Should pharma companies revamp their physician marketing strategies? Some idea of pharma's thinking on this topic is revealed in the emerging story of Pfizer's plans for its own sales force.
Today in the WSJ, for example, appears an article about Pfizer's plans to change it's method of detailing -- marketing and selling to -- physicians. Essentially, the article says that Pfizer plans to "reverse a decadelong infatuation with multiple sales forces pitching the same products to the same doctors." (See "Pfizer Plans $2 Billion in Cost Cuts," WSJ, 2/11/2005). This refers to the use of sales rep "pods" in which several reps coordinate visits to the same physician to detail the same product (see the article "A Crisis in Professional Detailing" in which two physicians criticize this and other physician sales and marketing tactics - also see http://www.pharma-mkting.com/news/PMNsfeReprints.htm for other Pharma Marketing News reprints on the subject of sales force effectiveness).
Familiarity Breeds Contempt?
The article goes on to state: "In the recent past, it hasn't been unusual for six or more different Pfizer representatives to pitch the same doctor on heavily marketed products such as Celebrex. The industry theory behind these multiple sales forces is that familiarity breeds contempt. [my emphasis] Different faces have better odds, the dogma goes, of getting into the doctor's office than the same representative calling more frequently."
If you read the above cited Pharma Marketing News article, you will see this comment from a physician: "It is much better to have one rep who is valuable, who has a relationship with the office staff, and knows when it’s a good day or not a good day to see me, than to have ‘storm trooper’ representatives coming to the door."
It's not clear to me whether the familiarity breeds contempt "dogma" cited in the WSJ article is something Pfizer or other pharma companies actually believe or if it was made up by the author of the article. Regardless, there is an emerging marketing technique called relationship marketing that relies on the exact opposite dogma, namely that familiarity breeds increased loyalty and sales, certainly NOT contempt.
I think the idea of sales "pods" and multiple reps calling on docs about the same product has more to do with an older notion of marketing: reach and frequency. With sales rep pods, you can reach more physicians more often. It's equivalent to bringing mass market advertising to physician marketing. However, just as this technique has cluttered the consumer marketing landscape with messages that are ignored and have little impact, when applied to phyicians, it has lead to "lack of physician access" bemoaned by the industry.
Relationship marketing also embraces the idea that you have to build upon previous contacts with the customer and modify your message according to unique customer behavior. Docs would like to see a progression in the information that reps deliver. A lot of times reps come in and start at the beginning with the same message. It would be much better if they built upon what they covered a few weeks ago.
Perhaps pharma companies should consider how to better employ relationship marketing techniques in order to improve efficiencies. There is a question, however, whether pharma with its silos of information can effectively employ relationship marketing (see "Out-of-the-Box Marketing: Will It Work for Pharma?").
Also important is sales rep preparedness and ability to teach. Unfortunately not every representative has the ability to teach and some just push the sales aid. It's not just a matter, therefore, of implementing a new technique in marketing, it also involves changes in sales rep management and training.