With rep/physician face time being crunched and sales forces continuing to downsize, the use of technology to increase efficiency and effectiveness in the field will be the way of the future for many pharma companies.
At AstraZeneca, that future is now.
For 2008, 100% of the drugmaker's sales force has been equipped with interactive detailing capabilities. Results have been extremely beneficial, according to AstraZeneca marketers. Interactive detailing efforts can add up to another two minutes to a rep's individual sales calls and up to a 40% improvement to cover additional products on the first detail. Numbers like this are crucial in a selling environment where time with physicians is increasingly valuable and more difficult to come by.
Evolution of a revolution
The implementation of technology to boost its sales force effectiveness has been a long-term goal of AstraZeneca marketers for so long that it predates the company, explains VP of commercial operations David Snow. According to Snow, it was legacy company Astra Merck that was at the forefront with its use of handheld technology.
“They actually used Apple Newtons (the early line of personal digital assistants developed and marketed by Apple Computer from 1993 to 1998), if you can believe that,” he says. Since then, AstraZeneca has tried to be as innovative as possible by looking at how the company works with its customers and creates new technologies.
“For example,” Snow says, “we are probably one of the only companies I can think of in the marketplace that does sample sending where reps actually don't touch the samples.” Instead, AstraZeneca reps rely on electronic devices to get signatures from physicians, Snow explains. A back office structure then mails the samples to the physicians.
“We think we are the only people to do that today,” Snow says. “We have been really successful. We think it's indicative of a company that is willing to take a different approach to using technology and having it work in the marketplace.”
In years past, AstraZeneca relied on two pieces of technology when it came to making interactive sales calls. Reps carried a laptop computer and a handheld device or an NEC device to record call information, Snow explains.
“But from a CRM standpoint, this wasn't very satisfying because although it did capture call information, that's really all these devices did,” he says. Recent additional pressures on selling teams, along with marketplace challenges, left marketers at AstraZeneca asking themselves, “‘How do we bring meaningful value to physicians and their patients?'” Snow asks.
“We feel we had to take a more aggressive stance moving to a CRM platform,” he says. In 2006, AstraZeneca deployed select teams with interactive capabilities in a pilot program, learning what to do and what not to do, according to Snow. In 2007, the company embarked on a more robust roll out. By early 2008 the mission was complete.
“It's been a learning process but we are getting very good utilization, and I know that there are other companies out there using it but I think that we are at the forefront of being able to understand how this technology can work and add value to the business,” he says.
Right time, real time
The implementation of interactive product promotion is forcing pharma marketing departments to reconfigure themselves. Under the new model, marketers will need to have an extensive and fresh new library of materials for reps to show to their physician customers.
“That adds a new dimension to the marketing department paradigm,” says SK&A president Dave Escalante. “That's not the way pharma marketing has traditionally worked. Marketing comes up with a grand campaign idea and they run it over a significant amount of time. These technologies are forcing marketing departments to change literally overnight.”
AstraZeneca's Snow says being able to adapt responses to interactive messages opens up a much more interesting set of options.
“I think we are going to see more seamless transition into digital media where there might be an interactive discussion that might lead physicians to want to go into a particular portal to get more information and continue a dialogue outside of that initial call,” Snow says.
Although interactive detailing is not a new idea, it is one whose time has finally arrived for several reasons, some say. Older physicians are retiring and being replaced by a new generation of younger doctors coming into the work force. Traditionally it's been older doctors who have been somewhat anti-technology and anti-data in a “look out for big brother” kind of way, says Escalante. “The older physicians are passing the torch to the next generation that is more tech savvy, more data friendly and really comfortable with new technologies” he says.
Traditional product details have become compressed for many reasons and sales forces are now under growing pressure to be more effective. This equation yields an opportunity for technology to be placed in the hands of the reps. “Do I think these types of technologies are the right thing at the right time?” Escalante asks. “Absolutely. I think the doctor population is more receptive to it. I think they expect it. I think they expect the sales people to be integrated with the corporate office.”
The growing influence of managed care in addition to Medicare
Part D have had a major impact on pharma sales. Realizing this, service provider Fingertip Formulary has designed tools for pharmaceutical companies to use to leverage managed care information.
Managing well in managed care
“On a sales call, doctors really want to know two things,” explains Fingertip Formulary SVP, sales and business devlopment, Mike Green. “How is it paid for and how is it covered by managed care?”
Green says his company has developed tools that allow sales forces to provide that info in a timely and efficient way. To give a better idea of the company's growth, Green explains that Fingertip Formulary began with one major pharma client in 2006 and now works with eight of the top 10 pharmas and 25 of the mid-sized pharmaceutical companies.
One of Fingertip Formulary's most successful formats is its publisher platform, which allows a sales rep to create custom formulary tables for doctors in a template-driven fashion. “It can be made specific to a geographic area, with a doctor's name on it and rendered electronically, printed as a PDF, shown on a tablet or emailed to the doctor,” he says.
“In a very managed care-focused environment, it's very important to be able to show your position against your competitors. That's an advantage in many ways,” Green adds.
No ‘magic bullet'
With the industry at an inflection point, every pharmaceutical company is challenging their sacred cow—how they run their sales and marketing efforts and what defines making the most of the interaction and a physician, says Craig Scott, CEO of pharma marketing information services company, TargetRx.
“We are talking about behavior change in an environment where every message counts. Because the environment is so challenging right now you see a lot of resources being treated more and more preciously as sales forces are cut, and most companies are seeking the utmost quality out of each and every call,” Scott says.
The single biggest technology change during the past 18 months has been the use of tablet PCs in pharma sales details, Scott explains. The other thing you are seeing behind the scenes supporting the sales rep effort is companies trying to use closed loop marketing or integrated customer relationship marketing (CRM) to give better feedback.
But technology may not be the ultimate solution to the selling equation, according TargetRx co-founder Mike Luby. “The last time we looked to see how tablet PCs compare to traditional detail approaches, we didn't see a significant difference,” he says. “By itself we don't make a judgment about whether the tablet is helpful because aspects of being able to deploy it quickly makes it good.”
In terms of being able to motivate physicians, we think the magic is in the message more than the medium, Luby adds. “It really means that pharmaceutical companies have to crystallize the proposition,” he says. “We think of it as more traditional marketing principles than the latest innovation. It's really about understanding the physician target, understanding how the message and target can be put forward so that you get quality on the interaction, and is the rep helping the physician understand the drug and make the case for them to prescribe it. Technology is a tool to help but some in the industry are kind of looking at it as the magic bullet and the data doesn't really support that.”
Scott adds that, just by itself, use of technology is neither a good nor a bad thing. “The real power is in the content or the message. However it is encumbent on every pharmaceutical company to take advantage of the technology available,” he says.
“Shame on anybody that is not working hard and with a sense of urgency to take advantage of that technology. The mistake that can be made is that is that if anybody thinks the availability of new technology is a magic bullet that is going to make it all better. At the end of the day you need to match the tool to your audience, and understanding the physician you are calling on makes all the difference.”
SIDEBAR: Playing the field
The impact of interactive tools on the effectiveness of the sales force extends way beyond the sales call itself. Bayer HealthCare's therapeutics division has been reaping the benefits of a sales training gaming platform called Rep Race, developed by Concentric Pharma Advertising. Reps choose characters and navigate simulated environments of physicians' offices, scoring points for how well they cope with certain scenarios. By making this experiential learning process engaging and fun, reps retain knowledge of familiar context, scenarios and situations. And the impact has been huge on Bayer's field force for MS drug Betaseron. Ken Liss, national sales director, specialized therapeutics, reports a 19.3% increase in sale income since launch, with average income growth of over 6% each quarter. For more on Bayer's interactive rep training, visit mmm-online.com and watch on demand the webcast “Prepping reps for the demands of modern detailing.”