For a long time, pharmaceutical sales representatives sold mainly through face-to-face meetings with physicians. And for a long time, this sales strategy worked. However, modern patients are increasingly educating themselves and are becoming more knowledgeable about their available healthcare options. Before this transition patients essentially listened and accepted a physician’s course of recommended treatment, raising few to no questions. Yet as sites like WebMd and online medical communities like PatientsLikeMe cropped up and boomed in popularity, patients have obtained a new power of informity. They can find information on ailments and medicinal treatments and provide reviews and feedback on physicians or clinics. This has pushed sales reps to pursue other channels, like digital pharmaceutical sales.
At that, today’s more informed patient is also taking a more active role in managing their own care. Based on what they find online, they’re searching out clinics that are teaming with doctors who engage with them and willingly offer multiple care alternatives that place the primary focus on the value rather than the volume of treatment outcomes. This attitude has changed how physicians practice, now offering more personalized, simplified, transparent and efficient healthcare solutions than ever before.
In short, it’s all about patient centricity.
Zooming In On Patient Centricity Practices
Because physicians have transitioned to patient-centric practices, their interactions with pharmaceutical companies have evolved to become limited. For instance, an increasing number of physicians are placing moderate to severe restrictions on sales rep visits, making it incredibly difficult for sales reps to get their foot in the door for in-person, face-to-face sales meetings. Reasons for these restrictions include increased regulations, decreased physician power, clinical time constraints and a growing distrust of information provided by the pharmaceutical industry. In eyeforpharma’s recent report, they noted that many physicians share the feeling that interacting with sales representatives offers them little value. But rather than holding a white knuckling grip onto these traditional sales models, we’re seeing the pharmaceutical business model shift the lens away to increase their focus on digital pharmaceutical sales strategies.
To combat these restrictions on sales rep visits, pharmaceutical companies have slowed down sending out single sales reps out with a single product offering. Instead, it’s becoming increasingly effective for a wider group of people to work in roles at the educator level to discuss the real scientific innovation of their pharmaceutical products. As eyeforpharma points out, digital pharmaceutical sales channels have been adopted, due in part to the sales rep’s ability to see and act upon the company’s activities in digital channels.
Layering Digital Pharmaceutical Sales Into Traditional Models
With a growing repository of digital technologies to choose from, pharmaceutical companies are reinventing the wheel when it comes to sales strategies. Traditional models are being infused with digital service models to further buyer interaction. MediaPost reported that high-performing mobile campaigns deliver a 17 percent return on investment, much higher than the median return of 7 percent. Mobility, being just one of many technologies, can make pharma sales teams more efficient than ever.
Just because companies are investing in digital pharmaceutical sales channels, doesn’t entail eliminating face-to-face selling. Some pharma reps chafe when approached about digitizing their strategies because they equate it with removing the human element of selling. Using mobile applications isn’t foreign to pharma reps, they’ve already used it to track and manage accounts. Instead, focusing on a digital strategy would fine tune familiar applications to enhance sales rep visits with value applicable to that specific physician. For instance, with a digital strategy, pharmaceutical companies can understand what a particular doctor’s performance care goals. The content for the sales rep visit can be customized with solutions that fit that specific doctor’s goals. In other words, digital strategies support sales reps visits by sending them out with better, more appropriate content.
The FDA’s Steps Towards Social Media
Undoubtedly, social media is one of the biggest players in patient centricity. It’s not uncommon to see people asking for opinions and recommendations on physicians, clinics, practices or sources of treatment. Social media is an open channel where patients can communicate and influence each other’s buying decisions. Despite its prevalence, pharmaceutical companies have not overtly embraced social media in their selling or marketing strategies. With little regulation and compliance issues, social media is to some nearly taboo.
The FDA acknowledged pharma’s interest entwined with its restraint in tapping into social media channels with draft guidance documents. To sum, they urge pharmaceuticals to publish communications that are entirely accurate, balanced and not misleading to consumers. In their guidance, the FDA repeatedly instructed pharmaceuticals to capture and archive full and proper records in social media communications including the author and date. Overtime, pharma’s interactions and engagement with patients over social channels will surely become more refined. For now, it can serve as a powerful tool to listen and educate themselves on what consumers are searching, discussing and advocating. Taking this wealth of information, pharmaceutical companies can leverage what people are discussing in real time to market clinical trial results, medical devices or new drugs.
Which Path Will Pharma Take?
Pharma executives are reimagining their sales force strategies as more pilots and tests are being run across companies. While digital pharmaceutical sales are currently being embraced, how effective has it been for sales reps so far? Some pharmaceuticals render digital as a new channel to engage with stakeholders. Yet others render it as an entirely new way of doing business.
For now, digital pharmaceutical sales trends are being implemented with strong investments mainly in European pharmaceutical companies. Ipsen, a French pharmaceutical company headquartered in Paris, France, is an example of this transition. Ipsen has been planning to realign their sales strategy with a focus on digital strategy since it was first proposed in 2014. This year, Ipsen plans to embed early successful pilots deep into the company’s business processes. The goal of which is simple and shared by nearly all pharmaceutical companies: to fend off disruptive competitors and enhance the patient experience.
As more US pharmaceuticals are showing signs of focusing digital pharmaceutical sales strategies onto more digital methodologies, it looks to be that there will be growth in this particular channel over the next few years.
Millions of dollars are being invested in training each year. But how are organizations measuring the effectiveness of their training, especially soft skills training like sales? At Richardson, Eileen Krantz, Vice President of Client Analytics, has discovered that some clients believe that there is just an inherent value in providing quality sales training, others are more concerned with just aligning training with the sales strategy, and some develop a comprehensive measurement strategy to isolate the financial return on their investment.