Palm reading

August 1, 2002
Julie E. Williamson

Julie Williamson is a freelance writer living in Arizona.

Pharmaceutical Representative

Companies equip sales forces with PDAs.

With physician schedules becoming even tighter, pharmaceutical sales representatives are more challenged than ever to organize their time wisely and use those few minutes of face time – and even waiting time – to their best advantage.

Some sales reps have found personal digital assistants, like Palm Pilots, invaluable for tracking appointments, inputting contact data and logging pertinent notes. Now it appears a growing number of pharmaceutical companies are buying into the benefits of mobile technology, outfitting their sales forces with hand-held devices and automation applications that promise to streamline sales calls, meet regulatory requirements and boost productivity.

"The sales rep must be effective in making appointments with the physician, have the ability to review information from previous visits, provide appropriate information to the physician and manage samples left with that physician," notes Roddy Martin, service director for Boston-based AMR Research. "[Mobile] sales force automation applications are one way pharmaceutical companies are aiming to offer improvements in those areas."

Pharma 'unplugging'

While it's difficult to determine just how many pharmaceutical companies are currently using mobile sales force applications, sources agree that nearly all of the big players are either already deploying the technology or in the initial stages of implementation.

Many recognize that laptops cannot offer the speed, convenience and capabilities of hand-held devices, and are simply too cumbersome for the average sales representative who calls on six to eight physicians each day.

"Pharmaceutical companies are realizing that it's just too hectic for reps to use laptops during the day, and that the sales force is often flooded with information that can't be readily inputted," says Ojas Rege, vice president of applications for AvantGo Inc., Hayward, CA. AvantGo, a provider of mobile enterprise software, recently introduced Mobile Pharma, an application that gives pharmaceutical sales representatives immediate access to their existing sales force application systems, product and clinical data, prescription distribution data, corporate intranet, and the Internet via their hand-held devices.

According to Rege, "nearly all" the largest drug companies are eyeing mobile solutions, and he predicts even more rapid, large-scale deployment in coming months. Several key factors, he says, will perpetuate that trend: the need for companies to increase access to information from the field, to improve and streamline communication between the sales force and physicians, and to better leverage the 80% of downtime spent waiting to see the physician.

"Reps receive a lot of great data, but with no mechanism to collect that data, those at the corporate level may never have access to it. With the use of mobile technology, sales reps have a convenient, efficient way of inputting that information, while at the same time, gaining instant access to updates and information from the company," he explains. "Flexibility and accessibility are critical. Think of it this way: If cell phones were the same as laptops and took three minutes to turn on, we certainly wouldn't use them as readily. That helps explain why a sales force is turning to solutions that allow them to maximize their time."

The pharmaceuticals division of Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co. is one organization that's already experiencing the benefits of mobile sales force solutions. Using mobile applications from Dendrite International, a Morristown, NJ-based provider of pharmaceutical customer relationship management solutions and sales services, P&G has already outfitted approximately 1,000 sales representatives in the United States and Canada with the tools and is in the process of rolling out the applications to nearly 500 European sales representatives.

"Because we're a global company, we wanted to be able to provide everyone with the same platform. We'll be deploying this in ten different countries," says Jim Cox, systems and technology manager, North America customer business development for Procter & Gamble.

Procter & Gamble is using three applications: WebForce, a Web-enabled product that helps organize communications and optimize promotional activities for new product launches; Force AnalyzeRX, an analysis tool that standardizes the decision support and reporting process and lets sales reps track the effects of their promotional activities; and ForceMobile, sales force automation software designed for hand-held devices.

Other companies, including New York-based Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., East Hanover, NJ-based Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. and Rockaway, NJ-based Warner Chilcott p.l.c., are also arming their sales forces with Dendrite's mobile applications.

Ventiv Health Inc., which provides outsourced sales and marketing services to leading pharmaceutical companies such as Chadds Ford, PA-based Endo Pharmaceuticals, Bristol-Myers Squibb, New Brunswick, NJ-based Johnson & Johnson and Novartis, is rolling out PhasTrak - a hand-held solution from Synavant Inc., Atlanta – to its 2,200 sales representatives.

"The bottom line is that we want to make our sales reps' job easier," notes Tom Pollack, executive director of information technology at Ventiv Health. "By providing them with more information and functionality, they will be able to have better sales calls in the very limited time they have with the doctors, and that should translate into increased sales and market share."

A welcome change

Despite the inherent learning curve and cultural change associated with implementing new technology, sales representatives – and physicians – appear appreciative of their new mobile solutions.

According to Cox, who worked as a sales representative for ten years, the mobile applications have proved invaluable for P&G's sales force, as well as individuals at the corporate level.

"The company and, of course, the sales reps have been very enthusiastic about the mobile applications because it's given them the opportunity to have critical data at their fingertips and to better manage their sales calls," Cox continues. "The mobile technology is far more accessible and easy to use than their laptops. With these applications, data can be easily inputted in PDAs and then downloaded to the laptop later."

Having access to hand-held solutions has also improved sample tracking – a benefit that some companies consider priceless in light of security and product-tracing regulations governed by the Food and Drug Administration.

Aventis Pharma AG, Bridgewater, NJ, met those requirements by equipping its representatives with Windows CE-based hand-held PCs that enable them to quickly capture sample distribution details, including physician signatures, and exchange customer background and sales information with headquarters.

The process couldn't be easier, according to Kevin Greenlee, manager of applications at Aventis. Prior to meeting with the physician, the sales rep simply clicks a "List" tab, selects the physician's name and reviews a screen that contains the physician's market analysis. The rep then clicks a tab that brings up the sample entry screen with the physician's name, address and registration. From there, the rep selects the samples to be left with the physician and clicks the "Signature" button, which opens the "Sample Review" screen. After letting the physician review the sample request, the rep presses the signature button and the screen is ready to sign.

Cost-effective solutions

While implementing new technology does require dedicated resources, pharmaceutical companies may be surprised by how little they cost in relation to their return on investment.

Rege says mobile technology represents only 10% of the overall cost of full-scale sales force automation systems and can generate "double or triple that amount" in added efficiencies. By using the hand-held computer, Aventis reps can save as much as five minutes on each sales call – time that can be spent calling on other physicians. The company projects that increased efficiency will save approximately $5 million annually.

"There is tremendous ROI with mobile solutions," notes Rob Veitch, director of business development for iAnywhere Solutions, a subsidiary of Sybase Inc. that provides enabling software to leading mobile technology vendors, such as Synavant.

Continues Veitch: "Not only do they eliminate pain and paperwork, and dramatically increase the effectiveness of sales; they allow individuals to focus on one another. That's where the real value comes into play." PR

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