Why reps are not using their digital sales aids … and how to inspire them to change

, , , , , , , , ,

By Angela Tenuta and Wendy Blackburn, executive VPs at Intouch Solutions


At Intouch we hold a number of truths to be self-evident, but perhaps the most self-evident of the lot is this: that digital sales aids only work if sales reps actually use them.

Seems pretty obvious, right?

The trouble is, not everyone does use them.

How do we know? Companies were coming to us and telling us. Over a 12-month period we tracked utilization data from 23 sales force apps across 11 brands. We found that app usage by sales reps is about 71 percent per month – i.e., 71 percent of reps will use a given digital sales aid in the course of a given month. Or, put the opposite way, 29 percent won’t. And digital sales aid use declines by nearly half – 46 percent – on average from launch to six months out.

Given the amount of time and effort that goes into building each digital sales aid app, and the fact that new prescriptions correlate fairly closely with app use (another finding in our study), those numbers ought to make any good brand manager grind her teeth.

Why the decline? In parallel with the digital sales aid tracking, we also surveyed the health care practitioners who were on the other end of all these sales presentations, and found that about half of them were seeing the same content being presented more than once by the same sales rep. And two-thirds of HCPs reported that the content in the digital sales aids they saw was not customized to their practice or their patients.

We also found some startling gaps between the percentages of HCPs who were exposed to particular kinds of content and the percentages who want to be exposed to said content. For example, while the percentage of digital sales presentations that include drug comparisons rose by 23 percent in the past four years, the percentage of HCPs who want to see drug comparisons exceeded the percentage who actually got to see them by 35 percent. These gaps were similar for MOA videos – 37 percent – and patient education print materials and videos – 34 percent.

Given all this, the rapid decline in usage of digital sales aids isn’t all that surprising. Why would a sales rep continue to use a digital sales aid when it’s just repeating content from the last call and doesn’t include the information the HCP wants to see?

The good news is that fixing these problems isn’t going to require a Congressional investigation, or even a focus group. We asked the reps and the HCPs themselves how to improve the situation, and they told us.

1. Give HCPs what they want.

And what do they want? As mentioned above, they want more drug comparisons, more MOA videos, and more patient education materials. Also, according to our survey, they want less clutter and more graphics and animations. They want clinical relevance and brevity, not “talking points.” They want materials that can be digested later at leisure, when no sales reps are hovering. So DSA developers need to thin out all the verbiage and thicken the rich content, and they need to bake in “download later” and instant email capabilities.

2. Give reps what they want.

And what do they want? They want a broad range of flexible tools that are easy to select and customize for each visit. Like the HCPs, they want rich content and less clutter. And they want an app that a normal human without a degree in computer science can use effectively while under time pressure. Usability is just as important as content, but far too many reps in our survey complained of inconsistent design, trouble finding the right place to tap, missing links, required gestures that are too complex, response latency, and other usability headaches.

Strong app designers who inherently understand usability will deliver apps that won’t stress out your reps.

3. Give it to them more frequently.

If you remember nothing else from this discussion of digital sales aids, remember this: nothing enhances digital sales aid app usage rates more than updates. According to our research, apps that are updated only once during the course of a year have a usage rate of just 39 percent, but two updates per year push that usage rate up to 55 percent, and three or more drives it to 74 percent. This should not come as a surprise to anyone – after all, what physician wants to see the same content over and over again? But plenty of brands out there in the wild are still updating annually or biannually – likely a habit carried over from the print-it-and-forget-it days.

So in order for a digital sales aid to continue to be effective beyond the first two months or so – the point at which reps usually run out of content from the core app and HCPs start asking, “Can you show me something new?” – the brand team has to start adding what we call “boosts.”

What is a boost? It’s a new app component that helps augment the brand’s core clinical story – what the HCPs saw in the first two months – with something a little more interactive and responsive, often tied to milestones like medical conferences or health awareness months, or to regional or national sales meetings. Boost applications can be compartmentalized to areas like MOA, interactive visualizations of patient responses to therapy, convention events, timely product updates, new drug comparison data, patient education materials – basically anything out there that can serve to augment the clinical tale that appeared on day one, and that takes an angle that wouldn’t be expected on the first visit but might serve to keep a HCP’s attention on the third or seventh or tenth.

For example, a brand came out with a new formulation and new treatment regimen. Neurologists weren’t used to working out the proper dosage or explaining the new regimen to patients. So we created a simple interactive tool that reps could share with HCPs to help them calculate the right dosing based on inputs such as patient weight. It also provided talking points for counseling patients on the new regimen.
It is important to note that this boost was planned as part of the sales calendar, not just ad hoc based on some fortuitous occurrence. The brand team knew well in advance that the new formulation would be coming, so the boost was built into the app deployment calendar from the beginning. While unexpected but useful surprises may always pop up, the timing, content, and deployment of boosts should be a part of the app development conversation from the very start. Or, put another way, on January 1st when your digital sales aid launches you should already know what new features will be appearing in it on March 1st, May 1st, and July 1st and should be hard at work building those features, if you haven’t built them already.

Bottom line – building a strong digital sales aid isn’t a one-time activity, or even a once-a-year activity. If you set it and forget it for more than a month or two, your reps will do the same. Doing DSAs right means having long-term strategy like a chess grandmaster, knowing what the next ten moves will be and having them ready when the time comes. And those aids need to do a better job of fulfilling the needs and expectations of actual sales reps and physicians; they need to stop looking like print materials moved to a digital medium and start looking like every other component of modern digital life, with rich media and interactive tools and frequent updates and consumer-grade usability. Do all that, and your DSA might do more than just win awards; it might actually boost sales.