Marketing to Professionals: A Sample Plan

Sure, e-sampling can save money. But there are plenty of other reasons to use it.
Apr 01, 2006

David Duplay
Online sampling is a proven way to supplement traditional sample distribution. But most marketers still have important questions about the technique. How do you know if you're using online sampling to its full potential? Beyond controlling costs, what are the specific benefits that can be realized through e-sampling? And, looking forward, how can e-sampling be integrated into a physician's daily workflow?

There are about 250,000 primary care physicians in the United States. But roughly 80 percent are either not covered by a sales rep, are "no-see" doctors, or have recently lost sales force coverage. This chart shows what goals e-sampling advances for each group—including doctors covered by sales reps.
Let's start with benefits. E-sampling has several. First, it offers a way to realize the revenue potential of lower-decile physicians, something that hasn't really been possible to do cost-effectively until now. Typically, in the past, pharma companies simply bypassed low-prescribing physicians. But this group is highly sensitive to sample availability—they tend to change their prescribing based on what is in the sample closet. E-sampling allows pharma to pursue this group and the untapped revenue it represents.

Second, e-sampling offers a way to respond to some of today's most difficult market challenges: lost field coverage, a growing population of hard-to-see and no-see physicians, and highly competitive new category introductions. Even for well-resourced launch brands, it is difficult to rapidly achieve awareness and meet targets. One top-10 pharma director of sales operations estimated that 50 percent of doctors won't prescribe without samples—and that it can take four months to get samples into the hands of 95 percent of targeted physicians. E-sampling is a potential solution to that problem.

Finally, e-sampling will permit pharma companies to optimize sampling. This is partly a matter of improving sampling efficiency—a nearly universal brand goal, given budget pressures. But there are other issues, including the high cost of over-sampling and the dangers of revenue cannibalization. (It is generally believed that in heavily sampled brands, 30 to 60 percent of samples go to patients who would otherwise purchase the drug.) The few companies that have invested in sample optimization have seen some early gains, but they feel their ability to influence change is still limited; e-sampling could change that.

There are approximately 250,000 primary care prescribing physicians in the United States. But roughly 80 percent of doctors are either not covered by a sales rep, are no-see doctors, or have recently lost sales force coverage. Pharma companies have an interest in maintaining relations with each of these groups, and e-sampling can play a key role with each of them (see "Physician Segmentation").

Non-covered By focusing on non-covered MDs as a supplement to sample distribution by the sales force, marketers can drive revenue in this underserved market with a pull-based sampling system.

Lost-coverage E-sampling can help protect loyalty and share of writing by maintaining consistent and guaranteed sampling levels.

Hard-to-see This group includes doctors who can be seen only by appointment or in limited time windows, plus geographically remote doctors. For these physicians, online sampling can prevent sample shortages that open the door to competing brands.

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