Alternative Channel Strategies
Let's face it—pharma couldn't ignore the dropping ROI on face-to-face detailing forever. Increasing patient and administrative
loads for physicians, hospitals and group practices restricting sales visits, and the new PhRMA guidelines adopted in 2009
have put the face-to-face detailing model under even more pressure than ever before.
Many companies have decided to cope by turning to alternative sales channel strategies—and yes, it even seems that some doctors
are waiting for them. According to a 2008 September market study by Manhattan Research, about 45,000 US physicians meet with
sales reps via online video, while more than 300,000 others show interest in interacting with sales or other company reps
online. Of the physicians already participating in live video detailing sessions, they do so with an average of seven reps
per month. "Incorporating live video details in the physician-sales rep relationship can be a win-win for both," says Meredith
Abreu Ressi, vice president of research at Manhattan Research. "It can be a cost-effective strategy for sales forces looking
to reach physicians spread out over a wide territory, and physicians enjoy the flexibility and interactive features the sessions
Ortho-McNeil Neurologics, a division of Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, added a technology-based alternative sales channel
to the cornerstone of their sales strategy in September 2007. The incorporation of Aptilon's AxcelRxSM live video detailing
service links sales reps with key physicians. "We place a high priority on meeting the informational needs of our customers,"
says Denice Torres, vice president, marketing, for Ortho-McNeil Neurologics. "The dynamic healthcare market and growth of
technology present us with both a need and an opportunity to develop better customer solutions. Our goal is to lead the industry
in delivering meaningful information to customers when, where, and how it is most convenient."
Merck, which states that its new commercial model is designed to be more cost-effective and responsive to customers' needs,
also uses Aptilon to enable large numbers of rep-physician interactions. At the physician's convenience, a live sales rep
can be reached with the click of a mouse. Says Aptilon President Denis Martineau, "Merck's expanded commitment to the AxcelRx
alternative sales channel is a validation of its effectiveness and a demonstration of our 'Sales Force of the Future' strategic
approach that enhances sales force access and addresses productivity."
Still, electronic detailing only works if it's executed well. Mike Luby, CEO of TargetRx, underscores the opportunity for
pharma in the digital space, but cautions companies that it comes down to execution. "I see a lot of companies throwing things
at the wall to see what sticks," says Luby. "Efforts should be integrated and coordinated so that physicians get a consistent
theme and message."
According to TGaS Advisors' annual state of commercial operations benchmark survey, large-tier pharmas rated digital detailing
high on their list of priorities to evolving sales forces, with the most significant change pointing to the addition of closed-loop
marketing initiatives. "When we conducted this annual benchmark in 2007, there were not many firms that were even experimenting
with closed-loop marketing," says John Carro, vice president, management advisor, of TGaS Advisors. "But in 2008, a significant
number were either piloting or planning to implement it." Carro believes that the closed-loop marketing permits better data
capture on customers and can, for example, integrate electronic sampling with presentation content.
Across AstraZeneca's sales force, tablet PCs supplemented, rather then replaced, paper core visual aids in 2007. "Based on
our data, we are confident that e-detailing differentiates our pharmaceutical sales specialists, and provides a competitive
advantage. It's effective across the board because of AstraZeneca's continuous loop promotion initiative," says Mallon. "This
process ensures that our PSSs are delivering detailed information that is customized to the healthcare provider."