Pharmacosmos: 11 Best Practices for Onboarding in a Hybrid World
Cover Story – By Laurie Long
Sharing lessons learned when a first product launch met a pandemic
For life sciences trainers and educators, the hurdles of 2020 were especially high. Not only were teams working remotely – many across different time zones – but they lost the fuel that drives company culture: the ability to collaborate easily.
For Melissa Young, associate director of sales training and development at Pharmacosmos Therapeutics, the start of the pandemic coincided with the company’s first product launch. Overnight, Pharmacosmos had to hire, onboard and train all its sales force virtually.
“We had to get them trained and up to speed — along with the rest of our people, too — in time for our virtual launch meeting in September and product launch in October 2020. It was really interesting and certainly a challenge to do this virtually during a pandemic,” said Young.
Parent company Pharmacosmos Group, based in Denmark, established the specialty pharmaceutical company Pharmacosmos Therapeutics in the United States, dedicated to the commercialization of intravenous iron for the treatment of iron deficiency anemia (IDA). Its product was approved in January 2020. The company planned to launch in October of 2020 and started building out a sales organization. With companies in the UK, Nordics, Germany, the U.S. and China, Pharmacosmos markets its products across the world.
But the world turned upside down in March 2020, along with the launch plans.
Young knew that onboarding is a critical component of any successful product launch. It keeps the company on track to meet performance goals, increases how quickly sellers can be productive and, ultimately, improves a seller’s satisfaction with their job. She was determined to meet the challenge.
“When onboarding new reps, there’s lots to do. You’ve got HR, clinical messaging, sales training, market access, legal and compliance training, all of this. We had to do it all virtually. It was difficult, but amazingly the tools were already there so we were able to do it successfully,” said Young.
11 Best Practices for Onboarding
Pharmacosmos overcame the hurdles, successfully onboarding new hires and hosting a virtual launch meeting in September 2020. Here are 11 best practices the team learned from its experience launching a new product during the pandemic.
Pharmacosmos has a culture of collaboration that is important to everything they do. At the beginning of the pandemic, they set up an informal daily meeting on Microsoft Teams so that whoever was available could jump on the call, socialize for a bit and meet one another. This helped build the relationships that are critical to the success of collaboration.
#2: Choose the Right Training Platform
Pharmacosmos used Teams, Zoom and “good old fashioned conference calls” for its virtual training and Allego as the platform for all of its home-study modules.
“We settled on Allego for a couple of reasons. One, it’s a fine place to house the content that we need housed, but also because it allows us the ability to create and share content from that platform,” said Young.
#3: Train in Cohorts
Because Pharmacosmos couldn’t hire everybody at the same time, the company had separate cohorts going through training. This involved completing a module, then supplementing that with virtual training.
For example, new hires would first have a module about disease state training, followed by a session with Medical to ensure their understanding of that foundational knowledge. Then they would take the exam through their training platform before moving on to the next module.
#4: Involve Your SMEs
To break up the training a bit, in between the modules, new hires would meet with internal experts from marketing, market access, sales leadership, compliance and other areas to ensure that all the different parts of the company and product were covered.
#5: Keep Learners Engaged
Keeping new hires engaged was critical. Since they couldn’t have everyone together in an in-person class, it was necessary to ensure that people were connecting with one another.
Pharmacosmos worked hard to include opportunities for connections, not just within regions or between managers and their team, but also across the organization.
“Feeling like you were part of a larger company at all times was critical,” said Young.
#6: Keep It Fun
All the field personnel recorded video of themselves talking about their most embarrassing moment in pharma. The videos were played throughout the course of the virtual launch meeting, before and after general sessions and workshops. By the end of the meeting, everyone had gotten to know the entire sales force through these videos.
“It was a really fun and cool way for people to get to know each other across the teams,” said Young.
#7: Reinforce Learning
Following the launch meeting, Young immediately created a quiz competition to reinforce clinical learnings. Over two weeks, quizzes were disseminated to reps every few days through the LMS platform.
There were five questions on each day. While four of the questions focused on disease state, product knowledge and market landscape, the final question asked a fun fact about the leadership team. This helped new hires get to know the team and build a common foundation.
#8: Mind the Metrics
The quizzes were practical and fun (results were tracked on a leaderboard and winners earned gift cards), but they also served a deeper purpose. The metrics revealed who was getting questions wrong and knowledge gaps that needed to be addressed.
To address those gaps, targeted training was created and delivered at regional team meetings.
Video became a key tool for communication, reinforcement, relationship building, and collaboration with internal stakeholders and within teams.
“One of the things that’s been very successful is having reps record and share their best practices via video,” said Young.
The team also used video to release information to the field team instead of sending emails. They found it felt more personal, was an efficient way to get a lot of important information out easily and had the added benefit of tracking who was watching the videos so that managers could ping non-watchers.
#10: Entertain and Engage
To engage the entire field force, they launched a “Conversations” series in which field trainers interviewed people from internal stakeholder teams, asking them questions such as “How did you end up in this job?” and “What do you like about working at Pharmacosmos?”
Most importantly, the videos also included information about working together compliantly. The videos premiered at sales meetings with popcorn and candy.
“People respond very well to these videos. It gives them great information in an engaging format, and after the premiere, I put them onto our legal platform, so people have access to them in perpetuity,” said Young.
#11: Curate Course Content
The team curated a library of 100 on-demand courses and made them available to the entire commercial team. Managers can assign a course to a rep, reps and others can access them for their own development, and these courses are now part of Pharmacosmos’ new management development program.
“I’m really proud to say that we want to be a learning and development company. We want our reps, and others, to have the opportunity to develop in their roles, and then as future leaders,” said Young.
What’s Next for Pharmacosmos
The Pharmacosmos team is justifiably proud of all the work over the past year. While they will keep up the many innovative practices described above, their new hire onboarding has already continued to evolve. Young has many plans for upcoming cohorts, including emphasizing verbalization, adding practice videos as an element of certification and launching remote sales coaching.
“There’s so much content for our new hires to get through and we don’t want to keep people too long in New Jersey, although it is a lovely state. So, we’re still doing a lot of the onboarding and training virtually and then having people come to an in-person new-hire class for a week. It’s been really nice to get back in front of people, and it’s very successful,” said Young. “It’s been a really exciting year for us since we launched 14 months ago.”
Laurie Long is the chief customer officer at Allego. She can be reached at email@example.com.