Sales Management: A Sample Plan - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Sales Management: A Sample Plan
One of the industry's most important promotional tools is also one of its least understood. Patrick Burns, of BW Analytics, discusses new approaches to measuring the impact of sampling—and giving reps the tools they need to use samples better.


Pharmaceutical Executive


This momentum effect is different for every physician and disease class. So you can't say that there's a standard momentum effect for samples that works in every disease market. You can withdraw spending and cut your budget, and you may not actually see the impact to your overall market share for six months. If you're not paying attention and you don't monitor the relationship between sampling and prescribing behavior, you may not actually attribute loss in share over time to what you've done with your sampling budget.

When you say you can withdraw spending and see the effect over time, are you talking specifically about spending on samples?

Yes. For this client, we developed a method by which we could measure the responsiveness of a physician to a product sample. The question becomes, "How responsive are doctors relative to sampling versus relative to the detail?" Then, "How responsive are they relative to meetings and events, journal advertising, and so on?"

The trick is for reps to look at each tactic in isolation and say, "Okay, give me the sample data that shows how many samples were dropped at all physicians over the last six months. Then give me their total prescription count [TRx] data for that same period. Then I'll look at the ratio of sampling to TRx." That kind of analysis ignores the impacts of all other media, which allows managers to tease out the individual impact of samples versus details.

Do you think that most companies do this?

No. There is good analysis being done at several pharma companies, but how that analysis is being incorporated into the overall marketing strategy is another story. We've noticed a big disconnect between the analysis around sampling and how it ultimately is implemented so that sales reps in the field can benefit from the information. A lot of times, it's simply the territory manager or the district manager not wanting to disrupt what's been considered a valid mindset: Samples get us into the office and we don't want to mess with that. The reps know what they're doing.

Reps absolutely have tremendous intuition about their physicians. They know them better than anybody in the organization, but it's still too hard for a single individual to process all the information in a way that allows the pharma company to understand the relative impact of samples versus details, versus other things.

And why is that important?

Well, if a pharma company knows that sampling accounts for X percent of Dr. Jones' responsiveness, a custom-tailored marketing mix can be created for that physician, as opposed to delivering a marketing mix that's designed for a whole class of physicians. Knowing the ratio of physicians' responsiveness can help companies know how much to invest in sampling to each physician. The basic economic premise here is you keep investing until your marginal return is zero. You keep sampling until a point of saturation, where additional samples are not going to make a physician write any more prescriptions. That's the Holy Grail of promotion-response modeling. Having that information helps managers realize ways that sales reps can fine-tune their approaches in ways that result in additional prescriptions for the same level of sampling.

Is that feasible though, to have a marketing plan that is customized per physician?

Sure. The analogy to that from the financial services industry is the case where companies like Capital One pioneer the concept of an information-based strategy that results in mass customization. Financial services companies develop millions and millions of consumer lending products that they test in the marketplace, and determine that certain subsets of this large national population are more apt to use a credit card when it's a loyalty card, or when it has no annual maintenance fee. Clearly, pharma is unique, because it involves a physician-patient relationship; the patient isn't the ultimate purchaser that you're marketing to per se. So there is added complexity, but the same concepts should apply.


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