Otsuka’s ReadyNow: Training New-to-Pharma Reps
Cover Story – By Carrie Garrett
In 2014, Otsuka America Pharmaceutical was thriving, and sales leaders recognized there was an untapped resource that could help support their growth: smart, industrious workers with sales potential but without previous industry experience. To recruit new talent into the organization and build their bench, they created an innovative program called ReadyNow.
Since then, ReadyNow has produced some of Otsuka’s top sales performers and helped dozens of aspiring account managers earn their own territories.
Here’s a look inside the program and the collaborative process that helped make it a success.
The ReadyNow program was designed to create a pool of agile account managers (the company’s preferred term for sales representatives) to fill vacancies across the country for up to 18 months. These account managers provide coverage for the company’s sophisticated central nervous system, oncology and nephrology products, including a digital antipsychotic medicine that has a sensor in the tablet.
While serving rotations wherever needed, ReadyNow account managers gain valuable sales skills and industry experience with the opportunity to land their own
territory, said Rob Jindal, associate director, ReadyNow Sales Lead. Jindal, who came into the role in late 2016, oversees three district managers, a training manager and an operations manager for the ReadyNow program. The program currently includes a pool of 45 account managers hired with two to five years of business experience and a willingness to learn pharmaceutical sales.
Because most ReadyNow candidates have never had a job in the industry, they need to gain a solid understanding of healthcare and pharma before their product training, said Mike Satz, ReadyNow operations manager.
In the first two years of the program, efforts to train the ReadyNow account managers were in place, but they knew improvements would further elevate performance. When Jindal and Satz came into the program, they talked with field
leaders and determined that they needed to revise the curriculum to include more training to build account managers’ clinical and business acumen.
To make this happen, ReadyNow leaders turned to CMR Institute to create a training program using a library of customizable e-modules and other resources that would meet their training needs.
“We needed to find some top-ofthe-line training materials that were already there, well-respected and people knew the name,” Jindal said.
Designing for Success
The team developed a curriculum that would build six core competencies within the ReadyNow team — all on a limited budget.
“Working with a reputable company and pulling material that they have already built and tweaking the materials as needed is a lot easier and more cost-effective than trying to build an eLearning module from scratch,” Jindal said.
The ReadyNow team opted for a phased training approach, minimizing out-of-the-field time. The first phase is completed as home study before the account managers head into the home office in Princeton, N.J., for sales training. Content covers a wide range of topics to help the budding salespeople gain familiarity with the industry and improve their business etiquette and selling skills.
When they come to the home office, account managers are prepared to engage in selling simulations with sales leaders. During that time, they receive vital feedback to help them improve their presentations.
“They’re learning to ask good questions, they’re learning to close, and they’re learning to present the information in a compelling way,” said Tana Perricone, ReadyNow district manager in the Central District, overseeing 17 ReadyNow account managers.
After completing the field readiness training, the ReadyNow account managers complete product training at home, after which they receive live product training back in the home office. Account managers are then placed with a more experienced account manager as part of a pod.
“It seems to energize the entire team, and even the entire district,” Perricone said.
ReadyNow account managers enroll in the second phase of at-home courses after this time in the field. Designed to advance industry knowledge and improve performance, these courses cover clinical and business topics. More in-house, advanced role-plays and simulation training follows.
Alicia Cretaro, a ReadyNow district manager for the West and Midwest ReadyNow regions who oversees 15 ReadyNow account managers, agrees that the phased training program helps bring account managers up to speed quickly.
“It helps them get the tools and foundational pillars that are necessary to be able to sell effectively,” she added. “Regardless of where they came from, it does a nice job of giving consistency across the board to each cohort.”
The training program has given ReadyNow account managers the knowledge they need to get up to speed quickly so they can confidently call on customers, said Jack Demos, national field training manager for ReadyNow. “We continue to see members of this program with Otsuka find their footing and actually perform at par — if not exceed what the remainder of the sales force is doing — and get permanently placed within the sales force team.”
Since the program began, ReadyNow has hired 115 account managers to serve rotations across the country. In territories where an account manager has resigned, ReadyNow account managers can “work to earn” that position. While the goal for many account managers is having their own territory after 18 months, some achieve this as quickly as six to nine months into the program.
Overall, 47 ReadyNow account managers have been hired by district managers into their own sales positions. Four ReadyNow account managers have been promoted to home office positions — one in training, two in marketing and one in patient support.
ReadyNow also has produced some of the company’s top sales performers — seven have won Otsuka Elite Awards, which represents the top 10% for sales performance.
Leaders credit their comprehensive training program for this success. The training also has helped significantly lower the attrition rate in the ReadyNow program, which is now lower than the company’s overall attrition rate.
Pairing Learning With Mentoring
ReadyNow account managers are also paired with experienced account managers called trusted advisors who provide valuable mentoring. These advisors also assist with the in-house training on presentation skills and the company’s selling model, known as Selling the Otsuka Way (StOW). Perricone first began working with ReadyNow account managers as a trusted advisor.
Another ReadyNow district manager who began as a trusted advisor is Jason Lawson. In his current role, Lawson oversees 17 ReadyNow account managers in the East Region and praises them for their eagerness to learn.
He said it’s easy for those who sell to get totally absorbed in their sales roles and forget their need to constantly expand their knowledge. That is why he believes the ReadyNow training program reinforces a desire for lifelong learning.
“We need to give them an opportunity to grow and expand their knowledge so they can continue to get better and also offer more value when they’re in the field with their customers,” Lawson said.
Leaders in the ReadyNow program offer the following advice for other organizations that want to build comprehensive, new-hire training programs using off-the-shelf content:
Allow plenty of time to work collaboratively through the medical, legal, regulatory and compliance review process. “We were able to come up with a very good, collaborative game plan on how we could get the materials reviewed and approved without having to make massive changes,” Jindal said.
- Be inclusive when change management is required. “You have to be completely transparent and include as many people in the process as possible,” Jindal said. He recommends looking for opportunities to get leaders from various functions involved. Satz agrees. When he and Jindal revised the ReadyNow curriculum in 2017, they made it a priority to keep other functions engaged and informed. Ultimately, this helped to create more buy-in for the program.
- Build a relationship with your trusted partners. At Otsuka, supplier management is a core competency for mid-level managers, and Jindal and his team personally strive to be accessible and responsive to vendors. “We’ve created some really good, strong professional relationships that way,” Jindal said.
- Continually review training content to make sure it meets the sales team’s needs. Using feedback from account managers and district managers to update training when needed is critical, Cretaro said.
Focused on the Future
When ReadyNow was first launched, some district managers were hesitant to add these account managers to their district. But now, most are eager to bring them onto their teams.
“It’s diversifying the sales force, it’s elevating talent, and it’s challenging in a good way for existing reps,” Cretaro said.
Looking ahead, ReadyNow leaders are confident that their program will continue to support their company’s growth by providing confident, prepared account managers.
“The fact that we’re seeing success, even though they don’t have the background or tenure that their colleagues and competitors do in the field, really highlights how efficient and effective the [program] is for us,” Demos said.
Carrie Garrett, M.S.Ed., is learning and curriculum development manager for CMR
Institute. Email Carrie at email@example.com.