Sales coaching has remained relatively the same for the past few decades, with promising technologies like AI still considered alternative to some pharma sales organizations. While AI sales coaching may seem like a nice-to-have or an impersonal approach, it’s quickly proving to be an essential, highly individualized tool to take sales to another level, particularly in the volatile pharmaceutical industry.
What’s driving the need for a sales coaching revolution? To put it bluntly, it’s harder than ever for reps to sell or for pharmas to remain profitable. In its “Pharmaceuticals & Life Sciences: Deals 2022 Midyear Outlook, PwC says, “Deal activity in the pharma space is down by 30% on a semi-annualized basis. Yet, deal values have dropped about 50% in that time period, reflecting pharma’s appetite for smaller deals around a single asset or bolt-on deals, as the industry attempts to stay below the radar of regulators at the FTC.”
Some of the biggest challenges pharma companies face are:
- Healthcare cost reductions
- Regulatory and political pressure
- Labor changes and supply chain issues
- Generic competition
- Cost and time to bring innovative medications to market
- Thinning margins
- Navigating uncertainty while increasing resiliency
While much of this is outside of pharma’s control, there are internal strategies that can offset some of the effects of a dynamic market. For instance, PwC says pharma companies are re-examining capital allocation strategies and designing more resilient supply chains.
But what about the field force? How can they, the frontline, be coached in a way that makes them more effective in the face of such uncertainty, competition and barriers? And equally important, how can pharma measure sales coaching success?
Artificial Intelligence, AI, is evolving into sales coaching, helping reps become measurably more productive without changing entire workflows. At the same time, it’s giving sales leaders the most powerful, objective and useful sales coaching success metrics available.
With resources spread thin, understanding the return on investment in sales coaching tools and strategies is critical. Even more, having hard data to prove sales progress (or lack of progress) at the rep, team and organizational level while also gaining visibility into precisely where and how reps are winning so those behaviors can be replicated across the company at scale? Well, that’s changing the sales coaching game entirely.
Measuring Salesforce Effectiveness Must Evolve
The pharma industry is changing, requiring sales organizations to adapt to it. Traditional methods of measuring field force effectiveness are no longer adequate.
- The number and frequency of calls give you a peek into rep productivity and effort, but does it tell you how competent your reps are at selling?
- Even measuring sales goals attainment is short-sided, unable to reveal why some reps reach their goals and others don’t.
- So much goes into rep success: access to and time with providers, whether providers are governed by managed care plans and to what extent, pharmaceutical drug competition, and even individual rep likability.
All of these components can be highly variable, making it near impossible to measure, much less improve.
AI is doing now what no traditional measurement tactic can: providing never-before-seen data on more than just the what but on the how—what is and isn’t working and how to upskill every rep along behavioral metrics that are proven to elicit positive audience responses. Being able to take a deep dive into how results were achieved and how to replicate them is invaluable for sustainable success.
The Problem with Traditional Success Measurements
McKinsey recently surveyed senior executives at global pharma companies for their perspectives on the industry changes they’re seeing. The survey revealed that companies are responding to disruptions, in part, by reconsidering where they invest time and resources. Performance management is one of their highest-priority initiatives.
Increasingly more pharma companies are convinced performance management should include non-sales metrics, such as replacing sales volume with HCP feedback as a more accurate measure of performance. But not all HCPs will provide such feedback, especially detailed feedback, and it may not be the right time or client to ask for feedback.
Beyond in-depth product, customer and competitor knowledge, something pharma sales organizations likely do well in training, what constitutes a positive interaction from the HCP’s point of view?
Strong interpersonal skills are always crucial, as those are the conversational abilities that establish rapport, build trust and demonstrate expertise. Sadly, many sales organizations still believe videos, sales decks and generalized skills training are enough. Even those that engage in role-playing are often only setting up a few typical scenarios and guessing at potential audience responses.
And field coaching? As companies scale, it becomes increasingly challenging to provide individualized sales coaching when it’s needed most. Another issue with field coaching is it’s inherently biased. Humans have a hard time being objective.
Psychology Today referenced a famous study by Greenwald and Banaji, authors of Blindspot, that went so far as to say there is no such thing as an unbiased person, saying, “Because of a lifetime of conditioning by social institutions like the media, church, and schools—we harbor unconscious biases that influence our judgments about people’s character, ability, and potential. Implicit bias, according to their findings, is inevitable.”
If sales coaching can’t be accurately assessed, how can its success measurements be trusted?
The Difference AI Is Making
AI has all kinds of benefits you simply can’t get any other way, particularly when it comes to sales coaching and success measurement. Among many of its characteristics, AI is:
- Capable of ingesting and calculating massive amounts of data instantaneously
- Capable of providing highly accurate predictive analytics
- Continually getting smarter
Unlike humans, AI has few limitations in the amount of data it can process in an incredibly short period of time. AI-based sales coaching platforms now exist that assess reps across dozens of verbal and non-verbal behaviors from a recorded, live or simulated sales call to provide an accurate, unbiased measurement of skills. Reps receive evidence-based performance scores on each measured skill, along with benchmarks so reps can see how they stack up to peers and the industry.
Going further, the AI then generates customized training pathways to improve assessed weaknesses, all available on demand via a web-based platform. Not only can reps get assessed, practice and then reassess until their scores improve, but sales coaches can monitor their progress and determine when they are ready to “go live” with a real customer. It’s ideal for new hires and to maintain a level of sales excellence.
With this data, sales leaders, for the first time, can measure and understand the precise skills that make their top reps successful, then replicate those skills across their teams. Reps feel empowered and can access the assessment and training at their convenience in their regular workflows, which means they can get the coaching they need when they need it versus waiting for their managers to provide them with something that may not be personalized to their specific weaknesses.
AI sales coaching platforms that offer realistic avatar-like simulations give reps a fun, engaging way to practice with highly customized scenarios that mimic actual and potential sales call interactions. It’s educated on medical and product knowledge, trained on conversation threads pulled from Zoom and Teams integrations, and instructed to react like various customers. Any question the avatar can’t answer is logged, and it’s trained with the answer, making it smarter with every interaction. And after a five-minute conversation with the rep, the AI generates feedback with a score. “You did great here, but you didn’t do so well here.”
This kind of assessment and feedback changes behaviors, which changes sales outcomes—all of which can be accurately measured, so organizations see precisely what’s leading to success.
Sales coaching has changed. The question is, has your organization changed with it? Increasingly more pharma organizations are relying on AI for sales coaching and success measurement versus attempting to do it all manually and wasting resources on tools that can’t adapt.
AI is quickly becoming a must-have for companies wanting to build resilient, capable sales teams who build stronger relationships and close more deals. Even better, organizations will finally understand if their sales coaching efforts are working and why. Want to see how AI works? Request a Quantified demo today.