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Training Programs for the Pharma Industry

Pharmaceutical Industry is one of the fast-growing industries with a turnover of approx Rupees Thirty thousand crores considering both ethical & institutional sales.

It is also one of the most competitive fields with the players constantly under pressure to

  • Develop newer products, and
  • Market them successfully in shortest time possible.

On the other hand, it is plagued by a very high attrition rate with the Companies having to invest a lot in recruiting & training of employees. The problem is further compounded by the relative lack of facilities in the formal educational system to impart training to the potential employees in the areas such as Clinical Research and Pharmaceutical Salesmanship.

Salesmanship in Pharma Industry – generating the revenue

The Marketing & Sales function in Pharma Industry is different from that in consumer goods or industrial products segment. The emphasis is on ‘personal selling’ as other methods like advertising, publicity and sales promotion activities have a relatively limited role to play.

There are various reasons for this, such as:

  • Drugs & Cosmetics Act prohibits advertising of pharmaceutical products in mass media,
  • Customer base (Medical practitioners, stockists & retailers) is relatively small but spread over a large geographical area,
  • Complex nature of products requires optimum customer fit for products,
  • Past experience of communicating with customers through courier agencies delivering samples and literature has neither been successful nor cost-effective, and
  • Competitors’ activities almost always involve salespersons.

Personal selling, although expensive, is often indispensable due to increasing business competition and increasing sophistication of both customers as well as products in the Pharma industry.

In a highly competitive market, such as pharmaceutical industry, where many companies offer identical or similar (‘me-too’) products, it is often the person behind the product who makes the difference!

Planning the training program

The most effective learning takes place when the new salesperson:

  • Perceives a need to learn a particular skill, or perceives some form of personal reward for doing so
  • Can practice and apply the new knowledge in a setting similar to the actual sales environment
  • Can receive supervision, support, and reinforcement from someone respected for having sufficient expertise in that skill to assist in the learning process

Attitudes and Behaviour of Traditional Students versus Learners

Students in a regular college set-up display the following traits:

  • Study to pass exams
  • Passively accept and memorize ideas from others
  • Complete assignments to fulfill teacher’s diktats or syllabi requirements
  • See course as means to getting a degree
  • Goal: Good grades

On the other hand, learners in a training program organized by a professional Company:

  • Internalize concepts to be successful
  • Are aware of their roles
  • Use assignments to practice and improve skills
  • See course as opportunity to enhance success
  • Goal: mastering Knowledge & Skills to succeed in the chosen field

It is essential to remember that the training program is not a theoretical classroom activity but has ‘applied’ importance both for the trainees as well as the Company. The knowledge and skills imparted in the training program must translate into profitable sales turnover for the Company and as a result the salesperson should be able to rise higher in his / her career.

Why train Salespersons in Pharma Industry?

Some of the key reasons to impart training to new salespersons getting inducted in the Company include-

  • Decreased turnover of people
  • Increase in sales revenue
  • Enhanced long –term favorable and personal relationships with customers
  • Decreased costs
  • Better Morale
  • Improved time and territory efficiency
  • Obtain feedback from salespeople

Training programs should include the best possible techniques for imparting knowledge, skills, and correct attitudes to salespeople.

The most important aspects to be considered here are –

• Motivation
The program should stimulate the trainees to perform to their best ability and achieve personal and organizational goals.

• Purpose
Both the trainer and the trainee must know the purpose of the training program

• Reinforcement
People learn best when they are positively and quickly reinforced

• Participation
Get the group involved in the learning activities and make it a two-way process.

• Practice
Difficult and new routines become easier with practice.

• Organizing for learning
By organizing the learning process into a logical sequence, each successive learning experience can be built on preceding experiences.

The new recruit then should be able to integrate those experiences into a meaningful pattern of knowledge, skills and attitudes to perform in the field and generate sales revenue.

Developing the Content of a training program

A well-planned training program should provide the following content for learning

• Product knowledge
– The salesperson should become familiar with the features of Company products
– He/she should be able to explain the product benefits to the customers
– The salesperson should have a complete knowledge of competitor products

• Company knowledge
– What does the company do?
– What is the company’s organization structure?
– Who is responsible for what?
– What are the company’s procedures?
– What does the company stand for?

• Market knowledge
– What are the general business conditions?
– Who are the competitors and how do they operate?
– Who are the customers and what are their needs?
– What is the customer’s buying process?

• Selling activities
– Gather relevant information about Prospect
– Approach the prospect
– Develop a sales presentation
– Anticipate and answer objections
– Close the sale
– Maintain continuing good relations

• Non-selling activities
– Customer service- “those activities that enhance or facilitate the sale and use of one’s product and service”
– Stocking shelves, planning promotions, processing orders, delivering, handling complaints
– Generating sales inquiries
– Paperwork, including periodic reports

Who trains and where?

The training activity in a Pharma Company has undergone tremendous change over the last couple of decades. Traditionally, the training was the responsibility of in-house experts and typically this approach included the following -

  • The training was often centralized at the HQ
  • Sales specialists prepared the materials and conducted the classroom training as well as on-the-job training

However, this has its own disadvantages

  • Often the staff experts lack experience in realistic field-selling situations
  • May cost small firms too much money

Outside Specialists

Nowadays, there is a growing trend of out-sourcing the training activity to outside experts who often have greater experience and expertise in the area. Outside consultants may be entirely responsible for the training programs or brought to conduct specific sessions.

Usually, these experts tailor their training inputs to match the specific needs of the Company or the industry.

However, an outside specialist may be unfamiliar with a company’s sales and marketing situation.

Many companies place new sales personnel into the field after only a brief orientation. In this case the salesperson is expected to struggle and learn for himself.

Benefits of this approach include -

  • Only those who stay with the company will undergo the more expensive training program at a later date
  • The salesperson will have a better understanding and frame of reference for the material taught in the training sessions

However, waiting to train a salesperson has disadvantages like putting the relationship with customers at risk and adversely affecting the sales revenue.

Due to these risks, most companies provide enough initial training or orientation so that a salesperson can function at some minimum level in the field. Advance training is then added at a later time.

A comprehensive Training program for Pharma Salespersons can be outlined as follows:

Training Program outline

  • Introduction to the pharmaceutical industry
  • Clinical Pharmacology - terminology and definitions
  • Biomedical Basis of Disease
    • Anatomy
    • Physiology
    • Infectious diseases
    • Inflammatory / immunological diseases
    • Cardiology
    • Endocrinology
    • Oncology
  • Medical management of diseases
  • Role & Responsibilities of Pharmaceutical Salesperson
  • Pharmaceutical marketing – basic concepts
  • Pharmaceutical Salesmanship & management
    • Selling process
      • Prospecting and qualifying of customers
      • Pre-approach
      • Approach l Attention (or awareness), Interest
      • Presentation l Desire, Action
      • Trial Close
      • Handling Objections
      • Closing of sale
      • Follow up
  • Sales administration – reporting systems, rules, union etc.
  • Distribution management
    • Association NOCs
    • Return of goods & credit policy
    • Payment realization
  • Selling skills - “Art of Selling” or Salesmanship
  • Communication skills
    • Persuasive skills
    • Listening skills
    • Objection handling skills
    • Probing skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Time management

On successful completion of the course, the salesperson will be able to:

  • Achieve a detailed understanding of the pharmaceutical industry and medical management of diseases
  • Thoroughly understand the marketing and sales techniques including the regulatory, ethical, and commercial aspects of pharmaceutical industry
  • Demonstrate the practical application of selling skills, communication skills, and interpersonal skills
  • Gain a better career opportunity in the area of pharmaceutical selling that offers excellent growth prospects for deserving persons


  1. Pharma Marketing Page, August 1999. http://pharmapage.tripod.com/1.html
  2. Indranil Bose, The Indian Pharmaceutical Industry: An Overview.
  3. Patrick Joiner, Inpharm.com; November 2002: 36-37
  4. Charles M. Futrell, Sales Management Teamwork, Leadership and Technology
Dr Vijay Sohoni (Nov. 2012)

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Training Program, Pharma industry, Pharmacology, Marketing, Salesmanship, Selling process, Motivation, Planning a training program, Program outline