Pharm Exec: You've been looking at this industry and sales force automation for nearly 20 years. What are some major changes you've observed?
I used to run a market research company that specialized in understanding doctors' prescribing patterns. I interviewed tens of thousands of doctors and analyzed all the things that made a doctor make a prescription choice.When I went on the road with the sales reps, I noticed two things: They continued to sell from the eight-page glossy and run their pen along the bottom of the paragraphs so that the doctor could understand the words, and they called on the doctors they had appointments with rather than the doctors who were actually the most appropriate. The disconnect between marketing and sales became really, really clear.
We invented what became known as sales force automation. Initially the goal was to carry the information that reps held in those days on doctor cards. But when I had a close look at the disconnect between product positioning and sales execution, and it was really that juxtaposition that brought us to merge these two things: first of all, the automation of the sales recording process and the positioning, and the marketing execution of product positions. Today's systems are deeply driven by customer level data, and their aim is to help the sales reps better understand and better relate to the customers in what is basically a very scientific interface at its very best.
At its best, the detail call is an extraordinary time when high science meets the practical prescriber. And modern SFA systems are designed to make that interface as effective and productive as possible. But it has taken 20 years for that to become an accepted premise and an accepted industry practice.
Has the US pharma industry taken full advantage of the capabilities of automation?
These systems more likely to be stressed in countries like the UK or Australia where there's a high number of one-appointment-per-year doctors. Consequently, the rep has to use a meeting with the doctor effectively. But if the rep uses a SFA system to follow up with the doctor for the rest of the year, he can manage the flow of other information to that doctor between these wide-spaced appointments.
This is an example of what we would like to try more of in the United States—we're already being forced to cut back on doctor calls in some places. It shows how the same technology serves different needs in different countries, and this is one area where fewer interfaces with the doctor still requires nonpersonal bridging. Instead of just walking away, the rep can follow up with information that says: "This is something I know is of interest to you. I've done some research, and I hope you find it valuable." It's a different sort of a relationship than we've expected from our reps in the past ten years.