.
Banner reports that with Rep Race and other iterations of the selling simulator (another company has adopted the simulator under the name “Exploria”), companies see immediate results. “The data we’ve recovered is amazing,” says Banner. “We see direct correlation between use of the game and reps increasing their ranking in the office and their sales in their territories.”
Concentric is currently working on a version of its simulator that feels more like SimCity—that is, the game remembers. If reps leave a poor impression in an office one week, the next time they return they’ll be greeted less desirably, if they’re let in at all.
“Ultimately, we want reps training in as close to a real-world setting as possible,” says Banner. “If we can allow clients to infuse new scenarios into that environment, it’s a great way to have ongoing sales training that’s specific to reps.”
Integrating simulation into sales and marketing
At the same time, Banner says there are numerous other ways pharma can integrate simulation into its sales and marketing functions. For example, in the med device space, companies that sell surgical devices currently hand out anatomical models to let surgeons practice with the new devices. Virtual reality can be more effective.
Companies can hand out DVDs or post simulators on a website, and surgeons can practice and evolve the model as their own procedures change through time. “This makes sense for the company and the physicians,” says Banner. “The company doesn’t have to keep handing out anatomical models, and doctors can continue refining their procedures and the models they practice on.”
Likewise, simulation can be used during presentations to healthcare professionals—like on exhibition floors at professional conventions—to dynamically illustrate new products, messages, or applications. For instance, Concentric has created an interactive motion simulator ride called the “pod” for a prominent ophthalmology brand.
Ophthalmology professionals at a recent convention stepped into a virtual roller-coaster experience in which dramatic drops in eye problems coincided with even more dramatic drops of the coaster. The results, says Banner, included more than 2,200 physician leads, a 1,700 percent year-over-year increase.
“Physicians in many cases have reached their tipping point,” he says. “They’re inundated with reps and products.” Simulation can be a valuable way to illustrate key messages and leave a lasting impression.
For more on how reps are using technology to enhance their effectiveness, see ‘Future pharma: Making the most of the tablet takeover’, ‘Will the iPad kickstart a pharma sales and marketing revolution?’, ‘Future Pharma: A closer look at the iPad in pharma/physician relations’ and ‘Pharma goes mobile: Making the most of the app opportunity’.)
For all the latest pharma sales and marketing trends, check out SFE USA on June 12-14 in Somerset, NJ.
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