Sales reps are extremely mobile, often working from their cars and home offices. Because of their mobility, sales forces are increasingly being equipped with tablets. One study of pharmaceutical reps found that, in 2012, 65 percent of reps were using iPads when talking with physicians, which is more than double the number of the previous year.

Speaking specifically about the pharmaceutical industry, Morten Hjelms, CEO of the marketing firm Agnitio, said, “I really believe the iPad is going to be a true game changer.” Similarly, Derek Pollock, president of life sciences at Proscape, says: “I’ve never seen anything like this ever. When different cool devices come out, a couple people may take a look at them. The iPad is different. [There’s] universal excitement.”

What is so special about the iPad or any other tablet for use by sales reps in selling situations?

There are numerous factors. First, tablets are particularly effective for consuming information quickly and concisely from one device, which makes them especially useful for sales reps. While a scientist is not likely to use a tablet for crunching research data or writing reports, a sales rep is very likely to use a tablet to look up information about her products, their price points, the competition, and even her customers. Much of this information can be reviewed by the sales rep before the call, or shown to the customer during the call. In this economy, many reps are under pressure to differentiate themselves by demonstrating more products against the competition in limited time. Given that the rep can’t recall everything, especially with an increased product portfolio, having product details on a tablet provides a significant advantage.

Of course the stunning visual display of a tablet and the ability to present interactive content with touch-screen technology also gives the tablet a huge advantage over print material. If a rep can engage the customer in a dialogue and have that person explore and interact with presentation materials on the tablet, the customer is more likely to remember and recall the product. In addition, it improves the flow and allows the rep to manage the conversation better. A rep once told us that in the time she reaches into her bag and finds the right brochure, she can lose the customer’s interest. This is not the case with a tablet, where she can maintain the flow of the conversation more easily while accessing the correct information.

Interestingly, use of the tablet by a sales rep is also shown to influence the customer. In a study of pharmaceutical reps, a growing number of doctors were found to be positively influenced by so-called “iPad reps” when considering which drugs to prescribe.

So how do you design apps that really help sales reps sell their products better? First, start by really thinking about how the rep will use the app. Instead of starting with learning objectives, start with use cases. Identify who your users are, and how and in what conditions they will use the app. Then you can start to identify the objectives for each of those conditions and, thus, which materials the users are likely to need.


Then, remember that the sales rep is going to want to access information quickly while in the sales call or during the few minutes before meeting with the customer. As a result, you need to organize information very well and have an interface that allows the user to find that information exactly when she needs it. A strong eye toward the user interface and user-experience design are key.

Finally, organize and distribute the information concisely based on this form factor. When the user gets to the desired content in the app, that content should be bite-sized, addressing just what the user is looking for based on context. This is not the time for extra learning nuggets; this is the time for concise, discrete learning that addresses the user’s immediate need at that moment in time.

There are many other best practices for designing sales enablement apps. To learn more, join us at our session “Sales Enablement and Employee Empowerment: Driving Performance Support With Mobile Devices” at ICE on Tuesday, May 21. We will show several examples of mobile apps that have supported sales professionals, producing excellent results. We will also discuss the underlying instructional design and usability principles that made these mobile apps so successful.

Phillip Neal will be co-teaching, with Carla Torgerson, the all-day workshop, “Going Mobile: How to Design, Develop, and Implement Apps That Truly Change Performance” on Saturday, May 18. Join her and Phil as they discuss these topics and many more.

The ASTD 2013 International Conference & Exposition is the premier event for training and development professionals. This year's event will take place in Dallas, Texas, U.S.A. from May 19-22, 2013. Learn more about ASTD 2013's keynote speakerseducational sessions, andexposition at