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Some reps take to tablet PCs like ducks to water, while others wait for them to become the gold standard. Good training can put everyone on the same page.
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."
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.
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.
Comprehensive training As with all new technologies, some reps will take to it like ducks to water, while others stand on the sidelines waiting for it to become the gold standard. But, proper training can help ensure that reps know how to use the tool and fully understand it, so that they can integrate digital selling into call routines.
Companies should first train reps on the basic hardware and software, then follow up with thorough application training. To make reps fully proficient with the resource, managers should offer at least two days of face-to-face training.
Work with the medium A new medium or device might look cutting edge, but it's the content that attracts and engages healthcare professionals. Whether you are launching a brand or working to extend its life, telling the story on the tablet is different than telling it through a traditional visual aid. Don't expect stellar results from scanning in a paper-based visual aid and presenting it on a tablet. Rather, reps should maximize the tool's power by personalizing multi-media effects, such as key opinion leader and mechanism-of-action videos, or by presenting relevant journal articles.
Measure, analyze, and adapt Tablet PCs can collect data in real-time. Knowing what was detailed and collecting physician responses to questions can provide the learning necessary to update messages on a frequent basis, even between plans of action (POAs), which traditionally drive most of the development of detail aids.
Marketplaces are changing rapidly and the speed of response can mean the difference between gaining one or two share points. Previously, once competitive data was collected, companies conducted conference calls to arm reps with counter details; this could sometimes take weeks. Now, thanks to new technologies like tablet PCs, executives can offer reps the ability to download new visuals and counter details for a more rapid and thorough response. This marketplace adjustment allows the reps to get out the most effective and timely message.
The cost/benefit equation Making the decision to roll out tablet PCs and closed- loop marketing software to the sales force is a big step. But to ensure success, companies also must make the decision to invest in the support services, such as strong creative development, additional strategic planning personnel, and IT support. Keep in mind that some of those dollars will be offset by the lower costs of printing, shipping, and storing of paper core sales aids or training materials.
As with any investment in new technology, there are those that will over invest and those that underinvest. Based on the information gleaned from pilots, managers can make sure they have optimized the investment. Companies that make calculated risks with sound plans will succeed in the digital detailing world.
Similarly, companies can increase their ROI in tablet PCs and closed-loop marketing software by leveraging efficiencies across multiple brands or at an enterprise-wide level. This amortizes the investment because it facilitates centralized training and the sharing of best practices and cross-brand efficiencies. But that doesn't mean one size fits all: Each brand team must have the ability and creativity to build the best solution for its specific business needs.
Despite the challenges that adopting new communication channels present to marketing and sales departments, the long-term benefits outweigh the risks. As pharma companies continue to strive to optimize their sales forces, adoption of best-of-breed digital detailing solutions will be essential to keeping reps in the game. However, without careful consideration of how to best deploy these new competitive strategies, companies will struggle to get reps up to speed.
Anthony Mason is EVP managing director, and Amy Katzenberg is VP client services director of Avenue-e Health Strategies. They can be reached at (212) 614-4909.