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Marketing training: Cutting Edge

Industry changes are presenting marketers with new challenges and have led to increasing demands for bespoke training

There's a rumour - and one can appreciate the saliency of this even if one has never held a golf club aloft in frustration - that Tiger Woods takes regular schooling to top up his notorious talent for connecting sticks and spheres.

Seven times Formula 1 world champion Michael Schumacher used to spend his weekends in a meagre go-kart, ensuring continuity of sharpness, racing line-wise.

It's also a given that many of the key names behind our biggest global businesses frequently turn to some form of coach for advice on how they can do better. Whatever the line of business, success can come from the sheerest competitive edge, which is why even the best-in-class spend time and money undertaking continual training and self-development.

NHS has changed, so must marketing

In pharmaceutical marketing, the pool of resources has shrunk and the NHS has transformed to such a degree that the demands on marketers, versus 10 or even just five years ago, have intensified markedly. 'Running just to stay still' is today's customary adage. In devising and executing campaigns that align with the needs of a radically restyled customer, everyone has had to get effective and efficient in new ways of thinking very quickly. The many-hatted marketing head has had to become a yet shrewder instrument, ensuring that pharma wastes no time in speaking a language understood by all and sundry across the NHS.

This pressure has aggravated a previously existing condition: building a team of competent marketing staff that makes the right things happen can be tricky and costly. Hence, an increasingly popular solution is to arrange training, either outside the firm or by external trainers that work in-house with the marketing teams - to bring them up to speed on key NHS developments and ensure that personnel stepping up into new positions can hit the ground - not so much running, but galloping.

It's probably worth considering that bespoke training for marketing staff - above and beyond straightforward 'on the job' observation with a bit of guidance from someone who's done it before - can soon start saving time; improving productivity and performance.

Marketing challenges

There are two central challenges: marketing people need colleagues around and above them to be cognisant and supportive of what they're trying to do, and they need to fathom unerringly why people inside the NHS make decisions as they do.

Markets are becoming more competitive, products less differentiated and there are an increasing number of significant barriers and inhibitors, so marketers need to be much better at developing truly competitive and sustainable value propositions, says Paul Stuart-Kregor, head of the MSI Consultancy and training provider for the Pharmaceutical Marketing Society's 'Prime' courses.

Given the new challenges facing marketing staff, does he think that pharma suffers from a shortage of well-trained (or appropriately-tooled) personnel? Absolutely, because many marketers learn their skills on the job, repeating what they saw when they were reps. This means they cannot know what they don't know. In some organisations there is no good benchmark for what excellent marketing looks like to help them see the gap. This goes back to the perception of the 'value' of training.

What is the perception of the value of training? When times are harder, training and HR development is often one of the first budgets to be cut back, and there's always the risk that the 'Become a great marketer' training course booked confidently in a moment of endeavour will turn out to be a David Brent-a-like speaking in a dowdy room somewhere on an industrial estate near Reading, telling you: There's no 'I' in team, but there's a 'ME' if you look hard enough, yeah?

Without sound comprehension, and a true appreciation of the value of knowledge, the Owl of Minerva, as Boris Johnson MP wrote recently in the Spectator, will flee from her roost. Or one might say, in Rumsfeldian fashion, that we need to know what we don't know, and we need to know what those we know don't know also know. This is for holistic commercial benefit.

Why train?

Why would you as an aspirational marketer want to train? To get promoted, or beef up your CV? More money, better prospects? Why would you as a marketing director or HR manager want to send people from your team on a training course? To save you time and improve performance overall? Perhaps quite simply you do it to get the job done effectively and with minimal internal obstacles. Ask a pharma company why they invest in training, and often the answer is uncomplicated: 'We just want our marketing people to have the practical skills to be able to get on and do their job really well - today'. Full-stop, pretty much.

Whether one works at the top or the bottom of a business, in any walk of life, the concept of perceiving the 'best' as brilliant depends purely on the standard of 'the rest' (in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king etc). In pharma, it's often as simple as understanding how to do the job properly. It needn't be a troublesome job to do, provided one has the acumen, knowledge and conviction required to do it.

The reason we developed a specific training course for the pharma industry, explains Steve Mackenzie-Lawrie, vice-president of the Surrey-based PM Society, is people felt there was something missing in a more general marketing qualification. What companies and individuals wanted was something that would allow them to come to terms very quickly with pharma's healthcare marketing requirements. People wanted to train and then go back to their companies and start working quickly and effectively.

Out of this need, the PM Society developed 'Prime', a series of training options designed to imbue marketers, both in pharma and the service sector, with core practical skills, plus a range of bolt-on 'top-up or brush-up' modules for more seasoned operators.

I think Prime has evolved because there is a marketing knowledge gap. It's not necessarily down to a lack of commitment, but we work in a very dynamic environment these days, therefore we need individuals that can cope with that dynamism.

One of Prime's more popular training modules is 'operational finance', helping marketers - new and experienced - to 'sell upwards', ie, you've come up with a great concept, now how do you make sure it's put into the context that will appease the finance director and gain support from senior management? Other popular options are the modules on understanding changes in the NHS.

If you're operating within the UK environment, you have to be mindful of what's going on within the NHS, so while we offer a number of topical NHS briefing meetings, we also do a full-day dedicated programme just looking at the structure of the NHS and its implications in terms of marketing. That's a very popular course right across the board, says Mackenzie-Lawrie.


Thus far, this all might seem to be common sense, or at least sensible advice. There's no hidden gem secreted away, guarded by the Maji, about how training helps people get better at their jobs, or how tailored guidance can help people improve on specific job-related tasks.

The point to consider is whether, given the multitudinous pressures on marketers - including the notable lack of time - there is a knowledge gap which is flawing the efforts of marketing teams, in particular those of new recruits or those who have been in the job for just a couple of years. What impact does this have on the overall picture, and is pharma marketing training a worthwhile exercise that will provide a good return on investment (RoI)?

What answer might you give, as a trainer, to a company looking to justify the costs of sending staff on training days, or inviting trainers to work in-house?

Sometimes we need to help the client make the link between the training and the return in a tangible way, beyond the obvious training needs, ie, what is the effect on the bottom line of having better trained marketers? Stuart-Kregor notes. They have to see the 'need' and the value to individuals and their organisation. So we need to establish exactly what the company wants to achieve from the training and make sure we deliver against those objectives.

Gill Butler, managing director of Cheshire-based Pharma Marketing Academy, is in accord that generating good RoI on training requires that it is relevant and germane to specific tasks. Most programmes are tailored in content to reflect the specific marketing processes and practices of an organisation. Our programmes are developed internally with our clients and therefore reflect their own marketing priorities, she says.

Training must be specific

The key driving factor, according to Bulter, is the ability for candidates to apply their training directly to their own brands, particularly as many companies in the last five years have developed comprehensive training packages emphasising the creation of 'marketing excellence'. This is much more about appreciating customers' rational and emotional needs and how they interlink.

John Jewell, of JS Training, thinks there is plenty of room for more brand and product manager-specific training to be undertaken within pharma. There is a huge difference between rep training and brand or product management training. I think there's a tendency for people to assume that product managers can learn on the job because they're based in the office.

Where there is a training department in a company, its focus is almost entirely on sales management and rep training, and while that's not to say the spend on salesforces is wrong, if you look at the amount of money put aside for them versus that spent on brand and product management training, the latter would be quite small.

Jewell adds: As an industry, pharma's very traditional in what it's done and certainly still in what it does in terms of how it spends its money.

Hot topics

As the essence of marketing practice and its ambitions become broader in scope yet more finely distilled, so related training needs to become more precise. This implies that there will be a set of core skills for which training should be requested by most pharma companies.

Our most popular course is 'practical and effective product management' for marketers with up to one year's experience, but generally marketing planning is a constant area where people seek advice, says Jewell. The way the industry is going, things seem to be becoming more central in terms of positioning, for example, which used to be down to each affiliate to work out. It's now more about implementation of a given strategy; more about the tactical plans.

Prime's Mackenzie-Lawrie concurs that planning is a key area where marketers regularly benefit from good quality tuition, not to mention resource management and learning how to get to grips with a marketplace. These days more people have a say in their own personal development, therefore quite often we get individuals wanting to extend their skill set, as well as those who attend because their manager or director is looking at how they can develop the team as a whole and fill any knowledge gaps.

He adds: There's a lot of pressure from shareholders and a lot of squeeze in terms of the R&D pipeline, so the marketer has to be an indiviual who is very familiar with the dynamics of the market, with an understanding of how to leverage the advantages of the product quickly and effectively.

It certainly does no harm for marketers to show that they have attended a training course or two, provided that any training supplier has given tailored advice that is relevant to one's position on a specific brand or campaign. The trainers say that if marketers have all the right tools in the bag, any job can be done better. As long as any course delivers on its claimed RoI, increased training could be considered a useful counterbalance to reductions in staff or unwelcome changes in resource levels.

Learning tree

According to the non-profit-making PM Society, the numbers attending Prime are increasing exponentially such that the launch of Prime 2 is planned. Interestingly, the popularity of the course 'marketing for non-marketers' has soared in recent months, reflecting the move towards a cross-functional team approach in pharma whereby marketing is positioned in, or very near, the centre. Managers from medical, finance or other departments are seeking to understand the language used by marketers.

What PM Society considers to be a natural extension of the original Prime training options, which will remain available in the future, is Prime 2. This second level seeks to further develop that knowledge and skills base, as well as bringing marketers up to speed on some of the newer practices and thought areas. Plans include training options in international product management, e-marketing, maxmising the value of clinical trial data along with data management and developing delegates' appreciation and understanding of financial management: both forecasting and delivering return on investment.

There is a requirement for further investment on behalf of pharma companies to make sure they work with their staff in terms of personal development, furnishing them with the skills required to move things forward, Mackenzie-Lawrie notes.

Whatever your preference for training delivery, it's clear that today's marketers have to understand not only the creation and application of their actual business processes, but also appreciate where they sit within broader commercial aspirations; something Tiger 'Nike' Woods could never be accused of having overlooked.

The Author: Rob Skelding is a freelance pharmaceutical and healthcare journalist

10th September 2007


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