By Chapin Brinegar
Senior Manager of Instructional Design
The field trainer may be the most underutilized role across the life sciences industry—and companies are suffering as a result. When successfully deployed, field trainers play a vital part in improving onboarding, developing new hires, and enhancing coaching and training for existing sales reps. While doing so, field trainers foster their own professional skills and prepare for future leadership roles. However, through my work as an instructional designer, I’ve discovered that most field trainer programs lack the standardization and formal curriculum necessary for participants to reach either their potential or become true assets for their teams.
Leveraging an Untapped Resource
Recently, during the 2019 Life Sciences Trainers & Educators Network (LTEN) conference, I partnered with a client to lead a workshop titled Empowering Field Trainers to Optimize Results: The Nuts and Bolts of a Successful Field Trainer Program. The feedback I received, through both the exercises we conducted and the closing Q&A session, confirmed that across the industry there’s a troubling gap between what field trainers could achieve and what they are currently asked to do. As a number of workshop attendees confessed, many leading companies just aren’t sure how to properly deploy and support their field trainers.
5 Steps to a Stronger Field Trainer Program
1. Set the vision
The answer lies in vision and training. Unless it’s grounded in a fully formed training vision, no field trainer program can function at its best. While each field trainer program is unique, most share common attributes. By understanding what these are, you can envision—and then enact—a program that will drive results and enhance your organization in myriad ways.
I’ve found that representatives who sign up for field trainer programs are highly motivated and dedicated employees. They certainly aren’t taking on the additional responsibilities for usually a minimal stipend. What’s more, the leaders of most field trainer programs are eager to improve their programs—they’re just unsure how to do so.
2. Define the field trainer role clearly
I’ve partnered with clients in a variety of organizations and have come to realize that no two companies define the field trainer role the same way. That’s okay. One of the great benefits of the field trainer role is its adaptability to the needs of the organization.
That said, it’s still vital for the designers of every field trainer program to clearly define what they expect of the role. Without a clear set of expectations, the curriculum for the field trainers is almost certain to be scattershot and the interactions between field trainers and representatives haphazard.
As you define your field trainer responsibilities, consider the following and adapt them so your field trainers can best meet the needs of your organization.
Potential field trainer responsibilities:
- Supporting the training team as they develop and implement a variety of training programs, with an emphasis on onboarding
- Mentoring, coaching, and monitoring the progress of new hires
- Working closely with the regional manager to ensure training needs are being met
- Conducting field observations for both new and tenured representatives
- Facilitating formal and informal training
- Serving as a subject matter expert on company processes, tools, and resources
- Modeling appropriate behaviors/skills, company policies, values, and expectations
After your field trainer responsibilities have been identified, develop selection criteria and competencies to ensure appropriate candidates are identified and retained.
3. Understand the value you expect field trainers to provide
Field trainers are essentially an extension of the training team and regional manager and can provide many benefits to an organization. Field trainers can play a big role in developing the talents of other sales representatives, reducing the learning curve for new hires, and ensuring effective feedback is being delivered in the field.
Together with your list of field trainer responsibilities, defining the expected value of field trainers will provide your program with a founding vision. From this vision, you can build a curriculum that will deliver the results you want. As many of the LTEN workshop attendees attested, field trainer programs that lack a unified vision are apt to stray off course.
Take the time to write down the value you expect to gain from your field trainers. Consider the list below and then add to it to ensure field trainers meet your organization’s unique needs.
How field trainers can provide value:
- Reduce live training time during onboarding
- Minimize the learning curve for new hires
- Support the regional manager by carrying out field observations, coaching, and additional training
- Support the training team by participating in special projects, serving as a subject matter expert, and
carrying out formal and informal training tasks
- Serve as a liaison between the field sales force and the home office
4. Decide on the components you’ll need for a successful field trainer curriculum
In order to succeed, field trainers require a formal and robust curriculum grounded in the responsibilities you expect them to carry out and the value you hope they’ll provide your organization. As you plan your curriculum, consider the following best-in-class components.
Logo and branding: Design a logo and branding to create status and formalize field trainer materials. The logo should tell the story behind the role.
Playbook: Develop a one-stop shop for field trainers. Remember, while a playbook can be an incredibly helpful tool, it’s only as good as the content that’s put into it. Your playbook should include an overview of the role/responsibilities, a day in the life of a field trainer, new hire onboarding resources, templates and forms, software or digital tool instructions, and any other organization-specific content necessary for the field trainer to carry out their role.
Certification: Adopt a formal certification process to elevate the role of the field trainer. This process should include a series of live or virtual instructor-led workshops that explore topics such as onboarding new hires, using approved field trainer resources, conducting field observations, leading without authority, providing effective feedback, and developing effective facilitation/presentation skills. Once a certification session is in place, it can be reused each time a new field trainer is onboarded.
Live workshops: Create opportunities for field trainers to continue their professional development beyond the initial certification. Holding live field trainer summits, which can be standalone events or held in conjunction with an existing national meeting, is a great way to reinforce and expand initial training. Be sure to incorporate case studies and opportunities for realistic practice within your live workshops. Hosting a leadership panel discussion is another popular and effective way to continue professional development.
Book clubs: Foster reflective and collaborative thinking by providing a forum for field trainers to delve further into the content of a book through discussion with their colleagues. To prepare, equip field trainers with the selected book as well as an action guide for capturing key takeaways and lessons learned as they read. Then, ask them to come together in a live or virtual environment to share their findings and identify how they will take action in the field based on those findings.
Forms, tools, and templates: Equip your field trainers with the resources they’ll need to ensure success. These resources may include things like new hire observation forms to use during onboarding or field observation reports to use during ride alongs. In addition, consider providing field trainers with activity trackers to help them stay on task throughout the year. These forms are best housed in the playbook for convenient access.
5. Expect more of your program and your field trainers
Though I’ve encountered many struggling field trainer programs, I’ve also witnessed the extraordinary accomplishments of field trainers who are supported by inspiring, dynamic programs. As I noted at the outset, the issue with most programs is one of training and is rooted in a lack of vision of what might be achieved. So, my advice is to expect more! When those who run field trainer programs expect more—of themselves and their field trainers—and take steps to achieve their vision, the impact on the sales organization is truly something to behold.
Chapin Brinegar holds a Master of Science degree in instructional technology and has more than 10 years of experience in education, corporate training, and instructional design. She has a proven track record working with a variety of clients in the pharmaceutical and life sciences marketplace. As an instructional design professional for Encompass, Chapin works closely with her clients to uncover their specific needs and to design, develop, and deploy a range of learning solutions.