Adult Learning Principles: You have NO IDEA do you?

Pharmaceutical sales training

It’s ok…you’re in a safe place here.  The pharmaceutical sales training confession box.

Just me and you.

Picture this scenario and give me an honest response using the voting button below.

The Question:  How would you do?

You’re in a meeting with the brand team discussing ideas for how to roll out training for an upcoming product launch. In your lengthy PowerPoint deck, you have a boilerplate slide with several bullets in Arial-28 font that cover the key beliefs of the training department.  Somewhere in the middle of that slide is the phrase, “design training according to adult learning principles.”

It looks good in there and fits nicely between “learner-centricity” and alignment to business objectives.  And no one ever asks about it anyway.

Until today.

Someone from the marketing department looks up from her iPad and says, “Hey, can you remind me what adult learning principles actually are?”


(Votes below are totally anonymous and you’ll be able to see how everyone else is answering!)

How successfully could you answer this question today?

Full transparency, until about 3 days ago my vote was Option 3…I would have been in BIG trouble.

With 15 years in the pharmaceutical sales industry and over 4 years specifically at a sales training/learning agency, my reply would have trailed off a bit and included a couple of “niners” like everyone’s favorite sales person, Tommy Boy in this clip.

So, if you’re with me and need solid review of what adult learning principles really are, along with some simple application for the pharmaceutical sales training landscape, let’s jump in.

My Man Malcolm

Malcolm Knowles was an American educator largely credited with bringing the concept of adult learning theory into popular practice back in the 1970’s and 80’s.  In doing some research, you’ll find that he specifically adopted the term andragogy (Greek for “man-led” vs. pedagogy, “child-led”) as a way to differentiate between how adults learn and how children learn.

So if you really want to impress that marketing team member, start your reply with, “why yes…let’s discuss Knowles’ Theory of Andragogy a bit..”

There are many ways we could slice and dice Knowles’ theory, but it really boils down to an understanding of 4 key principles (my translation, not academic speak) that should drive our approach to pharmaceutical sales training design.

1) Be Transparent and Get Them Involved 

Adult learners have a strong self-concept.  Therefore, they want to know why things are being done a certain way and what’s in it for them.  Satisfy this need by getting them involved in the planning and evaluation of the training.  Be clear about the learning journey and goals. When was the last time you brought in a group of sales reps or managers to help you design POA training?

2) Let Them Drive and Screw Up

Adults learn best through experiences and want an opportunity to self-direct the learning experience itself. They’ve tried, succeeded and failed at many things. Especially important are the mistakes. That’s how they learn. Within the guardrails of pharmaceutical compliance, find ways to let your learners drive, try things and make mistakes.

3) Keep Pharmaceutical Sales Training Real

Adult learners bring real-life experience to the training table.  In pharmaceutical sales these days, it’s often a ton of experience. As a result, our audience constantly wants to understand how something is relevant to the job they’ll be asked to do and how their prior experience might fit in. Every pharmaceutical sales rep and manager evaluates how “good” training is by how relevant and useful it is for their job.  Keep it real.

4) Have Them Solve Problemspharmaceutical sales training question

Adult learners are not interested in content consumption.  They don’t want to learn stuff, they want to solve problems and DO stuff.  Most importantly, they want to solve business relevant problems.  Instead of slide-whipping people, let your pharmaceutical sales training content come to life through problem solving.


So there you have it.  You’re totally prepared for that next meeting to discuss adult learning principles (…andragogy) with your internal stakeholders.

The real questions is, how does your current pharmaceutical sales training line up to these principles?

What can we do differently to ensure the message reaches, and sticks, with our audience?

More to come on that in future posts.

Finally, let me know what you think with a comment about your experience with adult learning in pharmaceutical sales training.  And if this was even modestly helpful or entertaining, I’d really value a share!

Until next time,



3 Dangerous Labels in Pharmaceutical Sales Training

Pharmaceutical sales training

Labels are a convenient way to help us group, organize and simplify information, especially when dealing with a complex set of tasks in pharmaceutical sales training.

So convenient, in fact, they can get us into trouble.

Pharmaceutical Sales:  Healthcare Provider (HCP)

Let’s consider one of the most common labels we use in pharmaceutical sales:  HCP…Healthcare Provider. When discussing a detailed marketing plan or launch strategy, it’s easy to label everyone we might interact with or sell to as an HCP.

It’s really helpful because everyone gets it and we can focus on other details.Pharmaceutical Sales Generic HCP

The danger? 
Using this label alone, can you picture who we’re talking about?  Can you SEE them in your mind?  If you can, is it any more specific than a stock photo of a smiling person in a lab coat?

If we aren’t careful, we can lose focus on the fact that we’re talking about people. Unique human beings with different needs, preferences, styles and situations. The stock image we get in our minds of a generic HCP starts to reinforce a “one size fits all” mentality.

Undifferentiated detailing and business jargon dropping (instead of real dialogue) ensues.

Pharmaceutical Sales Training:  Learner, User, Participant

When looking at pharmaceutical sales training specifically, we use 3 labels in very similar ways:

Sales Leadership Secret Weapon: Vacation

sales leadership vacation

My view right now is stunning.

The northern end of Lake Champlain is calm, like a dark blue blanket, interrupted only when a blue heron gracefully floats by.  Green leaves on a maple tree near the front porch cling to strong, sturdy branches as a breeze gently swirls by.  My cup of coffee is hot and the MacBook Air is in an unfamiliar position of having just one window open…the one I’m writing in.

5 Reasons Sales Trainers Want to Strangle District Managers

And tips for coming together

Sales Leadership Training Pharmaceuticals

Title too strongly worded?

Probably not.

In last week’s post we covered 5 reasons why pharmaceutical district managers think sales training sucks – so this week we turn the tables and share some perspective from the sales training department.

And to set things up, let’s take a trip down memory lane to Super Bowl 46. In case you don’t remember (or just hate American football and sports analogies entirely…) this game saw the underdog NY Giants defeat the New England Patriots 21-17 back in 2010.

I’m still glowing.  🙂

A Case for Minimalism in Leadership

Why less can be more when it comes to your team

This is one of the descriptions of minimalism provided by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus on their website,

Minimalism is the thing that gets us past the things so we can make room for life’s important things—which actually aren’t things at all.

I’ve been exploring the idea of minimalism recently and have applied it mainly to the endless piles of stuff hiding behind the doors, cabinets and drawers of my home.

I’ve taken to heart the reality that things – and the mindset of accumulation that brings them into my home – take me away from the truly important elements of life.

What another night of heartburn reminded me about leadership

5 lessons learned the hard way

We all have our “things.”

For some, it’s the tweaky back that decides to spasm after a load of wet, heavy snow gathers on the driveway.

For others, it’s the bum shoulder that aches and begs for a handful of Aleve after indulging your son in a marathon football toss in the backyard.

Bad knees, anyone?

For me – it’s heartburn.

Mastermind Groups: Taking your development to the next level

How pharma DMs can take a cue from the entrepreneurial world

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I fancy today’s obsession with the entrepreneurial mindset.

The stuff I read, the podcasts I listen to and heck…even the existence of this blog itself…is a reflection of how much I believe in approaching work and life with a sense of purpose and control of your business destiny.

I’m a Want-repreneur… 🙂

Anyways, one popular practice of entrepreneurs today is the Mastermind Group.

While I think the name itself if kind of silly (and I’m open to other ideas…) the concept is really powerful.

SLG Beyond the Book: UNTHINK by Erik Wahl

How pharma DMs can break out of the creativity coma

My son Andrew recently got a magic 8 ball toy.

Remember them?

Just ask it a yes/no question, shake it and a little triangle inside floats around in some toxic blue liquid to reveal a “magic” answer to your question in a viewing window.

8 Ball Top

So fun.

In the spirit of full transparency, Andrew spends most of his time asking it if his sister Mollie is stupid or if I will let him eat an entire bag of ginger snap cookies before bed…but I’m going to ask it a much more serious question right now.

Literally – sitting right here at my kitchen table.


Here goes (and I’m asking this about YOU)

“Has your creativity been lulled to sleep by the regulated and repetitive nature of the pharmaceutical sales industry?”

8 Ball Pic Answer

Uh oh.

I know what that means.


If even through the silliness of that lead-in story you answered the question with a YES, then Erik Wahl wrote his book for you:  UNThink:  Rediscover Your Creative Genius.

I can say that with confidence because it wasn’t long ago that I answered that question with a YES.

UNThink provides some incredible perspective directly aimed at folks in the corporate world who have lost their creative genius (or have had it driven from them…) and some practical ways to rediscover it.  In short:  some ways to un-think how we’ve been taught to think.

Much like I did in my last book review, I’ll share some key takeaways here versus a long, narrative recap of the book.  Frankly, I recommend buying it and devouring the content in a weekend like I did to get the full story.  At roughly 200 well written pages, it’s entirely doable.

That said, here are the 8 things I will be taking “Beyond the Book” from UNThink and bringing to life in my own world to continue rediscovering my creative genius.  My hope is that you’ll be inspired to read the book and put into practice a few that resonate with you:

  1. Later means never:  Wahl makes the point that re-engaging with our life as children begins the process of rediscovering creative genius.  As children, we were spontaneous creators and explorers…always embracing the moment.  We lose that as adults, erring on the side of waiting and worrying about process, procedures and what people will think.  Need to embrace the NOW more.
  2. Play is the supreme catalyst:  Wahl cites Roy Williams, founder of the Wizard Academy in Austin, Texas, as saying that “play requires the relaxation of the uptight mind.  We are rejuvenated and revitalized by it.  Children are happy because they play.  Adults are unhappy because they do not.”  Need to PLAY more at work.  unthink
  3. Live with some discomfort:  The process and procedure of pharma can make one quite comfortable, or comatose even.  Wahl suggests that awakening the artist within us “takes an ability to choose ‘right’ over ‘want.'”  And this in turn might require us to be uncomfortable.  This is good.  Must get into appropriately uncomfortable situations.
  4. Make discovery as valuable as data:  In sales it is natural to depend on and reward the numbers…data.  But creativity requires seeing the value in discovery.  Wahl drives this point home by suggesting that “while not every discovery will lead to a breakthrough, every discovery will build your muscles in innovation…”  Find places to reward discovery.
  5. Do the next thing on your heart:  In speaking to the power of conviction to drive creativity, Wahl drives home the importance of following what you believe in today.  He goes as far as to suggest that all of our big picture thinking isn’t nearly as important as the small picture when it comes to living out our convictions.  Follow my heart today.
  6. Refuse to be overwhelmed:  Problems arise daily in the life of a pharma sales leader.  In these moments, it’s natural to think of the worst case scenarios and negative outcomes.  Nothing kills creativity more quickly than that.  Wahl encourages relaxation as a tool to draw out creative flow.  Stay optimistic and relax.
  7. Surrender the recognition:  Wahl makes a case for the surrender of recognition to ignite creativity and build a powerful brand.  He notes that the strongest brands are recognized as such because of “…their determination to be led by their passionate actions rather than by their need for acknowledgement.”  Make it about more than me.  
  8. Work boldly, uniquely and freely:  Near the end of the book, Wahl brings all of his wisdom together in a rallying cry of sorts.  He encourages the reader to be bold in the face of fear and embrace the unique ideas that live within all of us. The world is waiting.  Be bold and take action.

I found UNThink to be a powerful reminder of all the natural creativity and passion we have inside of us, much of which goes hidden behind layers of conformity to corporate norms (some real, some not.)

This is particularly relevant in the world of pharmaceutical sales leadership, which can quickly turn into a Groundhog’s Day cycle of field rides, coaching reports and conference calls.  A creativity coma can easily overtake you.

In reading it, I was inspired to continue exploring and rediscovering my creative genius and pulling it through my work each day.

I hope you’ll do the same.

Until next time,


10 Podcasts Every Pharma Sales Leader Should Be Listening To

If you’ve been in pharmaceutical sales for a while, there’s a good chance you remember the Tape Rental Library.trl

Most major pharma companies had a contract with TRL as a way to provide ongoing learning opportunities for sales reps and other field based folks.

Think early Netflix for your commute: order books on cassette tape/CD and they’d arrive in your mailbox a week or so later. Return them when you’re done.

Ah, the memories.  I’m pretty sure I borrowed the Learn Spanish series 3 times and never made it through…

Anyway, while the Tape Rental Library may sound a like a thing of the past – the opportunity to make the most of our windshield time is not.

The average size of a pharmaceutical sales district is expanding like crazy which means plenty of extra time behind the wheel.  We can chalk this up to lost time and complain about it or get purposeful and make the most of it by consuming great content.Untitled design-2

The good news is, the amount of valuable information right at our fingertips today is unprecedented.  Most of it is 100% free and requires no envelopes or scratched up CDs because it sits right on our phone in the form of PODCASTS.

Podcasts are not new, but I’m surprised at the number of pharma sales leaders I talk to who don’t listen to them.

With that in mind, I thought I’d update a list I started back in September 2015 with 10 podcasts that every pharma leader should check out and consider adding to their drive time.  This blog post also describes HOW to listen to podcasts on your smartphone if you don’t already know.

PLEASE leave a comment at the end of this post if you’d add any to the list – I’d love to make this an ongoing project with lots of great options.

Here you go!

  1. This is Your Life – Michael Hyatt:  a once weekly podcast dedicated to intentional leadership. He draws from both his experience in the corporate world and as an entrepreneur to deliver great insight.  Great production value and always a ton of actionable stuff to work on.  (iTunes link)hyatt
  2. Pharma Marketing Talk:  features interviews with leaders and innovators in pharmaceutical marketing.  Not as regularly published as some of the others on this list but solid content to consume focused exclusively on pharma marketing.  Worth a follow on Twitter, too!  (iTunes link)pharmatalk
  3. Entrepreneur on Fire:  John Lee Dumas interviews today’s most successful Entrepreneurs 7-days a week.  Each episode details the journey of a successful Entrepreneur who shares their ups, downs and ah-ha moments.  A great challenge for us to be more entrepreneurial in our thinking!  (iTunes link)eofire
  4. The TOP:  another show that publishes daily and focuses on the worlds TOP entrepreneurs.  The host Nathan Latka gets into the weeds on how much they sold last month, how they are selling it, and pulls out lots of interesting insights that can be applied to daily business.  (iTunes link)  TheTop
  5. Fierce Biotech Radio: this show features interviews and analysis from around the biotech, pharma and medical device industries.  They publish once per week but there can be gaps.  If you already receive and enjoy any of the “Fierce” newsletters via e-mail, you’ll love hearing the discussion on this podcast!  (iTunes link)fbiotech
  6. Advanced Selling Podcast:  hosts Bill Caskey and Bryan Neale have been B2B sales trainers for the past twenty years.  They share their strategies, frameworks, tips and tricks to help create your own sales success.  They do a nice job of keeping things light, fun and action oriented.  (iTunes link)advancedselling
  7. The Ziglar Show:  usually published 2x/week, hosts Kevin Miller and Tom Ziglar break down the most powerful messages from Zig Ziglar and today’s top world changers.  The discussion breaks them down into ways that they can be applied today for growth and development.  (iTunes link)ziglar
  8. The EntreLeadership Podcast:  a weekly show from the great Dave Ramsey and hosted by Ken Coleman, the EntreLeadership Podcast features discussions & tips on leadership and business by some of the top minds in the business, like Mark Cuban, Seth Godin, Jim Collins and Simon Sinek.  High quality.  (iTunes link)entre
  9. The Salesman Podcast:  A former medical device rep, Will Barron interviews the world’s leading influence, body language, psychology and sales experts to give you the information YOU need to close more deals and make more money.  Sounds good to me, right? (iTunes link)salesman
  10. TBD:  there are literally thousands of podcasts out there on every topic imaginable.  If you’re into fly fishing, sports, painting, travel, politics or cooking – there is no doubt a program for you to subscribe to.  In addition to these business focused programs, feed your mind great content on topics you love!  (iTunes link)podcasts