AmerisourceBergen Transforms Sales Training
Cover Story – By Jon Murray
Naturally, you need the right talent on your team to make this type of a shift happen.
AmerisourceBergen (ABC) is a global healthcare solutions leader that provides pharmaceutical products, value-driving services and business solutions that improve access to care. Like many healthcare organizations and Fortune 500 companies that have been built through acquisitions, AmerisourceBergen took a step back in recent years to ensure the business is set up to deliver a more cohesive and unified customer experience, enhance growth and drive long-term value.
In 2017, AmerisourceBergen embarked on a transformation effort designed to make it an easier company to do business with and a better company to work for. The transformation touched every aspect of AmerisourceBergen’s business, required tremendous work amid rapid change, and aimed to create a culture of “One AmerisourceBergen.”
A core element of the transformation effort was ensuring associates had opportunities to grow their careers and enhance their capabilities. The sales function within AmerisourceBergen was no exception.
Sales professionals need to have the skills to relate to their customers better than their competition to effectively contend in today’s marketplace. In addition, sales professionals must have the confidence to engage in meaningful dialogue with clients and lead them to value-focused propositions. A robust sales training function can help enable this and ensure associates are growing.
AmerisourceBergen saw the value in redefining its sales training methodology and growing these important skills within the sales team.
Prior to 2017, AmerisourceBergen’s Sales Training department was limited to building eLearning modules and there was an opportunity to rethink how we engaged with our sales teams. We needed our own transformation to support and align with the company’s organizational shift. We needed to enable a culture of learning and shared accountability between sales training and the business overall.
The journey to developing a world-class sales training organization is a difficult one. Through outside-in thinking and analytics, we identified and prioritized key success factors to enable our change:
- A shared vision
- Business partnership & sponsorship
- A strategic roadmap
- A learning culture to drive outcomes
A Shared Vision
“Put people first. The rest will follow.”
This is one of AmerisourceBergen’s guiding principles, and we believe that success for our company happens when we help our partners and our associates thrive. You need the right talent on your team to make this type of a shift happen. Hiring top talent like Joy Rowan to lead our Community & Specialty Pharmacy (CSP) sales training team permitted stronger adoption of the department’s vision and operating model. This sales team is focused on supporting AmerisourceBergen’s independent pharmacy, long-term care, specialty pharmacy and retail pharmacy customers. Gina Chambers, Katie Collins, Debra Bernhardt and Michele Pletcher all came together under Joy’s leadership over the next 18 months.
As we faced and addressed perceptions that the team was becoming too focused on CSP and didn’t have enough resources to support additional parts of the organization, we hired Kim Mais and eventually Sarah Dalyan in the Health Systems & Specialty Services segment, focused on serving integrated delivery networks (IDNS), pharmacists and more.
Last, we needed a central design, development and learning administration team, which has been led by Margaret Dunmeyer, supported by team members Keith Gastearl, Tracy Makda, Andrea Gadson and Kristy Macellaro.
Ensuring we had the right people in place with a shared vision enabled us to get off to the right start.
Business Partnership and Sponsorship
Our journey began with a solid vision for our partnership, socialized across senior sales leadership, followed by the launch of our department. We knew we needed quick wins to grow the confidence of our business clients.
We were hit hard with five national sales meetings (NSMs) in a 12-month span, not to mention restructurings and acquisitions across the business. The team had to focus on attainable outcomes, ones that were firmly aligned with the business priorities. Our consulting was therefore tested from the start.
We had positive momentum just six months in, demonstrating learning effectiveness scores of 4.5/5.0 and net promoter scores of 8.7/10 across our work.
Efficiency of work is always a challenge, especially when in a startup environment. And, we were committed to building world class experiences for our clients. The work was hard, sometimes causing us to huddle daily.
A Strategic Roadmap
When heads are down, it’s hard to consider the future. The team was working hard to manage the sheer capacity required to support the changes within the business and across our team, but we challenged ourselves to think more strategically and longer-term.
We built a three-year roadmap, supported by revolving annual learning plans. We were able to prioritize key capabilities for the business while managing the day-to-day. Our ongoing alignment with senior leadership permitted immediate focus on new hire training, sales leadership development, strategic account management capability and a core sales model across the teams. We chartered the work and scaled the effort across all areas of our business.
Naturally a transformation of this nature doesn’t happen just within sales training. We have had amazing partners to work with. Business Operations & Sales Enablement, led by Dasa Kelly, has played a major role in enabling our work. Our sales leadership teams have also only been appreciative, encouraging and helpful in making the vision come to life.
A Learning Culture to Drive Outcomes
If one only measured learning effectiveness and net promoter scores, one could easily be satisfied with the outcomes. Creating a learning culture, combined with business performance and results is the ultimate measure of success.
AmerisourceBergen is growing, and while many different teams are enabling this success, sales training is certainly a piece of the collaboration required to facilitate that growth. As far as a learning culture goes, our sales training team is striving for continuous improvement. We train hard, we coach one another, we speak the culture of the Oz Principle to strive for shared accountability and results.
However, the business segments are where the massive mindset shift is occurring. In less than two years, sales associates have started to recognize role-playing and constructive feedback as their means to continuous improvement. Our coaches practice more rigorously, to present in front of their people in the best possible manner. People are seeking new information and skills, such as signing up for rigorous certification programs through the SAMA organization. New sales executives and sales directors take time out of the field to attend foundational training. Sales leaders come back for advanced training. Sales leadership leads training efforts in front of their teams. Leaders are teachers! Emerging leaders are mentored by our top sales leaders, in preparation for their eventual step into people leadership.
We convene through social and digital learning to share and grow. Our advancement is no longer solely dependent upon e-learning, and we know this shift is helping sidestep the competition when it comes to serving our prospects and current customers.
The Path Forward
We’ve been lucky to celebrate the short-term returns on our team’s transformation, but our journey is just getting started. Building a world-class training organization is one thing but sustaining it as a true learning & development organization is another. There are many more steps we can take and need to take to drive effective training. By keeping a laser focus on identifying business-critical priorities, aligning clients and stakeholders and delivering on promises, we will continue to celebrate wins.
The AmerisourceBergen Training Team
“For the past two years, I’ve led sales training’s HQ instructional design and training team and it has been, by far, the most rewarding and challenging work I’ve done in my almost 30-year career in learning and development. I’ve had the unique opportunity, along with my leader Jon Murray and colleague Joy Rowan, to build a sales training organization from the ground up. Through the hard work and dedication of our team, we are now a strategic, trusted partner to sales leadership, and deliver world-class learning to our sales teams that increases performance and directly contributes to ABC’s mission. We see and hear the impact we make, and for me there is nothing more gratifying. It’s why I love to come to work every day!”
— Margaret Dunmeyer, Senior Manager
“What has been most rewarding to me on this journey has been that I have felt empowered at ABC to make a difference to the internal client, the sales teams. We set out with a vision to do something quite different, with no internal blueprint or institutional history to fall back on. Exciting and challenging. It has been such a pleasure to be part of changing how people and the organization perceive what sales training can be, a business enabler, a strategic partner who supports driving business results and developing our most important asset, our people. It sounds cliché, but I feel like the work our team does positively impacts people at the individual level and impacts the greater goals of the company. At ABC, we are encouraged and appreciated for doing so.”
— Joy Rowan, CSP Training Leader
“It has been said that, ‘In business, what’s dangerous is not to evolve.’ This can certainly apply to any sales organization. To see the transformation, growth and impact the training team has had over the past two years is extraordinary. I have had the great fortune of partnering with Jon and his team on a number of projects and initiatives. Their ability to understand the needs of the organization, develop and design a curriculum and, most importantly, deliver a comprehensive training program has not only impacted AmerisourceBergen, but also separated us from our competitors. What we have learned from Jon and team is that training is not only beneficial, it is vital. Vital for improved performance, company morale, development and, most importantly, delivering a best-in-class customer experience.”
— Moe Peguri, VP of Sales, CSP
“I lead our field sales team in the west region and our company has been engaged over the past few years in a rigorous effort to enhance our sales organization. To support this effort, we needed a training group that was truly a business partner. From the beginning, Jon and his team worked diligently to clearly understand our needs and to tailor/create programs that deliver results. His team is an integral part of our team and our success!”
— Scott George, VP of Sales, Health Systems and Specialty Services
Jon Murray is senior director, sales training, for AmerisourceBergen. Email Jon at