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focus_Otsuka: Reinventing the National Meeting

Otsuka: Reinventing the National Meeting

By Matthew Yesko, CPLP

National sales meetings and plan of action (POA) meetings are a staple of the life sciences industry. These meetings serve to train, motivate and communicate key information to sales representatives and managers. The format of these meetings often includes large group general sessions that allow for platform presentations and workshops using PowerPoint presentations.

Otsuka America Pharmaceutical decided to reinvent the national POA by questioning the routine format. Starting with a pilot group in December of 2015 and expanding to include the national meetings in September 2016 and March 2017, Otsuka changed the way sales representatives participate in national meetings. The result was a learner-focused experience that maximized engagement and measurably drove sales results.

Pilot Group and Gaining Buy-In

During the winter of 2015, Otsuka training managers envisioned a different type of POA for a small year-end meeting. The trainers believed the gathering, with roughly 100 participants, would be a perfect place to pilot a new type of meeting. The training managers, logistical challenges could be overcome and learning objectives could be met. This was accomplished, in part, by explaining how the new meeting would support adult learning principles and reinforce marketing and sales leadership goals.

The team also highlighted the potential greater impact of dedicated small-group interactions between leadership and sales representatives. Instead of speaking to a large group for a longer period of time, marketers would get almost 30 minutes to speak to groups of 20 reps at a time and engage them on a personal level.

Another key area addressed was the medical and legal review process from the medical affairs and legal affairs teams. Reviewers understood how the new format could be efficiently reviewed. The training managers addressed these concerns by recounting the previous experience from the pilot group and educating the reviewers about how adult principles were being incorporated without adding risk.

The trainers agreed to provide additional training and support to sales managers as part of the train-the-trainer experience to ensure that the meeting was executed flawlessly. The trainers formed a core meeting planning group that met once a week with the stakeholder groups to share ideas, communicate progress, and to set expected meeting outcomes. The stakeholders gradually warmed to the idea of a learner-focused meeting and eventually approved expanding the concept to include several more sales groups.

A New Experience for Everyone

With the format changes, learners weren’t the only ones getting a new experience. The training department, too, was faced with additional challenges. As Matt Mann, manager, training and development, stated, the process was “easier on the learners but harder on the trainers.”

Otsuka identified the need to work with a service provider to execute the meeting from a creative and development standpoint, and to assist with the logistics and production. The decision was made to work with Aquinas Leadership Group.

Trainers asked themselves “What if we threw out all the rules?” Working with all the stakeholders, a decision was made to eliminate some traditional meeting conventions and agreed to:

• Host a virtual general session prior to the start of the live, in-person meeting. As a result, learners at the live event went right into learning sessions focused on application.

• Develop a meeting that was “nonlinear”. Participants would attend different courses or sessions in a different order meaning that content needed to be designed so the order in which it was delivered did not matter.

• Create highly interactive exhibits such as:

– An exhibit that included actors cast as patients to guide participants through case studies.

– An exhibit designed as a game show that presented different role-playing scenarios.

– An exhibit designed as a cooking show that included all the marketing "ingredients" for a successful sales call.

• Develop interactive workshops that captured the spirit of the interactive booths in longer workshop formats. Learners spent most of the time in small groups working through exercises while standing and moving.

The revamped meeting format became a learning experience not only for the attendees, but for the trainers as well. The success of the meeting led Otsuka to expand the concept to the entire sales force for the Spring 2017 national meeting.

Meeting Execution, A Building Movement and Lessons Learned

Some of the key learnings that came from the events are:

• There is no such thing as small logistics. Every element of the meeting needs to be considered in the new interactive format. Very detailed planning is required around such things as of how the participants would flow through the meeting content, and how the interactive pieces would work together.

• Medical buy-in is key. Trainers worked with reviewers from concept through execution to ensure that the new format would meet the needs of compliance requirements of our medical and legal colleagues.

• Small steps become infectious. Success with the pilot group led to an increased interest from more internal teams which led to the company-wide change. Each step led to different, important learnings that could improve the next experience.

Measurable Results

The reinvented meeting was a success. Marketing teams and sales forces that had not initially adopted the idea saw the results and wanted to be included in future meetings using the new format. By September 2016 the challenge was put forth to have a reinvented meeting for all participants.

Otsuka had a history of measuring Level 1 response. The new format led to record high feedback. More importantly, marketing teams have seen an improvement in overall representative execution, leading to an increase in message recall which training credits to the new format. Overall, the training staff doesn’t foresee a return to the old "national meeting as usual" format. ________________________________________________________________________________Matthew Yesko is a senior consultant with Aquinas Leadership Group. Email Matthew at

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