Otsuka’s ReadyNow: Comprehensive Training for Account Managers New to Pharma

In 2014, Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc. 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 vendor relationship that helped make it a success.

“We needed to find some top-of-the-line training materials that were already there, well-respected, and people knew the name…. and that’s where CMR came in”

Launching ReadyNow

The ReadyNow program was designed to create a pool of highly mobile and agile account managers (the company’s preferred term for sales representatives) to fill short-term vacancies across the country for up to 18 months. These account managers provide coverage for the company’s sophisticated central nervous system and nephrology products.

While serving rotations wherever needed, ReadyNow Account Managers gain valuable sales skills and industry experience with the opportunity to earn their own territory, says Rob Jindal, Associate Director, ReadyNow Sales Lead. Rob, 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 with a willingness to learn pharmaceutical sales.

Pharma can be a difficult business to break into without industry experience. And typically, companies don’t provide much industry training to new hires because salespeople often move from company to company. But 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, says Mike Satz, ReadyNow Operations Manager.

Prior efforts to train the Account Managers were in place but leaders knew improvements would further elevate performance. Field leaders needed to revise the curriculum to include more training to build account managers’ clinical and business acumen.

In order to make this happen, the company’s training leaders turned to CMR Institute to help them create a New Hire Training Program using a library of customizable eModules and other resources that would meet their training needs.

CMR interviewed field managers, identified knowledge gaps within their program and determined that content should be mapped to their six core account manager competencies.

“Working with a reputable company like CMR 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.”

Collaborating For Success

The team at CMR Institute worked with Jindal and Satz to develop a curriculum that would build on core competencies within the ReadyNow team—all on a limited budget.

“Working with a reputable company like CMR 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 says.

Initially, narrowing down CMR’s extensive course library to the essential courses that would bring the ReadyNow team up to speed was challenging. Jindal didn’t want to take the account managers out of the field and have them train at home for a month. So the ReadyNow team opted for a phased training approach. The first phase is completed during a week of 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, including hospital and managed care formularies, evidence-based medicine, and an introduction to the language of medicine. They also take several at-home courses to improve their business etiquette and selling skills.

When they head into the home office, account managers are prepared to engage in selling simulations with district managers and regional directors. 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 and compliant way,” says Tana Perricone, ReadyNow DM in the Central District who oversees 17 ReadyNow Account Managers.

Approximately three or four months after joining the program and spending some time in the field, ReadyNow Account Managers enroll in the second phase of at-home courses developed by CMR Institute. Designed to advance industry knowledge and improve performance in the field, these courses cover a spectrum of clinical and business topics, such as the drug development process, business planning, project management, and partnering opportunities.

This at-home study is followed by additional in-house training that involves more advanced role-plays and simulations. Perricone, a former teacher, says spreading out the learning over two phases helps account managers absorb the content and apply the learning as they adapt to their new roles.

Alicia Cretaro, a ReadyNow DM for the West and Midwest ReadyNow regions who oversees 15 ReadyNow Account Managers, agrees that the two-phase training program utilizing customizable content helps bring account managers up to speed quickly. “It helps them get the tools and foundational pillars that are necessary to be effective in our industry,” she adds. “Regardless of where they came from, it does a nice job of giving consistency across the board to each cohort.”

Typically, Otsuka trains ReadyNow cohorts two or three times a year as the program continues to grow.

“Working with a reputable company like CMR 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”

Realizing The Results

The training program developed with CMR Institute has given ReadyNow Account Managers the knowledge they need to get up to speed quickly so they can confidently call on customers, says Jack Demos, National Field Training Manager for ReadyNow. “We continue to see members of this relatively new program 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 Otsuka sales force team,” Demos says.

Since the program began in 2014, 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, although timing varies. Overall, 58 ReadyNow Account Managers have been hired by district managers into their own sales positions. Five ReadyNow Account Managers have been promoted to home office positions.

ReadyNow also has produced some of the company’s top sales performers.

Leaders credit their comprehensive training program for this success.

“We continue to see members of this relatively new program 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 Otsuka sales force team”

Pairing Learning With Mentoring

Perricone first began working with ReadyNow Account Managers as a trusted advisor. As an advisor, she set up weekly calls to coach ReadyNow Account Managers, a role the former teacher loved. “They can call for anything they need,” she says. “Maybe they had a bad day or didn’t know how to handle a situation.”

Another ReadyNow DM 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 the eagerness to learn. He says it’s easy to become so focused on their day-to-day roles that you forget the need to constantly expand your knowledge. That is why he believes the ReadyNow training program reinforces a desire for lifelong learning.

Lessons Learned

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,” Jindal says.

Be inclusive when change management is required. “You have to be completely transparent and include as many people in the process as possible,” Jindal says. 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 vendors. At Otsuka, vendor management is a core competency for mid-level managers, and Jindal and his team personally strive to be accessible and responsive to vendors like CMR. “We’ve created some really good, strong professional relationships that way,” Jindal says.

Satz believes the key to good vendor management is constant communication. He recommends having regular check-ins with vendors by phone, rather than via email. “Having that personal voice-to-voice is important,” he says.

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, DM Cretaro says. 

In his role as National Field Training Manager, Demos concurs. He says CMR’s comprehensive library of training content has allowed his team to quickly identify what it needs to achieve its training goals.

Focused On The Future

When ReadyNow was first launched, some DMs 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,” DM Cretaro says.

Looking ahead, ReadyNow leaders are confident that their program will continue to support their company’s growth in the near future 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 CMR curriculum is for us,” Demos says.

CMR Institute sets the global standard for unbiased, expert training to help sales teams adapt and excel. With relevant and always up-to-date industry information, our content increases knowledge and understanding of the issues affecting healthcare today. 

CMR Institute’s training resources provide real-world wisdom and relevant knowledge because they are created with healthcare executives, clinicians, and thought leaders from the nation’s most respected institutions. 

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