Marketing to Professionals: Under the Influence
Marketers can identify and categorize these local leaders into social and technical networks. The social network includes doctors, mainly specialists, who interact socially, exchange patient stories, and value anecdotal data about a product. The technical network comprises doctors who serve as formal, technical resources and product educators for other doctors. While both networks appeal to different kinds of physicians, they each hold the power to influence the prescribing behavior of their peers.
This network also helps doctors weed through the many medications and treatment options. To better understand the safety and efficacy of available treatment options, prescribers often rely on the help of their physician friends. During the personal time they spend together, these physicians discuss conditions, medication options, and patient reactions. Often, they make prescription decisions based on these informal conversations.
In both networks, doctors exhibit a high level of influence and connectivity, as their impact often extends beyond prescribers in their specialty. They can influence generalists too, through their referral and consulting relationships. They don't have to be high prescribers—but they must be well connected in the medical community. Most importantly, they must like the products they prescribe, as doctors won't recommend products they dislike.
Each network has a few key opinion leaders who may not feel positively about certain products. They may be ambivalent or apathetic about the drug. They may lack experience with the therapy or a proper understanding of its use and side effects. They may have just had a bad experience with it.
Pharma does not want these doctors to communicate negative opinions about a product. Therefore, to leverage these networks to affect local prescribing, marketers must determine which doctors in the network are opponents and proponents of their products.
Even opponents can be transformed into believers. Marketers should create targeted strategies to address these doctors' concerns and hesitations. For example, marketers can invite opponents and doctors who believe in the product to the same dinner meeting or roundtable discussion. In time, marketers can overcome doctors' resistance to certain products.
Finding these influential physicians can be a challenge. Marketers must continually assess the value of their key opinion leaders and the impact they have on creating brand awareness. Doctors' reputations change, and so do their opinions about the drugs they prescribe. Marketers must communicate with these key opinion leaders and other physicians in the network to keep tabs on their prescribing behavior and attitudes towards products.
Susan Dorfman is a senior strategic consultant at Dendrite. She can be reached at email@example.com
Jerry Maynor is director of PMP Global Strategic Solutions at Dendrite. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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