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  • Writer's pictureKarsten Schmidt

Preparing Pharma Field Forces thoroughly for a Digital Future as prudent response to New Normal

Updated: Sep 16, 2021

The pandemic has forced Life Science companies to adopt hybrid customer engagement models combining face-to-face and remote customer interactions amongst other channels. Field forces have felt uncomfortable as they are not familiar or properly trained in remote engagements.

So, we have invited Mehrnaz Campbell, an expert in professional field force training, for an interview on this very topic. Mehrnaz is the founder and CEO of Cheemia, an independent market access and pull-through specialist company and the founder of Cheemia ReSET. She has almost 30 years of experience in Life Sciences and has been focusing on remote communications for the past four years. Even prior to the pandemic, she had been training field forces in remote selling activities.

Karsten: First of all, thank you for taking the time for this interview, Mehrnaz. To start off, would you like to tell our readers a bit more about your background and passion for sales training?

Mehrnaz: Hi Karsten, thank you so much for having me, I am delighted to share my story with you. I was born in Iran and moved to the UK in the mid 80’s. This is where I trained and started my career as a qualified nurse. Five years later, I joined GlaxoSmithKline as a hospital representative and over the years I worked for Pfizer and Takeda in a variety of different roles. From Sales, Sales Management, Regional Marketing to Sales & Marketing Leaderships as well as Market Access and Account Management.

My last role at Takeda was working as a Multichannel Strategy Director. It was a great opportunity to orchestrate my skills and manage projects across various channels.

In 2016, I was involved in a crash while participating in a charity bike challenge that involved cycling from London to Paris. I broke my arm in a couple of places. The reason why I mention this, is because this was the start of my remote working journey. While my doctor wanted to sign me off work on full pay for two months, I knew I would get bored.

I swapped the time, spent driving to see clients with time researching and thinking. I successfully led a project, from home, for Scotland and beyond and, the following year, I moved to the USA to continue doing this role as an independent contractor. If I could work remotely with success from home, I could work remotely from anywhere.

This is what inspired me to found my own company, Cheemia. Our operation and interactions with HCPs have been remote from the get go! Our business model was set in the way that we had to figure out the nuanced differences in remote communication, years before the pandemic. Somehow, we were prepared!

There are some fundamental differences in operating remotely as most professionals in the pharma industry have now experienced since the pandemic. We have developed a unique recipe that has created exponential sales growth for a number of brands in the UK during the last 4 years. When the pandemic struck, we decided to share our recipe with the pharma industry so others could get the same results we had and enjoy remote working. Because that’s what life is about right? Enjoying what you are doing? This is when our comprehensive remote sales engagement training platform was brought to life!

Karsten: Can you please briefly describe how your training programme works for sales representatives and sales managers?

Mehrnaz: The key is to understand the personalities of individual sales representatives and managers. Generally speaking, sales representatives don’t like administrative tasks and technology tools, they would prefer to have a face-to-face conversation and connect with people.That is why they opted to have a career in sales. If they loved spreadsheets and administration, they would have moved to a role in head office. Right?

This is why so many sales representatives have struggled to adjust to remote selling. They never wanted to work from a desk from 9 to 5. They loved the variety that a travelling sales role provided and they preferred interacting in person rather than online.

Many managers looked to find training that would help their teams adjust, but so many remote selling training programmes were too theoretical. They were too conceptual instead of practical and what the representatives needed was practical, personal training that they could implement into their everyday new normal.

Our training is a cloud-based platform that members can access at any time, from any device. The users don’t need to have any briefing to navigate their way through the modules. It is intuitive and we’ve been told time and time again that the style of content feels different to previous pharma training they have experienced. It is designed as a journey, it speaks to individuals and connects with them on a personal level, giving the users control to consume the concept and urges them to apply the learning. Sales professionals love personal elements, they feel like they get to know us, the trainers, along the way.

The modules are designed to cover six key fundamental areas in remote selling. Covering one module per week, it takes approximately 6 weeks to consume the 46 short videos. However, the key is not completing the lessons, the key is using the downloadable worksheets to apply the learning to their own work situation and change behaviours.

Key training elements for remote selling

Karsten: How do you ensure that field teams are fully committed to the full duration of your training programmes?

Mehrnaz: That is a great question. And that’s a question we find many pharmaceutical companies are asking us, having tried other training programmes that aren’t producing the results our platform produces.

I believe there are three key components to effectively changing habits

➤ The content needs to be relevant and relatable, so users want to consume it.

➤ The knowledge gained needs to be easy to apply in the field, so their confidence grows.

➤ The training needs to change behaviours, so new habits become embedded.

The sales force is often sceptical to start with and they would say, “Here we go again, another global sales training added to many trainings we have had already.” But, they realise pretty quickly that our approach is different. The platform talks about the pain points of remote selling, and they realise at last someone who understands what they are going through. We wanted to help frustrated representatives, who were finding it challenging to work remotely, thrive.

That’s when the magic happens. When they use the worksheets and apply our suggestions, they get results very quickly and their confidences grows. They are keen and excited to move on and do the next module.

Karsten: How do you ensure that sales managers and your team are available to give full coaching support to field team members during the training?

Mehrnaz: Sales managers have always played a fundamental role in the coaching and training of their teams in face-to-face selling. They were able to efficiently coach their sales teams as they were confident in their skill set in that department. However, during and since the pandemic managers have had to deal with a sales force that is lacking confidence. Everyone is adapting to working from home, feeling out of their depth with remote engagement, and concerned for their future.

Because of District Sales Managers’ limited experience with remote selling, we knew we needed to do something to give them the confidence to coach their teams effectively, and remotely. So, we developed the separate management suite, to provide them with a number of benchmarking tools, templates and diagnostic tools to identify the training gaps and coach and develop their teams.

The future of pharmaceutical sales is hybrid, so unless managers and representatives both understand remote selling, they will always have a handicap in an environment where healthcare professionals prefer to be communicated to in this manner.

I also believe ongoing support needs to be offered, to make sure new habits are formed. One of the ways we do this is by offering monthly Boost Sessions, which are recorded and added to the platform. During these sessions we exchange best practices or invite keynote speakers to share their knowledge of remote selling related subjects and well-being while working from home. For example, we’ve had an award-winning public speaker chat to our users about tonality, a personal trainer demonstrates exercises for posture and stretching after sitting down all day and a therapist explain how to empty your stress bucket!

Our platform is not just a one-time thing. Once users complete the modules, we continue to add value and additional learning every month. This keeps users motivated.

Karsten: From your training experience, which ones are often common gaps that field team members are facing in delivering better outcomes in remote customer engagements?

Mehrnaz: Research from Veeva Systems indicates that since the pandemic, more than 70% of healthcare professionals in Europe and North America want digital communication to remain as part of a hybrid way of selling. They have benefitted from the time efficiency and the speed of getting information. But, they feel like they are lacking that personal connection with the representatives that they had before.

On the other hand, more than 70 percent of sales representatives are finding it difficult to communicate digitally. You see where the problem lies, healthcare professionals desiring to continue with digital communications and a sales force who aren’t comfortable (yet!).

The biggest challenge is the lack of confidence. Sales teams feel confident to walk into a room and communicate face-to-face, they can use their personality and charisma and they have perfected their style over the years. This confidence comes from preparation. You don’t turn up to someone’s office unprepared. The same, but subtly different, preparation is needed for remote meetings.

Another observation is that sales teams, generally, don’t like administrative tasks and technological tools associated with digital communication. This is their Achilles’ heel. With remote selling they are expected to communicate through a channel they never liked, so their confidence plummets.

Karsten: What outcomes do you expect after a training to confirm that the programmes have been a full success?

Mehrnaz: The expectation varies for different companies but generally the main goals are to re-create the same chemistry that they used to have in face-to-face meetings on video calls, increase the quality of the calls, increase the number of digital interactions and see a shift in confidence of the sales team in using remote channels for communicating with healthcare professionals.

For example, on a global level our client Norgine initially aimed for increasing or maintaining contact with customers via remote channels. Within 2 months, there were 10,700 remote phone calls and 5,626 remote meetings per month which means on average 3-4 remote contacts per day. At country level, some teams have seen a 10-fold increase in their digital engagement.

Karsten: Thank you for sharing these very valuable insights with us, Mehrnaz.

In summary, we can say that training programmes for remote engagements need to eliminate the discomfort that representatives feel when they have to meet their customers virtually. Those trainings need to be practical and easy to integrate into their daily activities so that their confidence steadily rises. Sales managers also need to be equipped with the right tools to effectively accompany and support their sales team members on this learning journey, indispensable under actual working conditions.

How confident are your field forces currently in engaging remotely with their customers? If you find this article interesting, please like or share it here. For further reference please reach out to or


Xeleratio Consulting Ltd.

We help Life Sciences executives improve sales performance with innovative best-in-class Business Excellence tools and methodologies . Expertise in Business Excellence has been gained with over 12 years of working in different global and regional roles in the Life Sciences industry.


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