By Tom Manos, CPLP
Global product launches in the healthcare industry present many opportunities for learning and development teams to add value to their organizations by delivering programs that educate and train commercial teams in preparation for new product introductions. While there are opportunities to add value during a launch, because of the complexities involved with operating in a global environment, there are also challenges that arise when executing large-scale programs.
This article proposes an approach that enabled a medical device company’s commercial learning function to educate and train a global sales and marketing team in support of the launch of two products. By creating stakeholder alignment, communicating effectively and applying a systematic approach to curriculum design, development and project management upfront, learning and development teams can put themselves in a good position to deliver – and evaluate – a world-class product launch education and training program.
Identifying the stakeholders needed to fund and complete the project is a great place to begin. Earning a seat at the launch team kick-off meeting and leading a workshop designed to engage internal customers in defining objectives, content, audience, approach and reinforcement will enable L&D professionals to define business needs and work collaboratively with stakeholders to develop a learning strategy.
Some key questions to ask include:
• Whose support is needed to fund the program?
• Whose support is needed to complete the tasks the project calls for?
• What are the objectives of the program before, during and after the launch?
• Who should participate in the education and training?
• What content will be needed?
• How will we measure the effectiveness of the program?
• How can we maximize the probability that line managers and marketing teams will reinforce the learning?
Asking these questions at the beginning of the planning process facilitates brainstorming. Following up with a written document that covers these areas will allow stakeholders to comment and reach agreement on the answers, which creates the alignment necessary to proceed.
The final version of the questionnaire can be used to define the requirements for a request for proposal (RFP). Completing this before meeting with potential partners will save time and facilitate dialogue between the training department and vendors, which will also allow apples-to-apples comparison of proposals.
It’s important to establish and sustain consistent and concise internal stakeholder communication. Investing time to make the communication plan an integral component of the program will be a step the global team will be glad it took, and it can prevent confusion and misalignment that could undermine a successful product introduction. There are two components to the communication:
• The first is focused on internal stakeholders through status updates as the curriculum is being developed.
• The second is on the audience through the use of e-blasts announcing the program in local language.
Curriculum Design, Development and Tracking
Segmenting the curriculum into three phases will help communicate clearly with stakeholders how learners’ knowledge, skills and attitudes will be developed in preparation for the launch. Creating a curriculum roadmap will communicate how awareness of the program, foundational knowledge, application and evaluation will take place within the three phases of the program. The curriculum roadmap should even go so far as to let the readers know the method of delivery, i.e. e-learning, webinar, instructor-led and simulations.
For pre-launch, technology can be leveraged by using e-learning and remote classrooms to educate the audience on a combination of clinical topics, market knowledge, sales force effectiveness and how to implement the solution after winning a new customer. Using the launch phase to systematically train and build excitement for the launch allows sales professionals to get product-specific information, learn how to differentiate the product and how to overcome (anticipated) objections they are likely to hear when they go to market and participate in a sales simulation. The post-launch phase focuses on application and mastery of the knowledge and skills needed to achieve performance expectations.
Establishing a framework within an organization to track the program’s development and implementation will create consistency and alignment that can be used for subsequent product launches, which will improve the commercial organization’s efficiency. Create an informational resource that includes:
• An executive summary
• The curriculum roadmap
• The implementation plan for each region
• The communication plan
• Examples of the content (e-learning and webinar screenshots)
• The project teams identified by region of the world
• A development tracker for e-learning and webinars.
This facilitates communication and provides the stakeholders with a global perspective, which facilitates teamwork within and across regions. This tool serves as an excellent resource for communicating up, down and across the organization.
When using a blended-learning approach on an international scale, implementation problems can be avoided by ensuring that pilot teams test systems before going live. Once the technology and delivery vehicles have been tested and validated the team can go live with confidence that the program’s delivery will occur as planned. In a global environment, teams will find that going live can be very time-consuming, so keeping the lines of communication open with stakeholders, managers and the learners themselves should be part of the implementation plan. The other important consideration is that timelines should be established to anticipate obstacles that arise when working across multiple languages, cultures and time zones.
Anticipating that stakeholders will push for delivery yesterday, it is wise to be prepared to provide accurate timelines and that implications of reducing development timelines on the final deliverable are discussed. Learner participation and performance should be measured and reported to the stakeholders who need the information. In a global company, the team should anticipate the need to follow-up with people who have not completed their assignments, as a region’s culture or leaders may have an effect on completion rates. Having communication tools that have tables and charts showing completion rates helps keep the follow-up conversations objective and focused on solutions to close gaps that exist. If the time has been taken by the local sales and marketing team and the training team to create alignment, it will foster an environment that is positive and productive.
While the goal is to have the education and training program play a key part in delivering new product revenue, there are a variety of approaches that can be taken to evaluate learners’ progress as they complete the program. Incorporating games and interactive assessments in e-learning modules keeps learners engaged, makes the learning fun and assesses people’s ability to recall key concepts that will help them earn customers’ trust and respect. Assigning homework for the webinars that is tied directly to the content and the sales peoples’ duties will enable facilitators to engage their audience by focusing distance learning on discussion around assignments.
To help sales and marketing leaders prepare for the launch and to support their efforts to educate and train their teams, a coach’s toolkit is an invaluable tool that provides managers with a discussion guide, which enables them to determine their salespeoples’ understanding of the content and their ability to articulate key points. During the launch meeting, sales professionals participate in a simulation of the most likely sales calls. Evaluating sales pros on their ability to execute sales calls from beginning to end and providing an individual report card after the meeting allows sales managers to recognize areas of strength and pinpoint areas on which to focus their coaching efforts.
By establishing an environment of cross-functional teamwork in preparation for new product introductions and communicating effectively with stakeholders, the learning and development team can play a key role in helping the organization achieve alignment, create positive anticipation and reach sales targets for product launches. A by-product of preparing people and teams using this approach is it develops a commercial organization’s capabilities and effectiveness for future launches. Remember, you live with how you launch and chance favors the prepared mind.
Tom Manos is a Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) with more than 25-years of experience in biotech and medical devices. Tom has held roles of increasing responsibility in sales, marketing, operations and training. Recently, he served as the director of global sales & marketing training at Smiths Medical, where he was responsible for starting and globalizing a world-class commercial learning function. The performance his team delivered helped the company to be selected as one of Training Magazine’s Top 125 for employer-sponsored learning and development in 2013. Email Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org.