• 25 SEP 12
    • 1
    Part II – Private social networking for pharma sales – why it's a winner

    Part II – Private social networking for pharma sales – why it's a winner

    In Part 1 of our series we introduced the idea of a minimalistic private social network for doctors and pharma sales representatives.

    In Part 2 of the series, we look closer at private social networking for pharma sales by examining  the alternatives, the strategic groups and why and when reps trade up or down for a face-to-face meeting.

    Pharmas are like most companies:

    • They define their industry similarly, focusing on being the best.
    • Look at accepted strategic groups of doctors and market segments e.g. oncology
    • Focus on the same buyer groups – e.g influencers (doctors and thought leaders)
    • Define the scope of products similarly e.g. oncology therapeutics, supportive care and in-vitro diagnostics.
    • Accept the functional/emotional orientation of their buyers e.g. high-tech oncologists and low-tech general practitioners
    • Focus on the same point in time and current competitive threats in formulating strategy; e.g. Polish and Swedish regulation prohibiting visits to doctors during business hours.

    There are lots of alternatives to face-to-face meetings

    There has been over the past 5-10 years a great deal of work on using video conferencing for improving the interaction with a doctor and pharmaceutical company.

    The problem with video conferencing is that is a very poor substitute for a face-to-face meeting and it is not very persistent – the effect wears off quickly.

    Speaking to people in the field, we saw that there is a plethora of e-detailing, CLM and video and web conferencing offerings. We know that pharmas weigh alternatives when choosing eMarketing tools and we observed that these offerings provide limited alternatives by assuming that a) medical representatives will continue to sell door-to-door and b) the primary driver of these technologies is the CIO (chief information officer of the pharma).

    There are many horizontal solutions for video detailing, CLM, eLearning and video conferencing with no vertical integration. Vendors that started in the late 90s are either out of business or in another business.

    Many pharmas already use systems from vendors like Agnitio, Clinical Information Network, Aptilon, Cinteros, Proscape and Skura. (GSK is a Proscape Tablet PC user and Novartis is a Skura user for example). The marketing messages go something like this:

    • Improve sales-force productivity
    • Create competitive differentiation by transforming sales forces into valuable resources that help physicians improve patient care
    • Strengthen relationships with high-value physicians
    • Optimize collaboration between sales and marketing
    • Reduce printing, administrative, and distribution costs associated with sales and marketing
    • Leverage new data insights to improve overall sales and marketing effectiveness
    • Increase company wide performance

    Why not convert the entire sales force to desktop video?

    Consider this: Why do pharmas continue to use conventional sales techniques instead of converting all their sales forces to high-end tablets and video conferencing?

    They choose conventional marketing for only one reason: costs. Conventional marketing avoids the multi-million dollar investment of software, hardware, IT integration, security and supporting and maintaining thousands of endpoint tablets and video-conferencing.

    Consider the flip side: Why do pharmas choose CLM and/or e-detailing technology?

    Certainly it is not to pay the investment cost in software, hardware and integration.

    Nor is it to to have dedicated support heads to provide care for hardware and application software issues in the field.

    Rather, pharmas buy eMarketing to customize presentations based on doctor profile, reduce paper and test what is successful in the field while supporting face-to-face sales contact.

    What makes a pharma trade up or down between low cost web conferencing and higher-cost personal sales calls?

    Alternatives in general can generally be ranked in two dimensions – price and performance.

    For example – desktop Web conferencing services like Webex and GotoMeeting are a fraction of the price of proprietary conferencing systems from vendors like Polycom and Sony while providing a fraction of the audio and video quality. Proscape emphasizes higher performance in their marketing collateral (at a higher price) whereas Cinteros emphasizes a lower cost system pre-integrated with Microsoft CRM.

    They choose Web conferencing for special events and/or training; for example the “Specialty Excipient Market for Oral Solid-Dosage Webinar” conducted by GSK using the Webex service.

    The ability to run an ad-hoc event on a service like Webex is appealing to pharmas like GSK – as no IT infrastructure is required and the cost is a marketing expense, not an IT capital investment. Polish government legislation enacted Dec 1, 2008, prohibits medical representatives from visiting doctors during visiting hours.

    This created motivation for pharmas in Poland to trade up to Web conferencing in order to increase effectiveness of a field sales force that was suddenly constrained by available face-to-face visiting hours.

    Consider the flip side: why do Medical representatives and doctors resist new technology?

    The average rep doesn’t trade down a face-to-face meeting with a doctor to a Webex or desktop video presentation for the pleasure of dealing with Java applets, scratchy voice-over-IP connections, 3G connectivity and buggy app issues.

    The average medical sales representative does not even want to deal with the technical issues and is not inspired by the thought of installing Windows updates.

    As for “new data insights” and CRM integration – a rep does not perceive IT and data mining as contributing to her sales figures and as for doctors – the novelty of seeing a presentation on a Tablet PC quickly wears off.

    What do the buyers have to say about all this?

    Like most industries, the pharmaceutical firms have converged around a common definition of who the target buyer is: namely the doctor.

    That is why medical sales representatives visit doctors.

    Increasingly however, this is not the case as the prescriber-influencers and committees often have the say on which medication is bought and distributed by a healthcare organization.

    Two anecdotes suggested to us that a pharma can use social media for healthcare to move upstream from doctors to pharmacists with low incremental cost.

    A conversation with the chief pharmacist of a large HMO revealed the following insight – pharmacists are a key influencer to end users in the buyer chain for high margin OTC drugs, but they also have difficulty keeping pace with the indications. The chief pharmacist tells how he visits HMO clinics and tests pharmacists – instructing them to learn and understand the indications on the label for every drug in their drawers.


    After the Israeli Superpharm chain launched a line of homeopathic creams from Floris, Superpharm pharmacists not only stopped recommending the Novartis anti-inflammatory Voltarene– they now hard-sell against Voltarene (talking about ulcer risk) and hard-sell the Floris arnica-based gel instead.

    Social media for healthcare can offer a pharmacist practical information on indications and reinforce marketing messages.

    Social media for healthcare can offer pharmas a controlled channel for blogging by well known medical authorities. These would feature independent opinions, and be moderated; ensuring that the industry experts are able to provide objective information on efficacy of drugs and evidence-based prescription and help pharmas enforce compliance with FDA regulation prohibiting off-label promotion. (See “Off Label Promotion, On-Target Sales”, Adriane Fugh-Berman and Douglas Melnick).

    Added benefits of private social networking for medical sales reps

    There may be untapped value for social media for healthcare in the work context.

    Female medical sales representatives with small children have a challenging time balancing family, children and their sales quotas.

    Private social networking provides the ability for working mothers to sell from home, creating content, supporting colleagues and interacting inside their private social network with their doctors without losing touch by not being in the field all the time.

    Private social networking for sales  has both emotional and functional appeal.

    IT products in general compete on price, function and utility, while other industries like fashion, compete on feelings and emotions.

    Medical representatives and doctors run a relationship business built on both functional and emotional connections. For example – being well-dressed and attractive is a key selling point for a female representative in Israel.

    A meeting with a rep breaks the routine of a doctor’s hard work day and is fun – seeing a presentation, getting samples, being invited to conferences and seminars.

    The medical representatives who used a prototype version of a private social network for pharma sales to were enthusiastic about the ability to have another tool at their disposal in order to maintain the doctor relationship in yet another dimension, and felt that the use of social networking in medical sales was a natural trend.

    Private  social networking for sales is the way of the future

    All industries are subject to external trends and pharmaceutical sales is no exception.  Social media is growing rapidly in parallel to adoption of tablets and smartphones, empowering sales reps to reach out to more customers in less time and with lower costs.

    This plays well into other macro-economic trends – growing energy costs,  rapidly dropping communications costs, more regulation and a growing  feeling of social responsibility (See Sanofi-Aventis, “More about people, less about drugs” )

    People are networking in many ways today – and social media for healthcare is part of this trend.


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