Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Ongoing Dilemma of Physician Access and Selling

The issue of physician access has always been present. In years past pharmaceutical companies employed thousand of representatives to “detail” their product message.  As the shift in healthcare has accelerated in the past couple of years, many representatives have found it increasingly difficult if not impossible to gain an audience with the physician.  A number of these operational challenges loom large in the future of pharmaceutical sales:
  1. Improving sales productivity per person
  2. Growing sales volume significantly
  3. Improving relationships with customers to create value
  4. Increasing sales force profitability
  5. Finding better ways to measure performance
  6. Improving customer service
  7. Retraining the sales force
The consultative selling approach is the biggest trend today, and pharmaceutical representatives are using it to redefine their roles. Consultative refers to a style of selling in which the pharmaceutical rep devotes more time to investigating and analyzing physician needs and less time in presenting products and service. The term comes from the consulting professions in which clients hire professionals to analyze problems and offer recommendations. It involves much more than asking good questions and listening to the answers although both are critical to successful consultation. This approach is generally yields more value according to physicians because the exchange of information is based a inherent trust in the relationship.

Consultative selling requires the sales person and/or company to bring expertise to the table. It demands high levels of knowledge, strategy, and skill all grounded in a thorough understanding of the pharmaceutical selling process. The physician's ever growing time and patient demands require company's to bring clear, concise and accurate information to every encounter.  We believe access remains an issue for those representatives who are not providing that value. Today’s successful reps are not only positioning themselves as a great resource but also delivering value that helps the physician in improving treatment outcomes.  

The next issue involves pharmaceutical marketing, which has not caught up with physician’s response to the 'demand' issues.  It is a proven fact that physicians are using online, digital channels and social media to stay abreast of information.  However, the pharmaceutical industry spends less than 5% of their budgets on online initiatives to reach them.  We believe marketing integration of alternative channels will lead companies to improved physician access. 

Physicians have continued to reflect the need for pharmaceutical sales rep information, including but not limited to promotional education, patient and disease state education material.  But healthcare professionals also need flexibility with which they get that information.

The companies that assertively integrate pharmaceutical reps with online programs provide a holistic approach to educating physicians about conditions, drug therapies, and patient treatment options.  This integration can also reinforce the role a representative can establish as a "trusted adviser" to the medical community.  This process accrues value to companies as trusted partners by build lasting relationships while growing product sales.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Engaging Customers in Today’s Challenging Pharmaceutical Sales Environment

The drastic changes to the pharmaceutical industry over the past many years has had a harsh effect on the pharmaceutical and biotech industry and it's efforts to engage both physicians and key opinion leaders within the health care community. It appears pharma has found a healthy middle ground in their approach to creating value with healthcare providers as a result and is creating better working parameters for physician interaction. Pharmaceutical and biotech companies have been strong partners in the healthcare continuum and should continue to work closely with healthcare providers to create a scientific alliance that brings value to the relationship through good clinical and scientific exchange of knowledge.  This collaborative exchange has delivered better treatment outcomes. So the issue remains as to how to engage today’s physicians and demonstrate value.

The action steps necessary to create value and engage physicians include several key steps. We believe the following are some major areas that will set the path to successful engagement.
  1. Engage customers with assurance and confidence that representatives create value for healthcare professionals and their patients. The vast amount of clinical information the physician needs to sort through can be daunting. If the rep can be an expert in a therapeutic area for not only your product but also your competitor’s there is value for both physician and patient. It sounds like old news but knowing everything about a particular disease state builds credibility and trust.
  2. Focus on continuous learning. The pharmaceutical industry got away from true continuous learning years ago as it got caught up in share of voice and the sheer number of calls that "needed" to be made to providers. The old saying that “knowledge is power” is still true today. Representatives must strive to learn all they can about what they are promoting. Just because your company does not provide the training, should not mean the rep should not take on the responsibility themselves.  It is imperative representatives have a thirst for learning and lead by suggesting new ideas.
  3. Establish a relationship built on trust with the healthcare provider. It includes learning about both professional and personal interests by listening to the customer needs and providing the best solution for those needs.  It is a critical step for success, even if the solution does not include your company's product. The integrity and credibility a rep creates is immeasurable. By providing fair and balanced responses a representative can establish respect and more than likely help the customer determine the best course of therapy.
  4. Use and leverage social media and digital channels as an information source. This is an effective and growing part of creating both value and strengthening relationships with healthcare professionals.  While industry says they have adopted the use of digital services, they still have yet to provide value to physicians and patients because of the regulatory challenges in promotion. It is important that representatives continue to push their management teams to allow the use of Internet channels as credible sources of information.   
So what are the early results and achievements from these steps? The industry will become more visible with their work and research. This will help both the companies and physicians more clearly and effectively communicate with one another. We believe it can demonstrate the value of the products the industry develops and delivers. By telling their own story, representatives can create transparency, develop trust and belief in what companies are doing provides value. 

The amount of clear, concise medical information the industry produces not only on it's products but the associated disease state is significant.  A recent study in Europe by the Manhattan Research Group showed that more than two-thirds of physicians wanted to direct their patients to pharmaceutical product sites for information. The research and ongoing activity demonstrate physicians not only trust pharmaceutical companies information but value it as well. 

Finally,online activities are having a significant impact on physician’s professional lives and the value the place upon it. There has been a double-digit growth in the consultation of online educational resources since 2007. Some highlights to show the importance of making sure online information is presented in a rigorous and disciplined manner is critical. In 2007, the average physician spent 9.5 hours per week online; in 2010, this figure had risen to 14 hours. Of those physicians who use the Internet for professional purposes, 83% said this was essential to their practice.

In summary, the ability to engage providers in a meaningful manner and develop trust has changed in some ways while in some respects remains the same because the process instills confidence and most importantly value for the physician. Technology and new information stream into healthcare daily. A representative must know their products, become an expert in their field and strive to read and learn daily.  This will present the representative as fair and balanced while establishing a relationship built on trust and credibility.