June 6, 2018

Speaker Programs: Evaluating Your Return on Education

return on education
john work photo- white backgorund

John Cusmina

President, TL Health

Twice during my career, I was a product manager for two separate pharmaceutical companies.  At one of those companies we had the number one product in its class in CNS and the other time it was for a top five pharmaceutical company in oncology.  Back then, and as it is today, one of my biggest marketing expenses was the speaker program budget.  And I must confess, I really had no idea what impact those programs had on my business. 

External Issues

Times have changed since then.  The Sunshine Payment Act has driven down physician access, hospitals are closing their doors to reps and the “No-See Physician” is now a thing. 

How bad has it gotten? In my last ride along with a rep, we were going to a fairly large academic institution.  Prior to the ride, our company had to pay a “fee” for the privilege to come through the doors of this institution.  After paying the fee, you were put on a waiting list and randomly selected to gain entrance to the facility.  The notification was typically received 24- 48 hours in advance.

For my rep, it was a four-hour ride from her house to this facility. We agreed to meet at the facility at the appropriate time.  After confirming we had the proper clearance and signing in, we were given directions to our meeting “spot”. 

The meeting “spot” was a clock that hung on the wall in a rather busy department.  We were told to stand under this clock and if any doctors were interested in speaking with us, they would approach us.  But under no circumstances were we allowed to initiate conversation.  The rule was we had to be spoken to first. Long story short, after three hours of standing underneath this clock and no doctor approaching us, we left. 

But it doesn’t stop with declining sales rep access.

According to our research, the most effective way to get a physician to try a product for the first time is through speaker programs.  But these programs are also coming under external pressures. 

States are stopping programs all together, hospitals are preventing their doctors from attending and more recently, New Jersey put a cap of $15 for a meal at a dinner program.  Have you ever tried to buy a sandwich and a drink for under $15 in New Jersey? It’s almost impossible!

And doctors are just busier.  They are seeing more patients, working longer hours and have more red tape to maneuver as insurance companies are trying to curtail costs.

This is a real problem for the industry as speaker programs are the most effective way to deliver a full product review, discuss patient cases, allow for questions/concerns and let physicians listen to what their peers are doing.  All of these benefits help to ensure that patients are getting the right medication to optimize patient health. 

So let me ask you, what are you doing to show that your programs are educating Healthcare Professionals?

Internal Issues

From an internal perspective we have both access issues and we have program issues.

At a recent speaker program conference, I attended, with more than 50 industry executives in attendance, I heard many challenges facing these programs.  Among them were:

  • We have a hard time demonstrating program value.
  • We can’t attract the right customers.
  • We’re not sure which programs are the most effective.
  • What do we do with web programs, “the ultimate multi-tasking event”?

One of the biggest reasons we are struggling with these challenges, as one presenter put it, is because “Nothing has changed over the past 25 years. We do the same thing year after year and wonder why we can’t get prescribers to attend, let alone key prescribers.”

This can lead to disinterest within the HCP community and is part of the reason that reps struggle to get enough doctors to attend so they must supplement attendance with other office staff.  Our research shows that it’s not uncommon for a 70:30 split of office staff to physicians.  Unfortunately, these programs are geared toward the 30% so you risk disengaging 70% of our audience with material that is over their head or not relevant to their job.  And what is the number one thing people want from these meetings?  They want the information to be relevant to them.

So, we run programs as if nothing has changed in the way people learn over the past 25 years and pharma companies wonder why they struggle to show program value.

Return on Education

Perhaps by fixing one problem we can help solve two problems?

There is a lot of discussion and frustration on demonstrating program value.  But I see a major flaw in how we currently evaluate program value.  Let me explain. Typically, we run a program and then check our metrics to see what kind of return was realized. 

But consider this, the most important part of an educational program is to educate.  Do you know if your program did that?  So instead of going right to ROI you need to think about your Return on Education first.  If you’re not measuring your ROE, then you can’t be sure if the return on ROI is due to the program, the speaker or the sales rep.

How do you measure Return on Education? 

How has academia been measuring Return on Education?  A teacher lectures on a subject and then quizzes the class along the way to see if the class is comprehending the information.  Am I suggesting you quiz your attendees?  Not exactly.  What I am suggesting is a few questions, prior to the start of the meeting, using their cell phones, to establish their current knowledge level and a few questions at the end to see if there was an increase in product knowledge.  This is your Return on Education score.

Start by assessing the attendees’ knowledge of the material prior to the program. It allows the speaker to understand where they are knowledgeable and where they are weak, when it comes to the program material. 

In addition, it will give you an idea as to whether the program needs to be discontinued or not. For example, if attendees answered all of the pre-test questions correctly, this will tell you the program material is becoming obsolete and it is probably time to discontinue the program.  However, if pre-test scores come back low, it will give the speaker an idea of what areas to emphasize during the program and it demonstrates a need for the program.

The pre-test also serves a number of other purposes including:

  1. It gives the audience an idea of the key topics that will be discussed during the presentation.
  2. It gets them thinking about the brand.
  3. It sets the baseline to be used post meeting to determine how much was learned.

After the presentation, consider another exercise using the same questions as the pre-test. The results of which can be compared with the results from the pre-test to see if there was an increase in knowledge.  And if there is still confusion with the audience, it allows the speaker to go back over that material to ensure the audience has the correct information.  After all, this is the main objective of these programs: ensuring that HCP’s are properly trained on your product, so they may provide better patient outcomes! 

Not only will the post test help you evaluate if attendee’s have a thorough understanding of your product, but the post evaluation results will also tell you:

  1. Was the speaker able to articulate the main points of the presentation?
  2. Was the speaker able to hold their attention?
  3. Was there an increase in overall knowledge?

Now, you’re probably thinking can this be applied to web programs? And the answer is yes! This same process can be used to keep them engaged as the audience will pay closer attention if they know they are going to be quizzed throughout the talk. In addition, it will allow them to see how they are stacking up against their peers both locally and nationally.

By implementing pre and post testing, you can know now if the presentation delivered on its main purpose which is educating the audience on the product. And now you are ready to measure ROI!

Concluding Thoughts

In summary, speaker programs are a valuable service the industry can provide to HCPs to ensure optimum patient health.  However, for all the time and money spent on these programs to date, there has been little to prove that these meetings are delivering valuable product information and attendees are becoming better educated from these programs.

Assessing audiences pre and post meeting to gauge your Return on Education is a win for everyone.  Customers are more engaged and more likely to learn, program benefits are measurable and, most important, patients will have better treatment outcomes as healthcare providers will be better informed on the proper use of your products!

john work photo- white backgorund

John Cusmina

John has over 34 years of pharmaceutical industry experience working in Product Management, Market Research, Sales and Sales Operations for companies such as GSK, AstraZeneca, Shire, Medeva Pharmaceuticals, and IMS Health. His specialties include: Market Strategy Planning & Development, Launch and Operational Planning, Market Research, Multi-Channel Promotions and Business Development.

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