Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

In a word: Operations.

I was speaking with a Sales Training Director in a major biotech company recently, and he put me in contact with someone in the department who is heading up things like project management, vendor management, instructional design, internal processes, and the like.

We hit it off immediately. Because we could speak each others’ language.

There are a relatively few of my life sciences clients who have hired someone with operations experience to “run” the nuts and bolts of the department. When this position is put in place, it makes a world of difference.


Here’s why: most people in the training department come out of field sales. Sales is a very different world from operations, and many training managers struggle with newly-assigned project management responsibilities. Operational thinking may not be in their personal wiring, and the skills required are often not trained during on-boarding.

Result: floundering. Inefficiency. And then, since many of these training positions are rotational, a solid and consistent base of operations experience never truly develops in the department.

This is why I’ve advised many clients to create a permanent (not rotational) position to head up project and vendor management, contract negotiation, RFP process, and instructional design/technical standards. Typically, this is not going to be someone from the sales force – there’s a different knowledge base and skill set required.

I would contend that the money saved by more effective processes will probably be at least double or triple the salary expended in the first year alone.

And when new training managers are given project tasks, they now have experienced help to shepherd them through the unfamiliar responsibilities, instead of just floundering in the deep end of the pool.

Look, I really enjoy my work here at Impactiviti doing vendor/project management workshops and providing related advisory services. But some of what I do really needs to be transitioned to an internal resource – a go-to operations person in the department. I’d be happy to talk further with any of my pharma/biotech clients about how to build a stronger internal system for training operations.

Related Post: Doing Digital Learning – The TWO People You Need


Image courtesy of jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Training people to train other people is enough of a challenge, and it’s one that pharmaceutical T&D departments have taken on for many years.

But did you know that virtual facilitation – training at a distance using on-line video – has its own challenges? Here are five quick pointers on to help you fail at virtual training (don’t do them!):


What message are you sending with that sloppy pile of folders and crumpled up paper? Let me give you a hint – it’s not ‘creative genius at work’. Whether they’re in a home office or corporate setting, people don’t spend enough time organizing the scene behind them. Turn on your web camera in advance to assess the entire picture. Clear away distractions, board-scribblings, or knick-knacks that might pull focus away from what you’re saying. And never, ever use a window as your backdrop.


Watching unprepared presenters is bad enough when you’re in the same room and listeners are held captive. But if you don’t prepare your virtual presentation well enough to keep it interesting and moving quickly, there are plenty of distractions to keep your audience occupied. In fact, studies show that the number one participant activity during a webinar is checking email (actually watching the webinar comes in 2nd). After all, there’s no physical proximity to shame them into paying attention.


I always get a kick out of video chatting with my parents. If I’m not looking up their noses, I’m talking to the ceiling. Camera position is critical. If your web cam isn’t at eye level, raise it (put a stack of books under a laptop, or use a tripod for a dedicated camera). And remember – if you’re not looking directly into that camera, you’re not making eye contact.


We’re watching you – usually far more up close than we would in person.  I don’t want to see bits of your breakfast on your cheek. Nor do I want to see you sweat. Keep water beside you. Take deep breaths to relax. Brush on translucent powder to keep the shine off. If you don’t think this is important, watch Nixon’s first TV debate with JFK.


Between 60-90% of a message’s effect comes from non-verbal cues. That’s why video meetings are such a great business tool. Think of all you leave on the table if you’re not using the camera! However, since virtual presenting doesn’t come naturally to most, mistakes will happen. If you’re able to be self-deprecating or laugh at your blunders, your audience will relate to you, trust you, and soak up your wisdom.

virtual trainingFacilitating in front of a classroom is not the same as presenting or training “live” in front of a camera. As companies commit more and more resources to virtual meetings, but sure your employees are camera-ready!

What are some of the ups and downs you’ve discovered in your virtual efforts thus far?

Thanks to Amanda Bergen, Stage Harbor Communications, for these tips!

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Most of the biopharma sales trainers I’ve come into contact with over the past 17 years have cycled in from a field sales position. Many were on rotation for a period of time (typically 18 months to 3 years); some stayed in T&D, or cycled back in after another rotation in field management.

Also, many have left the industry; willingly, or (for more often lately), through downsizing.

I’ve talked with a number of folks leaving their (once seemingly secure) positions in biopharma companies, who are contemplating the world of work “out there” and wondering if their prior dedication to this industry leaves them at a disadvantage.

I don’t think so, especially if you’ve had a successful time learning the skills to become a good trainer. Here’s why:

  • Communication skills that you learn in training will be universally applicable in every career choice you make.
  • Facilitation skills will set you apart from the run-of-the-mill employee who has never been trained in how to run a meeting.
  • Leadership skills that are embedded in the training function will rise to the surface in every future role.
  • Management skills (including horizontal, matrix-style management) that develop through being in a HQ position are hugely important no matter what industry or role you land in.
  • Training enforces orderly, systematic thinking. Guess how many woolly-headed business people are out there who cannot connect dots logically?
  • Confidence that comes from playing the role of instructor will seep into your DNA and make you more effective in every realm.
  • Being in a training department will expose you to the Strategic/Tactical tension (and merge) that any developing leader needs to grasp.

In short, if you’ve been a contributor in a training department, you’ve gained a wealth of valuable experience that you may vastly underestimate, simply because you don’t live and breathe next to a bunch of your peers in other industries who have had far more limited development opportunities.

It’s a privilege for me to work regularly with so many smart, personable, and teachable folks. Realize that you are developing a host of skills and disciplines that completely transcend this industry. And that often transcend the slip-shod training and development that leaves so many others less capable than you are.

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got bandwidthAs I talk to many biopharma/medical device training directors, a common theme emerges over and over again.

Everyone’s out of bandwidth.

Headcount reductions in the training department have been a regular feature for the past few years in most companies. But somehow, the number of regular tasks and new initiatives doesn’t seem to go down. Only up.

I hear a lot of stressed voices.

Since I work a lot with vendor recommendations, outsourcing comes up frequently – but how do you outsource major training functions? We’re used to outsourcing the development (and/or delivery) of some specific training programs – but will we need to go further because of the chronic need for more bandwidth?

What do you think?

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I was having a long talk this week with a business partner about workshops for biopharma sales training.

Back when I was immersed in the technology aspects of training, I didn’t pay much attention to live workshops. But 7 years ago, upon starting Impactiviti, I came to realize how big a role workshops play in our environment.

And, I now facilitate my own workshops, on Vendor and Project Management (as well as some other topics).

There are purely off-the-shelf (standard) workshops, semi-customized standard workshops, and fully-customized workshops. And one of the things I’ve always wondered is this: do  off-the-shelf workshops, by and large, truly resonate with the audience and all the surrounding stakeholders? Or are they often too general to really have high impact?

Are fully-customized workshops, perhaps including some up-front assessment and post-hoc impact-measurement, too costly for most needs?

Some material may lend itself to a more off-the-shelf approach, but I’m guessing there are swaths of topics that really need a more custom approach. Which topics are best suited for which approach?

I’d really love to hear which workshops seem to ring the bell best with your customers, and how much customization you feel is needed in most cases. You may not want to leave a blog comment but please send an e-mail to swoodruff at impactiviti dot com with your thoughts. I’m always seeking to better understand what clients need and what seems to be working best.

And if there’s a workshop you need which doesn’t seem to exist, let me know that too! I can try to find a resource…

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Last week, I enjoyed several days of learning and networking at the annual SPBT (Society of Pharmaceutical and Biotech Trainers) conference.

It was held at the impressive Peabody Hotel (Orlando), where ducks rule. Which is cute; though I’m sure no-one is going to launch a boutique hotel chain any time soon with, say, angler fish or centipedes as the designated mascot.

I’m liking the visual of a lobby fountain full of angler fish. But anyway…

One of the things I liked most about the hotel setup: the general session room, the exhibit hall, and the breakout rooms were all in a compact and easily-navigable area. Which sounds like it should be a no-brainer, right? Trust me, I’ve seen some less than brainy conference layouts over the years (“oh, yes, that session is in Bldg C, 4th floor, East Wing, Lower Level, in the Obscurantist section. Would you like a GPS?”)

The pool was nice, too. Oops, we’re back into extracurriculars. OK – to business.

SPBT’s leadership has been in a steady changeover mode for the past few years, and I say this with appreciation – the new leaders are forward-looking, invested in seeing the organization grow and adapt, and willing to try new approaches. And that leads to my main observation summing up the entire conference this year.

The SPBT was upbeat and energetic.

Yes, we’re still facing challenges with membership numbers and exhibitor commitments. Yes, the industry keeps changing rapidly under our feet. But something else was missing at the conference this year, and I didn’t miss it at all.


There was energy in the exhibit hall (and I heard very little of the complaining I’ve heard in past years). There was energy around the new formats for learning and networking opportunities provided. There was energy around the idea that the organization is pro-actively looking to the future, including a name change to more accurately reflect its evolving membership.

SPBT diseaseOn the other hand, there was rampant disease-spreading, thanks to the fine folks at A.D.A.M. I ended up with MRSA, E. coli, chickenpox, and mad cow disease. —-> You?

As for the keynotes, Peter Diamandis was top-shelf (do understand that I have a real fondness for futurists). His stories and perspectives were mind-stretching. Sally Hogshead was entertaining and thought-provoking with her ideas on what makes people fascinating. Linda Cohn (ESPN anchor) did a fine job trying to interview Misty May-Treanor, but this talented Olympic champion, awesome at beach volleyball, was not made for the stage. I’m trying to be diplomatic here. Hey, if I tried to do competitive beach volleyball….let’s not go there.

Since any one person can only attend a handful of workshops, it’s impossible to give a broad overview of the many sessions that took place. My favorite this year was on Getting Your Message Heard, by Patricia Scott (Uhmms) and Susan Velani (Genentech). This very practical session on effective communications led me to immediately go back to my room and make some changes to my upcoming presentation the next day. Since Uhmms is an Impactiviti partner company, if you need great communication skills workshops for your company, just let me know and I’ll connect you up.

I also enjoyed  hearing how Eisai handled the seemingly impossible task of a six-month iPad-centric training implementation. Mary Myers (Eisai) and Susan Caldwell/Jennifer Hughes (Metrix Group) led the workshop. Technology + insurmountable odds? Of course I’m into it.

We are now beginning to leave the first-generation of iPad deployment and companies are starting to think about bigger systems. The most interesting tablet days are ahead of us, as we begin to work on the enterprise “plumbing” of mobile communications. I have an entire workshop on The Digital Future in Healthcare. Favorite topic!

For SPBT 2013, I got to lead a workshop Thursday on Vendor Management, and it was a fun group of folks with diverse perspectives. Everyone has a horror story (or three – or more) about projects that have gone off the rails. It’s amazing how common the causes are across the board…and how preventable a lot of this truly can be.

Appropriately, SPBT did feature some jugglers. They were throwing around a lot of unusual items, keeping up an entertaining banter throughout. Stuff got dropped occasionally, as more and more items go thrown into the mix. Seems like an apt metaphor for the biopharma training role these days.

Personally, my favorite aspect of the entire conference was that which I enjoy most – long, brainstorming talks with clients and partners. I put on my (learned) outgoing disposition for these events but I will always be a one-on-one, dig-deep kinda guy. In that respect, I wish the conference went much longer – there’s never enough time for relationship-building. But I left happy and upbeat. SPBT is in good hands. I look forward to next year in Dallas!

Need expert recommendations selecting your vendors? Plug Into Impactiviti!

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I’m happy to announce the Client-Vendor Success White Paper – a collaborative effort between Impactiviti, pharma training professionals, and the outsource vendors who serve them.

What are the Top 10 things clients wish vendors understood (or would do better) – and vice-versa?

Here are the answers, in one brief and engaging white paper.

Download and enjoy! Client-Vendor Success

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A few new jobs found on-line, for those in the pharma sales/training space:

Associate Training Manager, Virology, BMS (NJ)

Director of Sales Training, Janssen Therapeutics (NJ)

Sales Training Manager, EMD Serono (MA)

Sales Training Manager, Merial (GA)

Director of Sales Training, Managed Markets/Reimbursement, Biogen-Idec (MA)

Director of Sales Training, Core Curriculum, Biogen-Idec (MA)

Director of Worldwide Sales, Medical Device (recruiter) (PA)

Did you know that your company can list open positions on Impactiviti’s pharma-targeted Job Board? Only $295 for a 30-day listing. Go here and get started!

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I give a full-day public Successful Vendor Management workshop quarterly for my pharmaceutical audience. These principles, however, are universal for all client-vendor relationships. So, for my readers, I’ve decided to capture some of these practices in one-minute videos.

Here is the second principle: Spell out, up front, what your communication style and expectations are:

Give it a listen:

Never assume that people have the same needs and desires for project communications. Talking about it up front can save a lot of irritation and aggravation downstream!

(First principle: Be Realistic)


Impactiviti is the Pharmaceutical Connection Agency. As the eHarmony of sales/training/marketing, we help our pharma/biotech clients find optimal outsource vendors through our unique trusted referral network. Need something? Ask Steve.

Learn more about us here.

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I read a provocative article this week, and it has generated quite an interesting set of reactions* from others with whom I’ve shared it:

Sales Training – Avoiding the Unfixable Fix

What are your thoughts on the points brought up here?

One of our professional colleagues in pharma training even put it this way: “You can always tell a bad hire within the first week of training.” Do you agree?

I’d love to know what steps companies are taking to ensure better “matches” for hiring practices so that trainers are not left trying to fix what cannot be fixed… If you’d like to discuss, but don’t feel comfortable leaving your thoughts in the comments, always feel free to contact me directly (stevew at impactiviti dot com, 973-947-7429).

*A selection of reactions that have come in via e-mail:

I agree training and coaching are linked through the value of manager direction and support. And hiring right is more valuable than training right.

No, you can’t fix a bad or unmotivated sales person (occasionally it happens when you have an excellent manager). But that’s not Training’s job. Training (and sales management) should focus on identifying the skills and behaviors of the top performers (and seek ways to engage and grow this group) as well as spreading those behaviors to the middle 60-70% to raise their game.

In my experience, the best reps (and best trained) have all the attributes mentioned in point #3. It is this breadth of knowledge (and these days, especially the business and financial drivers of medical practices or hospitals), and productivity that justifies the investment, and the time  out of the field to acquire it. In pharma, I’ve had MD’s pull me or the rep aside to thank them for literally saving a patient’s life (oncology drugs) with the information they provided, or created access to. THAT is when the rep is regarded as a partner and ally, NOT a “rep”, and is valued still by MD’s.

I am finding I have to break a lot of habits in new hire training to get our sales teams think and acting differently because of they way they were trained at other pharma companies. Detailing is still alive and well. From there, it becomes a process of time and investment matched with the individual desire to be successful or not. As you know we can’t train passion, but we can hire to it and then nurture it fervently!

While we can argue the merits of what to train, how to train it, etc. I would make the argument that more investment should be made in selecting the right people for the job, as described in the article. The reason there is an 80/20 rule in sales is because 80% of people in sales shouldn’t be!


Impactiviti is the Pharmaceutical Connection Agency. As the eHarmony of sales/training/marketing, we help our pharma/biotech clients find optimal outsource vendors through our unique trusted referral network. Need something? Ask Steve.

Learn more about us here.

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