Training break: Pharma companies get into gaming to boost retention, recall—and fun

Forget boring training meetings. Virtual training takes on new meaning for some pharmas working to boost employee engagement with gamification. (iStock/Getty Images Plus/fizkes)

Imagine you’re a pharma sales rep promoting a new Type 2 diabetes medication. Your mission? Get to know each doctor’s personality and adapt your sales presentation to them. Using clues and evidence about the doctor, you figure out the best strategy.

Sound fun? That’s because it’s a game.

Called Detective, it’s one of the latest pharma-focused games in The Game Agency’s Training Arcade portfolio, which companies are using to train sales reps, onboard new employees and reinforce information about new products.

Other games include unique-to-pharma issues like Scenarios and Recall, along with more traditional Jeopardy, Trivia and Match 3 games. With the latter, instead of sports trivia or ancient history questions, the content and questions are crafted from training materials.

Iain Boomer, head of learning for AbbVie Canada, has been using The Game Agency's gamification for years, but its use became especially important during the pandemic when sales reps were shut out of doctors’ offices and most of the company worked from home with long days collaborating on Zoom and Teams meetings.

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“Gamification has become more important and more impactful in the virtual environment,” he said. “The pandemic showed we need this now more than ever. … It’s given an extra push to what has always been core to what we do, which is retention and recall in a fun and engaging manner.”

AbbVie Canada uses gamification to onboard new reps, district managers and brand managers as well as for national sales meetings. Instead of studying or reading up, AbbVie asks employees to do the advance work through gamification tasks and then follows with more tasks after the meetings to boost retention and recall, Boomer said. 

"Every time we do this, we hear how fantastic it was, we get big thank-you's and applause—and every time, we change their perspective, the way we engage together and the way that they retain the information," he said.

For clinical research organizational Covance, running trials for pharma clients changed suddenly and dramatically during COVID-19, and gamification became a key tool.

“We’d done Training Arcade games before and found the average person plays the game at least twice—when we usually have a hard enough time getting them to complete the training one time and on time. The fact that they’re going back again on their own because they want to get a better score is huge,” Katelyn Rodriguez, associate director of learning operations at Covance, said.

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Along with bumping retention with the virtual play, Covance also used games—such as Jeopardy online challenges about their colleagues, for instance—to keep people feeling connected while they were separated at home, she said.

Stephen Baer, chief creative officer at The Game Agency, said he’s heard similar stories from other clients throughout the pandemic.

“Games and gamification are really nice way to feel connected and to help them feel like they’re part of a community and engaging with their colleagues which is so different today,” he said.

“And there’s a motivation to come back—whether they want to be the best selves they can be or whether they want to beat people on the leaderboard or whether they want that prize. It doesn’t really matter why, because the reality is there’s a knowledge transfer and a level of retention that you can’t achieve with most typical training,” he said.