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Unlearning Old Programming

Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” While I do not view that choice as insane, I do see it as a common trap that most, if not all, in pharmaceutical sales seem to make.

Here is how this usually plays out. Sales numbers for Drug X are not where they should be. To address this problem, Company A’s VP of Sales calls her Regional Directors, who email their District Managers, who tell their reps to increase their call frequency. Training reaches out to 3 vendors who all suggest an e-learning module. With a vendor’s help, training produces an e-module, and reps are told to complete it with a passing score of 90%. Marketing turns to their agency, which creates a product brochure weighed down with feature and benefit statements, and a talk track or selling script for the reps. The reps are now tasked with additional calls, an e-learning module they never asked for, a passing score of 90%, and a generic script that they will be evaluated on the next time they ride with their manager. Three months later, new numbers come in, and nothing has changed. What does the VP of Sales do now? She calls her Regional Directors, and the cycle repeats itself. Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

Human beings are creatures of routine. Even the most spontaneous among us stick to a lot of routines and habits in life. It can be tough to try different approaches to problems. This translates into the business world as well. As in the typical scenario above, many leaders unsuccessfully stick to the same old programming to address new challenges. Hence, while this plan of action may have worked successfully in the past, in today’s changing healthcare environment, old programming will not lead to positive transformation. To achieve change, leaders of today must embrace a learning culture.

A learning culture accepts failures and learns from them. The first step for leaders who wish to embrace a learning culture is to first un-learn old programming. Not an easy thing to do. Old programming is comfortable, protective, predictable, and a known quantity, but in the end, has outlived its usefulness. A new learning culture is critical because the healthcare environment is changing, and pharmaceutical companies are still doing the same old, ineffective things and expecting to be prepared for a new marketplace.

Let’s take another look at the example above through the lens of the learning culture. Sales numbers for Drug X are not where they should be. To address this problem, the sales, training, and marketing departments collaborate to understand the gap between what patients and physicians need and what their company provides. Representatives receive the appropriate training, mentorship, and materials they need to understand and communicate with their audience on an individualized level. Physicians and representatives work together to achieve improved patient outcomes with Drug X. Given the fervent pace of change within healthcare, leadership needs to begin the process of unlearning old programming and free themselves of the roadblocks that hinder growth and progress.


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