GUEST EDITOR – Troy Prehar
Athletes and the U.S. Army can teach us about training-centric mindsets
Why do two of the greatest American institutions – the sport of football and the U.S. Army – center their daily activity around training? Why does the life sciences industry, which purports to be patient-centric and focused on improving outcomes, not focus on training in the same way? Why has our industry accepted cutting training time and resources when we are committed to reaching the goals of the Triple Aim (care, health and cost)?
I am grateful to have served our country as an armor officer and blessed to have played college football — my goal is to make the case that our industry should adopt a trainingcentric mindset like that of athletes and the U.S. Army.
For most of us in the life sciences industry, we tend to conduct sales training three distinct times in a sales rep’s career: new-hire, new product introduction (NPI) and maybe annually during national sales meetings or their equivalent kick-off. This approach used to be acceptable when sales leaders had the bandwidth and capacity to conduct regular field rides and coach/develop their reps accordingly.
Unfortunately, with ever-increasing demands on sales leaders’ time, the fieldride coaching experience has often fallen by the wayside for many. This development is concerning as we know our customers are increasingly doing their own purchasing research ahead of time and with increased virtual sales exchanges, the salesperson has fewer opportunities to affect the sales process.
Lessons from the Field (of Play)
Even if you’ve never played football at any level, most anyone who’s competed in a sport at the high school, college or professional level will attest to the importance of training. For athletes of any sport, training includes everything from dietary considerations and fitness training (strength, stretching, etc.) to skills training and mental training.
Often, even at the youth level where some of these aspects might be limited, most kids practice several times a week. As you progress to high school, most practice daily and as a collegiate athlete, you practice year-round. Since not everyone has played sports, but nearly everyone has seen a football game on TV, let’s start by exploring the training that goes into being a collegiate football player.
Collegiate football players practice over the entire year, but only compete on average in 11 games a year (and each of those games is typically only 60 minutes long). In speaking with friends of mine coaching football at the collegiate level, the cumulative time spent training/practicing (lifting, actual practice, recovery therapy, breaking down film, etc.) for most college football programs averages 28 hours a week.
When you annualize this practice routine for an 11-game season, and include all the preseason, spring-season and offseason training, a football player will practice an astonishing 960 hours or the equivalent of 120 eight-hour days! Again, all to be able to perform at their best level for 60-minute football games 11 times a season.
How many 8-hours days go into your sales training program annually? I bet it’s a lot less than 120 days. Oh, and how many more times does your sales rep need to be able to perform at a high level? I bet it’s a lot more than 11 times a year.
I will concede that some folks will say our country is obsessed with football and that’s why there is so much focus on their performance. Others will say it’s apples and oranges to compare the two — so let’s look more closely at the vocation of serving our country in the U.S. Army.
In the Army Now
The U.S. Army is a wonderfully complex organization with hundreds of different roles comprising our fighting force. All Army folks practice for a time when they may need to serve in combat.
For the sake of brevity and to keep the analysis simple, we will consider an infantry soldier on active duty (the closest analogous role to a sales representative). This soldier is part of a larger infantry unit, which on average will deploy for 12 months once every three years (actual deployments vary widely based on many factors).
An infantry solider will learn basic rifle marksmanship during basic training (I’m sure some of the veterans reading this just smiled). But even though they will “qualify,” their training never stops as failure to be able to shoot in combat could cost your life.
In an infantry unit, these soldiers will go to the range to practice shooting multiple times a month. Not only that, but their training includes dry fire (remember the dime drill?), bore sighting, cleaning and maintenance of weapons and so much more.
An infantry soldier can plan on doing training of some sort at least three days of any average week. So, if we assume training three days a week, at eight hours a day (most Army days are a lot longer than that!) for 48 weeks, that’s an amazing 1,152 total hours or 144 eight-hour days of training.
Again, compare that amount of time to how many days your sales reps practice or train for their customer engagements. I am confident almost everyone reading this will concede they don’t train anywhere near this amount.
Wrapping It Up
Still not convinced? Let’s expand this training-centric mindset further: Since many of us came out of the clinical setting and were required to complete regular continuing medical education, why don’t salespeople? Physicians must maintain their fellowships and so do certified auto mechanics. So why do we discount the value of investing in quality sales training?
It’s my experience as both a sales leader and training leader, that our industry assumes sales skills are less important than product or clinical knowledge. I liken this to the analogy that if you are a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail.
Many of our companies make great products that save lives. We are proud of these products and do great training on what that product does (features and benefits), but then fall woefully short when it comes to how we engage customers and navigate the sales/consulting process necessary for a customer to realize value.
In football, you can’t rely on what you learned at the pee-wee level to be successful at the collegiate level. Likewise, in the U.S. Army, an infantry soldier will spend their life refining their skills for that singular moment they enter combat.
It’s time our industry embraced a similar mindset and prioritized sales training, making it recurrent training and allocating the necessary funding and time commitment. Our customers deserve to have the best possible trained sales reps — professionals who understand the customer’s business needs and have the necessary skills to navigate the sales/consulting process effectively.
Troy Prehar is senior director, health systems training – North America, for Philips. Email Troy at email@example.com.