Launch-targeting tricks

July 1, 1997

Pharmaceutical Representative

Two ways to make launch-targeting fun and rewarding.

We've all had it drilled into our heads that targeting is the simple secret of every successful rep. However, when it actually comes to practicing it in our own territories, targeting is rarely so simple or so effective.

Most managers define targeting as reps spending the most time with the top 10% to 20% of prescription writers in a particular class of drugs. They are also referring to where reps spend their business entertainment expenses, devote special attention, perform preceptorships and take rapport-building excursions. This classic method of sorting providers by prescription volume and drawing an arbitrary line is commonly known as launch targeting.

Drawing the line

Where the line is drawn determines how many providers are to be targeted. If our line is drawn to include the top 10 providers, then most (90% or more) of our time and other resources should be allocated here.

The size of the targeted group depends on a few factors. The first is the rep's product mix. If the product is the rep's only product or clearly the most important product, then the list is longer. If the product is a minor one, then the list is shorter.

Another factor is the territory geography. If the territory requires a great deal of travel, this shortens the list. If the territory does not require excessive travel, the list grows longer.

Launch-targeting is used to initially present a product to a territory's customers. It should be employed for the first six months following FDA approval or product launch. This method is used to rapidly get prescribing information to those who need it the most and to those who can benefit from the product launch the most. Usually, that means the top writers. Are they hard to see? Yes. Will this be a frustrating group to call on? Yes. Is there a better way to allocate resources in the launch phase? Unfortunately no.

As reps, we know that there are built-in difficulties with this approach. First of all, these providers (all prescription writers) are generally the most difficult to see. There is a reason they write so many prescriptions: They see a lot of patients! Another challenge is that every rep out there gets the same information. As a result, we have many reps with the same lists trying to see the same providers who have the least time to share.

Teasing and testing

Clearly our approach must stand out if we are to penetrate this saturated market. There are two techniques I use to grease the wheels when launch-targeting: teasing and testing.

Teasing: Teasing is done after the FDA approval has been announced, but before my company has organized its official launch. Here is a typical conversation I use in a teasing approach:

Me: Dr. Importante, my company is collecting some preliminary marketing information for a new Alzheimer's drug. The drug received FDA approval last week and we are trying to determine which physicians tend to treat Alzheimer's the most. To which of your colleagues do you generally refer most of your Alzheimer's patients?

Dr. Importante: Well, believe it or not, I actually treat most of my Alzheimer's patients myself. I generally only refer end-stage patients to a neurologist.

Me: Really! Would you say that's normal in this town or do most of the other family practitioners see Alzheimer's patients?

Dr. Importante: No, I definitely see more. So, tell me about this new drug.

Me: Well, I'm really sorry but I'm not allowed to. Would you like me to let you know when the drug is available?

Dr. Importante: Yes, in fact why don't we set up a time....

Do this a few times and it can really whet their appetite for your information.

I recently used this approach in launching a new drug. I did two monthly displays, 30 days apart, in a subspecialty clinic but I didn't display anything. Instead, I gave out great pastries and carried a clipboard. When they asked me what I had for them, I replied, "Well, nothing. My company is new in this field and I'm just collecting some information on how you treat this disease in the real world. Tell me something..."

Would you believe it worked? After the second display, I was frequently stopped in the halls of the hospital by these specialty doctors.

Testing: I use the testing approach after a product launch has begun and I'm ready to provide a full detail. Here's the idea: Tell a doctor you're going to practice your detail, give your detail and then ask what he or she thought of it.

This accomplishes two very important things: One, it really does test your detail and lets you know what, if anything, is wrong with it, and two, it forces the provider to listen enough to provide honest feedback.

Launch away!

Launch-targeting is crucial to a successful launch. It is not, however, the only way to target or manage one's territory. In fact, if this is your sole method of targeting, you are missing out on a huge block of sales dollars. In a follow-up article, I'll examine the application of two other forms of targeting. PR

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