S03 E02

Education of Sales Reps During Covid-19


Jim Shea

General Manager

Council for Continuing Pharmaceutical Education

In the second episode of our third season, Peter Brenders, CEO of the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation, talks with Jim Shea, General Manager of the Council for Continuing Pharmaceutical Education, about sales reps and the effect of Covid-19 on continuing education in the pharma industry.



Thanks for downloading the NPC Podcast from the National Pharmaceutical Congress for February 3rd 2021. This day after Groundhog Day edition is all about discussing and considering the purpose, process and people of the pharma industry during the Age of Covid. We’re continuing the health care conversation this week by answering questions sent by listeners like you. 


This program is presented in cooperation with Impres, Impres best in class commercial solutions offer top line and bottom line growth with maximum sales force, flexibility, speed and efficiency. Learn more about their next generation commercial model at www.impres.com


On today's podcast,our guest is Jim Shea, General Manager of the Council for Continuing Pharmacetuical Education in Montreal.. Coming to you today from somewhere between Etobicoke, Ontario and Fredricton is your host for the NPC Podcast. Peter Brenders, CEO of the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation. 


But first, here's Mitch Shannon of Chronicle Companies.




Thanks for the introduction, Liona. 


And welcome to February listeners. Here at the NPC Podcast, we’re designating this as customer-facing personnel month. We’re going to focus on the future of pharma field forces and try to envision what the job of drug rep is going to look at post-Covid.


Who better to lead off this conversation than James Shea? Jim is the GM of CCPE and the leading voice of Canada for setting and maintaining a high standard of knowledge for bag carriers. 


And you’ll be getting a double dose of Mr. Shea. He’ll be a live panelist at the NPC Winter Webinar, one week from today on February 10th, 2021, answering your questions in real time. More about this very cool event later in this podcast.


Right now, let’s listen to Jim in conversation with Peter.




Welcome to the NPC podcast. I'm Peter Brenders, your host. 


In our continuing look at the purpose, process and people in pharma, this episode discusses the world of the customer facing field force. As Covid-19 cases continued to spread across the globe, the repercussions in health care extend across the value chain from patients and families to clinicians and pharmaceutical companies.


A McKinsey report last month noted that the pharma industry faces a dual challenge, as well as helping to tackle Covid-19 spread by developing and distributing new vaccines and tests, it must continue to develop and deliver innovative therapies and diagnostics to clinicians, patients and healthcare systems. Even as R&D, manufacturing and supply chains are struggling to maintain business as usual, the on-the-ground customer facing field force has probably been most affected. These road warriors have been parked. 


Today we look to discuss what's happening out there and perhaps make a prediction for a long term future. Joining me is industry veteran Jim Shea, General Manager of the Council for Continuing Pharmaceutical Education and Montreal Habs fan. Welcome, Jim. 




Well, thank you for having me. Appreciate being here and thanks to Mitch and his organization for creating this vehicle. I've listened to all the podcasts and it's been very interesting. I really appreciate it. 




Well, before we get started talking about sort of the fate and changes of our field forces out there, I was hoping you could give our audience a little background on the CCPE. 




Well, when I go back to where we came from, the genesis was all about a massive change that had to happen in a fairly quick time back in the 50s and 60s. We had a model here in Canada where, truly, it was a bunch of old men in fedoras driving around the country, merchandising to dispensing physicians of the backs of their giant Chrysler New Yorkers and Delta 98s. Essentially driving around the cars with the biggest trunks they could get their hands on. And physicians were literally buying out of the back of the trunks. 


So, as things progressed and pharma became a little bit more complicated with new compounds coming into market, new anti-anxiolytics, anti-depressants, anti-hypertensives, antibiotics, and all such things happening through the 50s and 60s, there's was a demand for more of a scientific cell. It couldn't just be a guy is taking orders anymore, there had to be a discussion about what the benefits of the scientific background of these products was. 


So, the pharma association of the day, that was the pharmaceutical manufacturers association of Canada, PMAC at the time, so IMC now, thought about the value proposition of the industry and decided to create what us old timers will remember as APMR, which is now CCPE as a separate not-for-profit, basically with a mandate to educate reps to a higher scientific standard. And something that was higher than what was expected by the stakeholders at the time. And this was really all to provide better value at the rep physician interface, drive better patient outcomes, and thereby increase the image of the pharma industry. And you know, it actually worked. 


Through the 80s, up until the end of the 80s and early 90s, certainly, pharma was the most admired industry out there. Some of the merchandisers that were out there in the 50s and 60s, converted through education. Others didn't really educate themselves and things were fixed, I guess I'll have to say, in the in the field, you know, people that didn't shift over, were dropped or went into different types of capacities in the field. 


But really, it's interesting when I take a look at what our history is to what we are now, we're still implementing the same kind of mandate, our RICE strategy, which is reputation management through social media, providing insights to the industry through our benchmark reports, supporting the community through news feeds, and virtual communities of practice with all those themes like continuing professional development, medical affairs, learning development, all of these areas that we have the humanities going, it's supporting the industry now. And of course, the E in RICE is education, where we're offering over 40 courses in many job functions. And all this is just to provide industry and individuals within the industry, the education and the information that they need to make better decisions, have more patient impact, support image. So it's we're still doing the same thing a long time later. So long story. But it's kind of interesting. 




A very interesting story, when you think about sort of how things have changed over 50 years from, you know, just sort of moving commodities and goods, as you say, out of the trunk to truly providing value, that education piece out of there. 


And so as I listen to CCPE and how you've evolved in terms of providing that education and that professional development, how the industry has embraced that to be sort of better partners in the system, if you will, I have to wonder, what about 2020? Did the Covid-19 change anything? Did we go into massive paralysis? Or did things keep going as they were? 




It's pretty interesting. Some people might say that 2020 was unique. And I guess it would have been if CCPE wasn't positioned the way we were. Strategically and tactically, we decided a long time ago, to continue to be an organization that was providing paper based education, self driven stuff that you know, we delivered to your house, and you either read a paragraph of it, or you powered through, like in the good old days, and you did chapter upon chapter without getting up from your desk. 


So when things changed, CCPE really didn't have to change. We were able to continue our mandate. And we weren't looking at scrambling for implementing new technology or setup, live training or any of those things. The most high tech thing that we do really is provide webinars, and those are standard. So things really didn't change too much. 


What I did see happening, though, was that people were coming to us, and many of them only know us through their accreditation course. And for those who, you know, are having a panic attack just thinking about that, or those that have no idea what I'm talking about. We're talking about a 200 to 300 hour course up to 3000 pages. For, you know, science background people, it's not a walk in the park, that's for sure. It's still difficult. And for those people that went up through the business side and marketing to take the accreditation course, yeah, it's quite a hurdle. And most people know about that as the standard CCPE course. But quite frankly, we've got courses from one hour, you know, we have courses for half a day, most of our courses you can take by just reading a couple of days worth of stuff. So what was happening is that people were coming to us asking about courses, and were pleasantly surprised that they weren't going to have to invest 200 to 300 hours, to take one course with us. So we saw increased interest, actually. 




And is that continuing today? Do you find that there, you know, the industry is looking for more education now? And is this a reflection of that there's more capacity for more education? Or just, like what's changed?




Yeah, normally, we don't have a cyclical nature in our business, it's, you know, things are coming in on a monthly basis. We saw very quickly, in March, a big increase, a spike I'll call it, in the number of registrations that were happening. It was reps, it was head office, it was everybody, I think, was looking to invest in themselves, savvy people who know the game and know how to maintain their level on the ladder, were looking at ways, not just with CCPE, but with all sorts of vehicles to educate themselves.


But what I was seeing is that there was an increase in where maybe a rep would be asking about market access, or marketing, or people management or I'd see managers asking about CPD or market access, basically trying to learn maybe something about their next job, or learn something that they might have a blind spot on. So I saw a little bit of that, there's that boost in the first few months. And then I think maybe there was a lot of the excess capacity of "okay, what are we going to do after the planning had been done." And then we were going to be looking at people using technology to get out there in the field, the demands for training on the technology and potentially new skills for implementing those things during the summer, probably took a little bit of interest out of the CCPE courses and continue education because it was internal education that was going on. So that started to kick in and there was normalization in our registrations. And then by the fall, certainly the registrations kind of normalized. 


So you know, that initial peak, the normalization, back to normal, I think there were a lot of reasons for why that happened. And you know, what I'm assuming in a little bit of this is that those people that had the capacity were trying to fill it. And capacity isn't just the business side of things, it was your personal side of things. We learned very quickly and, you know, parents with younger kids, there was no capacity there. Ther capacity was once the kids went to bed. So you know, was there the ability through the rest of the year as people started to get tired of the new life that we were living, was there the ability to add more education? And I think that's what happened is that there wasn't, we shall see what happens. 




So it's interesting when you talk about sort of, are they investing in themselves? So, I was reading a McKinsey report, as I mentioned earlier, and they conducted a survey in Europe last year, and it showed that the average number of in-person contacts between healthcare practitioners and pharma sales reps was 70% lower in September 2020 than before the pandemic. 


And so I look at that and I can't help but speculate that changes in approach and structure for our field forces, be they medical or sales, are coming. And you thinking about that in front, and you're talking about sort of preparing yourself, I have to ask the question is how should that field rep be future proofing themselves do you think? 




I'm no longer a rep, but I'll tell you what, if I was I would be thinking about this long and hard and maybe a little bit too much. I think the best reps out there are people people, and no matter what they've been doing in their in-person, or however they're interacting with their customers, they've been able to engage. You know, engagement has been a bit of a buzzword. But quite frankly, engagement as it's being used is very, very important. If in real estate, location, location, location, and in retail location, location, location, is the mantra then, certainly in sales, it was all about engagement, engagement, engagement. Really, I believe what it comes down to is that to future proof, you're going to have to prove to the people who are, you know, employing you what your value is, they have to see it, as I believe that, representatives continue to be the most impactful resource for marketing a product. 


And whether you're using a remote model or in-person model, I don't care what your model is, I don't really think that there is anything new. Psychology is psychology, behavior is behavior, human behavior is what it is. And I think reps are going to have to understand their products, their competition, most importantly, how to engage with customers, by any means tech or not. Reps also have to know how they fit into an organization, what their real role is. They'll have to know where they're contributing, and they're going to have to master those activities to maximize their impact, and then be recognized that they are actually doing the job and doing doing well. 


They're going to have to, when we talk about this modern approach to teams or squads or quite frankly, it's working groups, but more people are going to have to know more about other people's job functions, just to protect themselves from their blind spots. You're going to have to instead of having a Venn diagram, where there was, you know, five people working on a project, and everybody's circle intersected with everybody's a little bit, you're going to have to have those circles intersecting with each others a lot more, just so that you're able to provide impact and be a great resource for the problem solving that you're doing on your daily basis. 


But really, what it's going to come down to is the ability to engage whether it's with a customer, whether it's with that teammate, the other people that are problem solving on a project or with management, it's not new, you know, we'll go back to the famous 1970s. You know, all the old timers know about this the Xerox selling system, which then, you know, Neil Rackham, making his million dollars, translated that into SPIN Selling, and it's become, you know, flavor of the month selling whether it's actively trying to pull out objections and handling those. Well guess what, if you're pulling those types of objections out and you're being very aggressive and you're selling here, you're engaging. So these are the things that people are going to have to become masters at. 


So it's not about whether you're good at lighting a Zoom interaction or your sound is perfect. All of that stuff is going to come if you're able to actually do the things that master sales people have always done and that's engage with the target, know what their needs are. Maybe you'll have to help them understand what their needs are, but it all just comes back to the good old sales processes and the whole decision making psychology that we know about. 


So to me, that's it. All the rest is just the fluff and how we're going to do it. If we look to are telephone sales new? We've been dealing with telephone sales, since Alexander Bell, you know, made his transatlantic call. And that's all about the best people on a phone, were the best people at engaging with somebody. The tell in a situation like this, where you're either, what I'm doing right now actually, where I'm just telling a story, and not being able to use questioning technique and proper listening, and the active listening and questioning, and even improvisation skills. These are all the things that we're going to have to do. 


We're getting feedback from the field and your McKinsey data there is those people that are actually in contact with their customers may not even be as we are led to believe having visuals over a zoom call. What I'm hearing from sources is that, yeah, there's interaction going on, but physicians are not putting on their video. We don't even know if physicians are listening, quite frankly, they could be doing their paperwork. So it was for me, if I didn't have a good interactive call with a physician, you know, and I was just telling a story, guess what, the physician was doing the last chart. 


So these are the things that the master sales people already know about. They're either born with it or learned it and they implement it all the time. And it does not matter what technology you're using or the clothes that you're wearing. It's all about how you're making your physician/customer interact with you and getting what you need back from them in the call. Know your stuff, know a little bit of everybody other's stuff, know how to engage, then use the technology and the vehicles as tools. 




So great summary on that one. So it really comes back down to, I think your message is engagement. And we've heard a few previous podcast guests out there talking about sort of bringing value to the customer at the end of the day. That's an engagement conversation trying to get there. 


But you know, I can't help but feel whether a relationship had existed that that's probably easier than for the rep that's new, or has to start with some new cold calls trying to, you know, make that first engagement. Are we entering the new era of the new cold call and trying to find new techniques? Or is it just something old, that's, you know, it's just new again? We've done this before, it's just a new medium? 




I'll tell you what, I'm a believer in the latter part of it, all the bells and whistles and all this new stuff, it all comes down to we're still built the same way, we still react the same way, we still, the best of us interact appropriately with other people, and that there's actual, you know, a need for the social interaction for sure. And one of the things that I've been thinking about is, what kind of information do we have? I'll get back to the cold call stuff. It comes down to, you know, do we need cold calls? I imagine we're going to need cold calls. But we have a whole bunch of other vehicles that are going in there. Oh, I want to say it, to sensitize that person. It's it's not like in 1960, where you picked up the phone or you walked into a doctor's office and boom, yeah. Nowadays, there's history. There's various ways, including, you know, all the various vehicles, digital non-manpower, all of these things that are reaching out and trying to get to that customer. 


So when it comes down to a true cold call, yeah. It's an interesting concept, because I've never really believed in the no-see physician, nor have ever believed in the true cold call. There's always previous knowledge on both sides to really understand a little bit about each other on that call. I think it's incumbent upon industry, organizations, individuals acting in all their various job functions to really understand what's going on out there. What's the impact of the reps? What is the impact of non-traditional, what's the impact of digital? What's the impact of new tech, what's the impact of changes in socialization and the way we want it to interact in the future? 


And it has to be done through independent sources. You can't really ask the suppliers of those vehicles to provide the unbiased measurement and that'll be incumbent upon organizations to do their own research on the research or research on what's actually working. And I have no doubt that once we honestly step back and take a look at what the rep offers, were going to say, you know, we got to be investing in the representatives, allowing them to leverage the technology, allowing them to do those cold calls with the best possible information, providing them with the training and the skills to interact with people appropriately and get into proper engaging discussions, not presentations, but discussions with people. 


And it comes down to getting the truth. What is the truth out there? Do we believe in the idea of representatives putting in a minimal amount of work for maximum amount of output? Do we believe in understanding what reps really do during the day? Do we want our representatives to be out there from six o'clock in the morning to six o'clock at night, every day of the week? Well, I'll tell you what, I don't. I wouldn't and the docs don't. So if we're in a position where we really understand the behaviors of the representatives, we understand the impacts of the various media that we're using right now. And put it all together. It's not a matter of having to require an AI to figure it all out, we just have to sit down, look at the data and make decisions about where we want to invest. Do we want to compete with the Royal Bank, Chivas Regal, Mercedes Benz and other organizations that have done a masterful job of getting to our target audience? Do we want to compete with them are there other ways? 


We're in a very unique position where it is understood as a standard that there's going to be industry interaction with the customer. We call physically on physicians as the standard thing. Financial planning organizations, wine and spirits, you name it, they don't go to the doctor's office on a daily basis as an expectation, and have discussions about products and patient outcomes and all of these things. And if we get to a situation where we're relying too much on some of these other vehicles inappropriately in the marketing mix, then I think we're going to give up an amazing position that we have, a unique position that we have. And maybe, you asked me about 2020, what's uniquely happening? I hope, very strongly that 2020 is not where we have uniquely given up our position to be able to interact with our customers, like we have historically. So that's my biggest fear right now.





On that note, we're gonna take away sort of some key messages that I've heard from Jim today is engagement to bring value is key. Continuous learning is a must. And if Covid has brought anything, perhaps it's brought that opportunity for us to be stronger and to take that opportunity to do that continuous learning. 


You've been listening to Jim Shea, General Manager of CCPE on the NPC podcast. Thank you for listening.




Thanks to Jim and Peter for those insights.


If you have follow-up questions for Jim, send them through Twitter, direct message to @2021NPC. That’s our Twitter alias, @2021NPC.


Or leave a message on our comment line anytime 24/7 at 647-873-6995.


And here’s one more option: just show up next week at the National Pharma Congress Winter Webinar. Paul Petrelli of Jazz Pharmaceuticals, Carol Stiff of Santen Canada, and Jim will be available live, Wednesday, February 10th, at 11am EST to take your questions. The moderator is Peter Brenders.


So listeners, sign up today for free at pharmacongress.info and we’ll see you again on February 10th.


Past episodes of the NPC Podcast are on Google Podcasts, Apple iTunes, YouTube, Stitcher, Spotify and wherever you get your podcasts. You can subscribe at pharmacongress.info. 


This winter series of the NPC Podcast was presented in cooperation with Impres, Canada's next generation commercial partner. Learn more at www.impres.com


In Toronto, I'm Mitch Shannon of Chronicle Companies. Your announcer was Liona Droidikova. Jeremy Visser is the producer. The musical theme from the NPC Podcast is performed by the NPC Philharmonic under the direction of Maestro Seiji Millbrook. 


Have a good week and stay safe. We'll see you next Wednesday at the NPC Winter Webinar.