New laptops expand selling tools

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Pharmaceutical Representative

This article is the first of a three-part series on reps and technology.

This article is the first of a three-part series on reps and technology.

This year will mark the true integration of pharmaceutical sales forces with technology and automation.

The most forward-thinking companies are developing cohesive systems of Web sites, intranets and extranets.

For the field sales representative, the heart and brains of the system is the multimedia computer. Reps can use these computers to link into the company to download sales and marketing information and tools. Reps can also upload orders and sales reports or access training materials and resources. And on sales calls, they can use their laptops as customized presentation systems with sound, graphics and references.

As companies reinstate larger sales forces following a period of downsizing, they are investing in upgraded computer hardware and software tools. The decision to expand sales force ranks is based upon the same premise as the decision to upgrade portable computers: In both cases, the primary motivation is improved efficiency and a higher return-on-investment for the company.


Multiple customer uses

A key element to justify the technology investment is "preparing for multiple interfaces with multiple customers," said Jeff Golterman, research director with the Gartner Group's Sales Leadership Strategies Division, Stamford, CT.

As Golterman explains, sales representatives now have valuable tools to support their educational functions: traditional print materials, the multimedia laptop computer and targeted Web sites.

Laptop applications

Golterman noted that in the 1980s, field personnel generally used portable computers to manage internal resources such as call reports, e-mail and physician prescribing data. Although these management tools are still important, the sales rep can now use the portable computer to influence customer thinking, increase awareness, and promote adoption and usage. A rep can demonstrate product effectiveness, display a video clip or retrieve a journal article with a laptop.

With modern laptop technology, field sales reps carry a virtual medical library. Volumes of journals and training materials fit on a couple of CD-ROMs. A high-speed modem connection to the company or to other data providers brings just about any information imaginable to salespeople and their target customers.

At this point, most of the industry is moving toward the personal-computer, Windows environment - instead of Macintosh machines - because of the dominance of Microsoft and its universal operating systems and software. Some companies, such as Glaxo Wellcome, are dumping their Macintosh laptops for powerful Windows-based laptop computers.

Data challenges

Because the pharmaceutical industry is so competitive, sales forces with fully integrated multimedia computers have a distinct advantage, experts say. These sales forces can combine powerful information technology with what the Gartner Group calls "marketing encyclopedia systems," or programmed CD-ROMs.

Here's one scenario: Imagine a competitive second-tier product hitting your territory, backed up by an entirely new communications capability. The competitor's rep still has traditional detail aids, clinical reprints and sample starter kits. But the rep's "big gun" is a laptop computer with a two-gigabyte hard drive and full-screen video display. The hard drive contains pharmacoeconomic and outcomes research findings.

Using the built-in spread sheet, your competitor does "what-if" outcomes projections for all audiences - from physician assistants to managed care financial directors. Your competitor's computer can also provide several minutes of video clips with thought leaders, accompanied by three-dimensional animations that show how the drug works.

The scenario shows that a new machine in the right hands with the right software support can create a real competitive advantage.

Physicians and technology

According to the 1995 Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society/Hewlett-Packard Leadership Survey, 33% of physicians cite cost as the biggest barrier to their adopting multimedia technology. However, prices for these computer systems have dropped an estimated 20% since 1995, and the systems are more powerful than before.

Eighty-four percent of surveyed physicians responded they either currently use or will acquire multimedia technology within five years.

A major trend, according to the survey, is that managed care is fueling increased computerization among physicians.

According to Richard Corley of Hewlett-Packard's health care information management division, "information management is key to controlling costs and maintaining standards of care, especially in the managed care environment." PR