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The sleek, portable iPad, coupled with customized apps, gives sales reps a leg up
As competition grows in the pharmaceutical industry, particularly with generic products representing many of today's dispensed prescriptions, sales representatives are under more pressure than ever. Busy physicians are hurrying sales reps out of their offices, allowing less and less time for presentations. Meanwhile, reps are expected to showcase more products. In fact, according to a June 2010 survey by market research firm SK&A, one physician in four refuses to see drug and device sales people under any circumstances, while most of the others prefer or require that sales reps at least make appointments for one-on-one meetings. It's not surprising then that attempting to present and sell products when crunched for time is an all too common predicament for the sales force. This is where the iPad comes in.
Pharmaceutical sales forces are gradually learning that the iPad has much to offer. Need to run down the hall to grab the attention of that physician you've been trying to get a hold of? With a one-and-a-half-pound iPad, this is no longer a problem. Portability is a major benefit of the slick tablet computer for field sales reps used to lugging clunky laptops. In addition to being lightweight, the iPad has other major advantages: Sales reps can show videos, demos, reports, graphs, charts, and other rich media with no boot-up time. With its quick draw, the iPad is ready to go at the push of a button. Its appearance is much more attractive and impressive to the eye, helping grab the attention of busy doctors immediately. First impressions mean everything in this industry. If a doctor eyes another rep coming toward him, he can choose whether or not he will pursue the meeting even before any information has been delivered. Once the engagement is made, that's when the iPad makes the most impact.
The iPad Advantage
While the number of physicians willing to see sales reps is dropping, the number of doctors using smartphones, iPads, and medical apps is skyrocketing. According to EPG Health Media's October 2010 study on smartphone use in healthcare, 81 percent of US physicians own a smartphone. Even more, nearly 40 percent of physicians in a recent survey by Aptilon say they will purchase an iPad in the coming year. And of those physicians already owning an iPad, just about 60 percent say they use it for medical tasks such as reviewing patient data and completing paperwork.
It is evident that physicians tend to like gadgets—and the iPad in particular. Having not only the latest device, but one the doctor is familiar with and interested in, can serve as a new talking point for sales reps. While reps typically struggle to secure two minutes of time with a physician to pitch a product, it is now not so uncommon to see the conversation lasting much longer, although not necessarily focused strictly on the product being pitched. After 10 minutes of iPad talk, a relationship has been established, something very difficult to do otherwise.
With meetings on the quick, sales reps must be prepared with a device that has the ability to respond to any questions that might arise in that moment. If a rep is waiting for a laptop to load, shuffling through papers, or clicking around on different programs to locate a data point or file, the doctor is out of time and the opportunity is lost.
The ease of the iPad allows for touch-screen presentations with interactive content, enabling a much more engaging experience. It brings a new form of interaction to the table for the sales force—with its size and bright, bold display—and helps gain and maintain attention. With multimedia tools for that added "wow" effect, the digital detailing landscape has entered a new era.
Sales and marketing presentations can be enhanced with downloadable applications, even industry-specific applications—popularly known as "apps." The appropriate apps allow users to access files, collaborate on documents stored in the cloud (see feature story, "The Sky is NO Limit"), print from anywhere and more. By using apps to populate the iPad with relevant points, pharma reps can reinforce their sales messages and tailor their content to their product, company, and targeted customer.
Beyond readily available apps, some companies utilize customized apps, which allow them to accomplish the specific functionality they require—and stand out from the competition. Standard apps are designed to be generic, so that they can be used by a multitude of companies. While standard apps sometimes allow users configuration options to better fit their environment, this by no means enables them to perform certain functions specifically the way they want to do them within their organization. A customized app allows companies to gain competitive advantage by accomplishing tasks that are otherwise unavailable to other companies. For example, an app might be tailored specifically to the product being sold, and branded and formatted physically to represent that particular company. The type of functions involved go way beyond the capabilities of standard apps. They make a statement.
Imagine this scenario: Your competitors have iPads and have also purchased pertinent apps from Apple's App Store. How can you find a way to leave a lasting impression with the same doctor they've already pitched? You also have an iPad and have downloaded the appropriate apps. However, there is one major difference: You have a custom app that's not only visibly different than theirs, but also allows you to present different statistics for whatever variables you believe would be the most compelling to the physician. Only you and your company have access to the app. The iPad certainly is a must-have tool, but the way in which it is implemented and what apps are downloaded make all the difference to successfully stand out among other pharmaceutical companies and products.
For example, for a rep selling a cardiovascular pharmaceutical product, his sales pitch would emphasize certain data points. He might want to show what a patient's blood pressure would be with his product, without his product, and with a competitor's product. In addition to showing these types of results, the rep can also help the doctor quantify things from a business perspective by showing how much less time a patient will spend in the operating room and how much money will be saved as a result of using this specific product. Therefore, it's extremely beneficial for the rep to have the ability to enter certain statistics on-the-fly, as requested by the physician to compare and contrast different data points, variables, and products.
According to a recent BusinessWeek article, Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. confirms that it will buy 1,300 iPads for its sales representatives in Japan to market the company's medicines. Abbott Labs, a maker of both drugs and medical devices, will roll out about 1,000 iPads to US sales representatives on the drug side, according to a Wall Street Journal article. With that said, it seems that iPads are quickly becoming a necessity for the pharma sales force to gain interest from doctors and keep up with their competition. Beyond that, to beat out the competition, the sales force needs to be creative with their presentations, using customized apps to deliver more compelling, supporting data points to sales prospects.
Robert Neumann is Vice President of Cloud Computing & Mobile Apps at Dreaming Code. He can be reached at Robert@DreamingCode.com