Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported on a dramatic change occurring in the pharmaceutical industry. The on-line article explored how many of the big pharma companies are changing their commercial model in response to the current economic and regulatory conditions. Most notably, drug reps are being encouraged to soften their sales pitches and re-position themselves as a trusted resource for the doctors they call upon. British drug giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for example, has stopped evaluating salespeople based on the number of prescriptions written Instead, they look at how well physicians rate their representatives. GSK, Merck and Lilly are also asking their representatives to switch from making forceful, tightly scripted sales pitches to acting more like a resource supporting physicians’ treatment. Companies hope to get a foot in the door by providing practical help, such as assistance educating patients about their diseases or navigating reimbursement. Why now? Clearly, prescribers, who are under increasing pressure from health plans to curb costs, have less time for, and patience with, persistent sales representatives. Plus, the government has been cracking down on aggressive, and off-label marketing. For some, myself included, this is nothing new. Almost 20 years ago when I worked in pharma, I rarely “detailed” my products. Instead, I helped “my doctors” build websites for their own practices, helped to organize, and on occasions even moderate, their clinical meetings and assisted them with….well just about anything they wanted assistance with, be it product related or not. The strategy worked, sales grew and my competitors, even those with better products or prices were neutralized. “Increasing physician satisfaction, it turns out, is a much better way to promote a pharmaceutical agent than simply telling them to write more prescriptions or what the benefits are,” says David Ricks, president of Lilly’s global business unit. Unfortunately, salespeople still can’t provide the one thing many doctors want above all – time! Even though pharmaceutical companies are attempting to engage prescribers in a more pleasant way, they still don’t always get a positive reception because nothing is being done to solve the doctors’ time problem. The bottom line is that physicians need to fit more patients – not sales reps – into their workday. Although it’s estimated that pharma sales reps pay 115 million visits to 340,000 doctors each year, 23% of doctors surveyed by market research firm SK&A in 2010 said they don’t see drug reps at all. Eli Lilly decided to adopt its new approach after watching launches of new drugs fail. One problem the company identified was a mismatch between what doctors expected based on sales pitches, and what the products delivered. Before the change in tactics, psychiatrist Carey Cottle, MD says he was more likely to write prescriptions for a competing antidepressant like Pfizer’s Effexor over Cymbalta, because Lilly representatives had a “high-pressure, car sales-type approach, and it was just not appropriate.” Now, surveys of doctors show that 85% are satisfied with Lilly, up from the 60% before the company changed ways. And business is up too. Sales of Cymbalta were >$450 million higher during the first nine months of 2011, than during the same period in 2010. We’d love to hear what doctors and sales reps think about this.
As previously reported here, industry downsizing has resulted in the loss of over 30,000 sales positions over the past 5 years. Now, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, big pharma companies have found a way to replace many of the sales reps they’ve been laying off in recent years. Apparently the void is being filled by digital sales tools such as websites and iPad apps. Doctors can use the tools to ask questions about drugs, order free samples and find out which insurers cover certain treatments. The changes are designed to cut costs and to reach doctors in ways other than the traditional office visit, which many busy physicians say they find intrusive and annoying. In 2009, one of every five doctors in the U.S. was what the industry calls a “no see,” meaning the doctor wouldn’t meet with reps. Just a year later that jumped to one in four. Currently about three-quarters of industry visits to U.S. doctors’ offices fail to result in a face-to-face meeting. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, drug companies dramatically increased their U.S. sales forces, an escalation most companies came to regret as the economy took a downturn. Many of those same companies are now involved in this digital shift including Sanofi-Aventis, Merck, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis and Boehringer Ingelheim . Citing data from market-research firms, Eddie Williams, head of Novo Nordisk‘s biopharmaceutical business in the U.S., said 72% of U.S. doctors own a smartphone, and 95% of them use it to download medical applications. Novo Nordisk has several applications available on iTunes, including one that helps doctors calculate blood-sugar levels and another iPad/iPhone application which offers tools to help doctors diagnose bleeding disorders. Other companies such as Eli Lilly are now considering “on-demand portals” that will allow doctors to access information instantly as they are treating patients. Although some companies have yet to be convinced of the benefits of e-marketing, most agree it is the way forward. Following the launch of Pradaxa in the U.S., Boehringer Ingelheim put together a digital-marketing package to target doctors, but found that sales calls to doctors’ offices were still the most powerful tool for driving new prescriptions, says. “No doubt digital marketing does have an impact…but I don’t believe, however, the shift happens overnight,” said Wa’el Hashad, the company’s VP of marketing. SRxA can help pharmaceutical clients with all of their digital marketing needs. Whether it’s interactive e-learning platforms, webinars, podcasts, e-newsletters, e-surveys or website design and development our fully customized, physician approved offerings will exceed your expectations. Contact us today to learn more.