Training Plus Coaching: The Path to Reducing Risk and Commercial Success

Nikki Chawla
May 4, 2023

Most people in the training world have heard of Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve and The Learning Pyramid. According to the Forgetting Curve, most learners forget 50% of what they’ve learned after only 20 minutes and 90% of knowledge is forgotten within a week. However, The Learning Pyramid suggests that if learners apply the information, they can retain up to 90% of it.

Given this, it is surprising that training programs at biopharmaceutical companies primarily focus on effective knowledge transfer during single-point-in-time training sessions, and often fail to emphasize knowledge application during and after training through efforts such as coaching. 

Perhaps this is due to functional silos and the division of responsibility across departments like Brand and Marketing, CL&D, and Sales. In theory, Brand and Marketing put together the approved materials that the CL&D teams use in training and post-training, while Sales takes what was learned out to the field. But what happens if that isn’t always the linear direction of this path? What, if given the vast and complex nature of the information being fed to field teams, things get lost in translation? 

Recent research reveals that 74% of CL&D professionals believe their field teams utilize unapproved messaging and content in interactions with HCPs.  Of the leaders who have uncovered this behavior, 50% said it had a direct negative impact to their organizations. The number one concern CL&D professionals cited was the risk to patient safety when inaccurate messaging is shared with HCPs.  

Is CL&D relying solely on Sales to carry the coaching burden? If so, is Sales Management focusing enough on knowledge application through coaching, or are they assuming CL&D covers those bases through their pull-through efforts? And finally, are all departments assuming the field teams know how to deliver the messages and content they have been provided? This disconnect could be contributing to the use of unapproved messaging by reps in the field. Another contributing factor could be the complexity of the technology stack provided to reps that places training modules and messaging in one place, marketing materials in another, and coaching tools in another. It’s no wonder field reps struggle to say the right thing.

With shrinking HCP availability and patient safety top of mind, communicating accurate, personalized, and value-driven messages are tantamount. This is where good coaching can make all the difference. 

There are steps Life Sciences organizations can take today to minimize this risk and to enable the most accurate and high-performing field teams. One clear way forward is to put greater effort into implementing a coaching strategy that works to dissolve the departmental silos and connects Training and Sales. Coaching should be part of the initial training plan, not an afterthought, and should be an ongoing practice from onboarding through NSMs, POAs, Product Launches, and the like.  

Implementing verbalization exercises, peer-to-peer coaching, and virtual role-play are just some immediate actions organizations can take to support field teams, but it goes beyond that. Establishing a frequent cadence of feedback between managers and their reps can also go a long way. Integrating FCRs into learning platforms allows reps to easily request coaching if they have questions about information in a training module or messaging, and, on the other side, allows managers to point reps to training that would be helpful to them, based on observations in ride-alongs. Making it easy for reps and managers to connect via coaching and refer to training materials reduces the likelihood that inaccurate messaging and content will be delivered in the field.

There are other coaching tactics to consider, but more broadly speaking, the research showed that, above all else, implementing a continuous learning culture was the way forward to mitigate rogue behavior in the field. A strategy that champions ongoing knowledge transfer and application through coaching with a focus on accessibility of information and flexibility is critical. Leveraging a platform that provides access to unified and continuous learning will enable Life Sciences organizations to protect their brand reputation, reduce patient risk, and achieve commercial excellence. 

When 90% of knowledge can be forgotten within a week of learning it, and patient safety is at risk if inaccurate information is shared with HCPs, ensuring field reps are applying the knowledge they’ve gained, often through coaching and continuous practice, will help protect patients and help organizations avoid unnecessary risk.

For more information on implementing a strategic coaching practice and fostering a continuous learning culture within your organization, download the Success Guide “Improving Commercial Excellence Through Coaching.”