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The Pulse of the Pharmaceutical Industry

Sales Force Effectiveness 2013

Written by: | | Dated: Friday, February 1st, 2013

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Moving commercial teams into the future of effectiveness

The importance of integrating mobility, meaningful content, and a truly customer-centric approach.

Without a doubt, the current environment has altered the modes in which commercial teams interact with physicians.  These past five years brought forth the highest volume of commercial tech innovation in the industry’s history – prompting sales strategies to adapt at full speed. Encouragement for commercial effectiveness is more than plentiful: regulatory requirements, patent cliff s, shrinking R&D pipelines, pricing pressures, and new stakeholders. As a result, current commercial and medical teams will be required to move faster than ever before to match pace with change and innovation by optimizing engagement practices.

In no way are companies remaining static. The new year finds them making pivotal adjustments for growth geared towards prescribers and patients. Specifically, rather than focusing solely on internal business enhancement to commercial programs, companies are more focused on prescriber input to drive their internal strategies. More and more, key firms are pushing their commercial teams to act not as sales people, but as educators and thought leaders that listen to customers and deliver value added information rather than standard, “pre-canned” pitches. Nearly all global life sciences companies are moving towards more patient-centric models that are focused on efficacy and adherence. Furthermore, commercially, more companies are introducing “meaningful customer engagement” as an important metric in the incentive system for commercial and medical teams.

So, what’s new for commercial strategy in 2013? Simply put, it is the rate at which the current sales model is changing.  The alternate universe of an industry without the iPad, just over two years ago, now seems unimaginable. According to a physician poll by Manhattan Research, the number of iPad-wielding reps has doubled between 2011 and 2012. Now, one of the key challenges for companies is simply trying to keep commercial and medical teams up-to-date with the blistering speed of tech innovation in smartphones, tablets and cloud technology.

Interestingly enough, due to the mobile innovation flood, the technology itself may no longer be the most valuable competitive advantage. Technology will merely serve as a means to an end.  The key will be how that technology can be used to generate increased customer focus and create more authentic interactions.

Moving forward, how do companies reconcile their strategies in the face of dynamic change and innovation to achieve a new set of best practices in commercial effectiveness? In order to merge the benefits of increased customer engagement and better commercial outcomes, companies must focus on a combined approach consisting of better utilization of mobile technology, use of impactful content, and a more inspired customer-focused strategy.

Tech Showdown: Better Mobility In 2013

Since the leading global life sciences firms now outfit their commercial and medical teams with tablets, the mobile technology does not necessarily garner the same attention it once did the first time a rep walked into a doctor’s office with an iPad. Nevertheless, tablets have cemented themselves as veritable, all-in-one devices, and adoption rates in the life sciences have not slowed as reports show companies ordering iPads by the stockpile. Yet, as the number of ‘no see’ doctors continues to rise, it is evident that the mere presence of tablets along with flashy presentations will not be enough to captivate the hearts and minds of prescribers.

The absence of better interactions may source from not recognizing the full potential of tablets and smartphones as an optimal stakeholder platform. Rather than only considering the mobile tools as eye-catching hardware or a sleek portal to new apps, tablets must begin to represent the springboard from which changes to commercial strategies occur. Particularly, with the entire industry gearing-up for a more true patient-centric business model, companies must first start with a tablet approach when considering a reconfiguration of commercial practices.

Encouragingly, tablets across the board are better than ever with sharper displays, faster processors and seamless wireless connections. And with greater vendor competition, arming commercial teams with tablets has never been more cost-effective. With Apple now on its fourth release of the iPad, companies and mobile solution vendors have had enough time to single out the capabilities that are the most relevant to pharma sales forces.

Precisely, achieving better mobility means building on the most fundamental mobile benefits of on-demand customer information, location-based functionalities, a customer interaction hub, and productivity metrics.

From field users to managers, every member of the commercial team can be the most knowledgeable point of contact and can add value to an upcoming customer interaction. Both customer relationship management (CRM) and other enterprise solutions such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems provide capabilities to seamlessly connect end users to internal and third-party information sources. Instant access to the latest customer information heightens a commercial team member’s understanding well before a meeting, which provides valuable boosts in both quality and duration of an interaction.

Location-based services can enhance effectiveness by empowering field users with the ability to easily visit unplanned stakeholders if they need to fill gaps during a series of appointments. Field personnel can also use CRM functionalities such as “Near Me” to receive a graphical view of prospective targets within close proximity of their current location, based on their call goals, to further grow productivity levels.

Before the onset of today’s mobile innovations, tracking interactions and activity was a nightmare. Biopharma companies can now diagram nearly everything that passes between a stakeholder, like a physician and a medical representative. From its inception in the 1990s, closed loop marketing (CLM) was rarely deployed effectively and almost never optimized until only a few years ago. With CRM solutions specifically, companies can capture, track and analyze every sales call, email, e-detail, face-to-face contact and, most importantly, customer feedback.  The power of next generation, real CRM solutions can dramatically improve the effectiveness, value and success of CLM campaigns.

Opening all lines of internal communication is integral to bolstering a commercial user’s ability to build more successful relationships. As companies continue to trend away from the sales pitch mentality, the dynamic exchange of information has become king – requiring the collaborative effort of an enterprise. By improving internal collaboration via mobile technology, field users can be prepared to rapidly answer a healthcare professional’s questions within the limited timeframe by employing their network of colleagues.

For example, when a physician steps outside the realm of a rep’s knowledge, mobile users can request and receive research studies in nearly real-time, rather than becoming an afterthought in a doctor’s inbox. Leading solution providers are enabling end users with on-demand video conferencing capabilities with medical science liaisons, when required by an HCP, to further increase the interaction quality and HCP satisfaction. From a management standpoint, commercial team managers can almost immediately gain access to any team’s performance, make contact and discuss a course of action to correct a situation.

Lastly, as the rapid fire of innovation in software and hardware continues, enterprises must constantly update training sessions that center around tablet usage. Deploying interactive training modules that keep users abreast of all that their technology can do boosts productivity and saves them from tech fumbles in front of a busy prospect.

The new year represents a call to action for companies to continue to trek beyond using tablets as doctor eye-candy, but rather as critical tools to drive more authentic, two-way value, data-reinforced conversations with practitioners. With the expansive mobile market now offering smarter and cheaper devices, the opportunity cost of not implementing revolutionary mobile products and solutions has become too great to dismiss.

Perfecting Content Strategy

The digital era has gifted industries with more customer data than they were typically used to handling or analyzing. Specifically in the Life Sciences industry, firms must rethink data’s commercial purpose as new technology currently affords them with troves of multifaceted customer information. Rather than having data tunnel vision for acquiring new prospects, companies must take an honest look at how data is used in their client search process. Further, enterprises must ensure that data is most effectively enriching message and content in order to provide the greatest benefit in capturing customer interest.

Let’s go back to the topic of CLM, which works to transform commercial users into expert conversationalists and sympathetic listeners. The practice enables pharmaceutical companies to gain deeper understanding of their customers through evaluating the results of marketing and communication initiatives by tracking the real-time responses of targeted customer groups. And like many customer groups, mindsets are always changing. One of the most valuable rewards of CLM practices is the ability to navigate and fine tune content based on customers’ evolving responses to existing material, therefore the following visits become increasingly customer-focused and continue to generate vital feedback for future improvements.

Yet, the right content alone will not sustain customer interest long term. Customers are being selective with regards to their channels of interaction. Yes, it is true that many doctors refuse to see reps, but that does not mean that they are not receiving e-details or browsing a company’s digital resources. The most strategic companies leverage a multi-channel view of each customer’s physical and digital interaction profile across in-office visits, e-mail campaign responses, web site access patterns and contacts to call centers. In essence, deploying targeted content is only as useful as its respective communication channel.

The correct content delivered through the most relevant channel, per each customer, enables Biopharmaceutical companies to dramatically improve the aptitude of their commercial strategy. Multi-channel strategy is more effective when a customer’s preference, presence and access can be combined to produce the most meaningful interaction. Ensuring that this practice sustains future market shifts will hinge on companies’ willingness to understand and respect the growing power of technology and consumerism’s effect on prescriber behavior.

Achieving Genuine Customer Centricity In Sales

With the popularity of consumer applicationsincluding Yelp and Google, the collective customer feedback movement is gaining speed as a trusted source in evaluating vendors and service providers. Surprisingly, a biopharmaceutical company is implementing the same metrics to judge the effectivenessof their field users – and physician reviews are now trumping their traditional sales incentives.

In 2011, a top-10 global pharmaceutical company eliminated their established compensation plan for their U.S. sales force by no longer incentivizing reps to push drug sales. The company acted on efforts to change field force mindsets, in accordance with values, from numerical objectives to a more holistic goal of improving patient health. As of today, other enterprises have taken the stance of ‘wait-and-see’ in regards to implementing the same program in their sales model.

What is the most valuable take away from this bold sales move? It may very well be the embodiment of a growing trend that places greater importance on the voice of the physician and, vicariously, the patient. As the industry turns to solutions that work to generate more input from doctors, firms must contemplate how this factors into the future of their commercial strategy. Indeed, helping to facilitate better outcomes for patients is the top priority, but to do so, companies must continuously evaluate new methods to make doctor-rep communications more meaningful, clear, open and mutually beneficial.

As headlines broadcast how drug pricing is depending more on outcomes, the future of sales force effectiveness and brand value will be based on customer experience. The endgame of capitalizing on digital communications must not only center on growing presence, but also on establishing a more open dialogue with HCPs, patients and payers. And the first link in that chain will be enhancing face-to-face relationships with better mobile tools and customer intelligence.

Enriching the time-honored practice of direct selling is a step in the right direction for big pharma to regain its reputation. Improving tablet skill sets, making content more relevant, and putting customers first are the leading sales strategies that will demonstrate value throughout 2013.   e industry needs a great synergy between these elements to maximize the physical and digital touchpoints with HCPs – who will, in turn, be more willing to communicate a company’s brand value to their patients.

Neeraj Singhal is VP, product management and innovation, Cegedim Relationship Management

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