Unleash the Tablets

Reps have been armed with tablet PCs, but are they trained to use these powerful tools?
May 01, 2005

Anthony Manson
For most pharma companies, winning share of voice is no longer enough to deliver the necessary growth in prescriptions. To make an impact with healthcare professionals, forward-looking companies have begun developing service reps into consultants and valuable scientific resources. Part of that investment involves getting the best technology on board—technology that empowers the field force with knowledge that translates into messages, and detail aids that resonate with their customers.

In particular, several companies have adopted tablet PCs, stylus-based, flip-screen laptops that can be synched with enterprise sales force automation (SFA) solutions. By using the computer and closed-loop marketing software, reps can leverage physician marketing information from the call database, enabling them to deliver personalized details with engaging digital content. Tablets also allow information to flow from healthcare professionals to reps: During details, they can collect and analyze practice patterns and brand perception, allowing brand teams to better and more quickly understand what physicians are thinking.

More than 10,000 tablet PCs have already been deployed to pharma sales reps at Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and GlaxoSmith Kline, among other companies, and that number is expected to double by the end of 2006, according to Proscape Technologies. Indeed, instead of "carrying the bag," the modern rep is "carrying the tablet."

Amy Katzenberg
But in their rush to get these computers into reps' hands, pharma companies can't forget one crucial step—training. "Empowering reps with not just clinical and brand training but technology training will ensure that sales reps of the future deliver more impactful messages compared to today's standard," says Gary Schwartz, an executive at the sales training company HealthAnswers Education.

To that end, companies need to ensure they are developing deployment strategies that cause minimum disruption in the sales process and properly equip reps with the information they need to most effectively use this new tool.

Deployment Starts Here The following tips are applicable for managers whose employees are using tablet computers or those who are considering their use.

Dive deep on strategic analysis It's no longer enough for reps to conduct pre-planning and call planning; companies must examine segmentation and predictive modeling to build a personalized detail. Brand teams should evaluate longitudinal data to distinguish segments of healthcare professionals that are moving toward your brand from those that are moving away from your brand. Only then can the team determine the optimal message matrix to foster—or change—physicians' perceptions and practice patterns.

Optimize rollout strategies Companies should conduct a pilot rollout in one geographic region before rolling tablets out on a national level. During this pilot, management should be measuring lifts in sales, the time reps spend with physicians, the number of detail messages reps relate per call, and the overall feedback from each rep.

Companies should also start by targeting one or two segments, such as "loyalists" and "nonbelievers," rather than going after every demographic. This allows reps to build familiarity with the technology and create some benchmarks around key measures, such as average time spent with physicians.

Maximizing the full potential of the tablet PC requires a larger effort, with full SFA system integration and developing personalized message flow for multiple segments of physicians. The cost of development, tracking, and training can escalate considerably in this scenario, but the quality of the physician interaction is also greatly increased. Most companies find a positive impact on ROI, and that the increased spend is well worth it.

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