Beyond Static, One-Time Training Events

John Knoble, Director, Commercial Learning, Ethicon

It wasn’t that long ago that a new sales rep joining Ethicon– a world leader in the manufacturing of surgical devices – would go through a training program that looked something like this: The rep would travel to Cincinnati, spend eight weeks attending classes to learn about the human anatomy, medical procedures and medical terminology, and receive sales training on a portion of the Ethicon product portfolio. After this eight-week period, the sales rep would return home, complete field training and officially begin working with clinicians to help them understand the company’s surgical technologies and solutions.

Fast-forward to 2015 and an Ethicon sales rep must know five times the amount of information required only two decades ago. The clinical landscape has also changed. Ethicon’s customers now demand a single point of contact. So, while the company used to staff four to six representatives, who each specialized in a different product line, today many of their sales representatives are responsible for the entire product portfolio, consisting of hundreds of surgical devices– each with their own intricacies and nuances. Add to this, ongoing changes in healthcare policies, reimbursement and procedures and the amount of information a rep must recall is mind-boggling. Sales reps practically have to be medical dictionaries!

Training hasn’t kept pace with modern sales reps’ needs
While the demands on medical sales reps (and sales reps in general) have grown dramatically in recent years, training approaches have remained stagnant. Most companies continue to focus on one-time training events that take place in a traditional classroom, but research confirms this limited approach isn’t meeting modern sales reps’ learning needs:

  • ES Research Group reports 20% to 33% of salespeople do not have the capabilities to successfully perform their jobs.
  • Respondants to the 2012 State of Sales Training report by ASTD, state that 50% or less of the training they received was relevant to their jobs.
  • ES Research Group estimates that 80% to 85% of sales training produces no long term impact.

Replacing event-based training with a continual learning ecosystem
To better support the increasing demands on its sales reps, Ethicon knew it had to make some changes. After all, it just wouldn’t make sense to bring a new rep to Cincinnati to spend forty weeks away from family and friends to learn five times the information necessary to meet today’s requirements. Besides, Ethicon knew this fire hose type training approach would only drown reps in information without helping them remember it.

Instead, the company opted to revolutionize its training program by implementing a blended learning model that not only includes in-person classroom training, but extends to self study, virtual learning, role playing, field experiences as well as information reinforcement and continual learning. Here’s how it works.

Blended Learning – While new hires still fly to Ethicon’s headquarters in Somerville, N.J., or Cincinnati for an in-person orientation, once this process is complete, they return home to participate in a blended learning program through their Ethicon Academy. This program includes a combination of self-study asynchronous learning, and synchronous sessions– live online training with a class moderator or facilitator. It also includes some hands-on demonstrations and peer collaboration to help reps better understand how the information they’re learning applies to a real clinical setting.

Knowledge Application – Once the reps participate in these virtual training sessions, they come back together in a clinical environment to do a practicum. This involves participating in role playing, case study discussions and hands-on labs. Reps have the opportunity to demonstrate how they might sell a surgical device or have a conversation with a surgeon to help them prepare for a real life scenario. After this process, sales reps will spend several weeks in the field in the customer environment with an experienced field trainer so they can really understand how all the pieces of their training fit together on the job.

Information Reinforcement – In many organizations, once the formal training processcomes to a close, the learning stops. But, at Ethicon, the learning never ends. After reps complete the initial training sessions, the company uses an eLearning platform, provided by Axonify, to deliver daily, gamified bite-sized reinforcement of the critical information their reps need to know. That way, the reps continue to maintain their baseline level of knowledge for quick recall in a clinical environment, while also building their level of expertise over time to master medical and product information—essential for improving job performance.

Continual Learning & Reinforcement – As part of Ethicon’s ongoing learning and coaching process, managers continue to spend time with sales reps in the field and evaluate their abilities. They look at areas where sales reps need additional development and help them select from a variety of educational offerings through their Ethicon University program. These continual learning activities include virtual classes, mentorships, self-study programs or project type work focused on developing those areas recognized as their greatest individual developmental need. That way, experienced professionals can elevate their learning to higher levels and continue to grow their expertise. And, as with every training offering, there is a corresponding information reinforcement program that happens through Ethicon’s eLearning platform. This ensures reps continually remember what they learn instead of forgetting it immediately after the training ends.

Through this evolutionary approach, Ethicon has transformed its decades-old event-based training approach into a culture of learning, supported by a modern learning ecosystem. And its sales reps are thriving: Knowledge lifts have increased in some topic areas by as much as 49% and 79% of reps claim Axonify is what has made them more knowledgeable. The enthusiasm and positive impact on the business is clear: “Since I have been using Axonify, I have felt more and more comfortable discussing the anatomy with surgeons,” says Ainsley Schroeder, Hernia Sales representing Ethicon. “The app even helped me prepare for a vendor fair. It’s the best application for continuous learning!”

John Knoble is Director, Commercial Learning at Ethicon, a world leader in the manufacturing of surgical devices. He is responsible for leading a 40-plus member, multi-level team that delivers clinical, selling and business training for the U.S. sales organization.