Is There a Doctor on the Web?

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With doctors ever-more elusive and cost-pressures prompting companies to trim their sales forces, e-detailing is starting to come into its own. It's still a mite of a market, so sales reps needn't worry that they're about to become outmoded by new technologies, much as robotics sidelined automotive workers. In fact, even the vendors will tell you that it's no replacement for the human touch. 

“They tell us that the more successful approach is including e-detailing as part of an integrated plan,” says Chloe Stromburg, an analyst on the interactive marketing team of Forrester Research. “You need reps to promote it, so there's a Catch-22 there.”

E-detailing has also suffered from early failures, said Stromburg—particularly difficulties in recruiting physicians—and from a lack of standards for best practices. But mostly it's been handicapped by a tendency to separate such efforts from other sales channels. And regulator interest in honoraria—formerly a major driver of physician participation—has put a damper on activity. 

Still, in 2007, 80% of physicians participated in e-promotion as well as in-person details, according to Verispan's 2007 ePromotion study. Twenty percent substituted e-promotion for face-to-face details entirely (up from 7% in 2006).

Self-guided virtual details constitute the largest share of the market and remain the preferred means of receiving medical information online for more than half of physicians. But with broadband becoming more commonplace and consumers upgrading to faster computers capable of handling it, video detailing seems to be poised for a boom. 

“We've basically moved almost exclusively to live video detailing that uses traditional sales reps lined online and via phone to physicians to deliver a fully-interactive detail experience with dynamic video as well as the live rep customizing a presentation to the needs of individual physicians,” says Mark Gleason, SVP, corporate development at Aptilon Corp., which boasts an opted-in audience of 450,000 physicians and bills its video services as its “Sales Force of the Future.”

Merck is a major customer of the firm's. The company slashed US primary care promotional spending by 9% from 2005 to 2007 (all while handling massive launches like those for Gardasil and Januvia), and aims to see savings of 15%-20% by 2010, mainly through less direct selling and more targeted and alternative channels. Johnson & Johnson is also offering video details. 

“It gives them an alternate sales channel to complement their field resources,” says Gleason. “And it allows them to access those no-see, hard-to-see physicians that are not accessible through field reps during traditional office hours when they are going online looking for relevant information.”

According to a recent survey by ImpactRx, only 24 out of 100 sales calls result in quality, two-way discussions. The average call lasts 4.6 minutes. Marketers up against those odds are likely to give e-detailing a second look.
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