Friday, February 11, 2005

Time for Pharma to Revamp Its Physician Marketing Strategy

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 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."

Relationship Marketing
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.

1 comment:

  1. Time for Pharma to Revamp Its Physician Marketing Strategy

    The strategy to approach physicians and inform them about the benefits and advantages of one product in comparison to another (or others) is a “never ending story”. Comments, articles, symposia and workshops reflect the Pharma view of the reality. Isolated “comments” from physicians do not reflect the reality either. There is a clear need to understand the needs and unmet needs of the physicians. This should be a complex but formal process based on reliable and verifiable data to induce a thorough analysis to understand how is the process of “prescribing decision”. Whenever the Industry is unable to discover the individual key to take a medical decision, there will be myriads of “testing” marketing strategies. Have you read the PDR (US), Vidal (France), Rote Liste (Germany), etc., etc.? How many products are described? How long would it take to know all of them? How long would it take to learn every detail of every new product? Can the majority of the physicians take that time and effort from their every day practice? What is really the useful information the physician look for? Prescription is not in hands of any “Super Marketing Team” but in hands of lonely physician. Never the less, extensive marketing activities do pay off. Many physicians decided to shift their traditional NSAID prescriptions towards the “promises” of newer selective COX-2 inhibitors. Therefore, they changed their “loyalty” and selected the newer (whenever the patient could afford the “newer” price) based on the “available” information, provided (mostly) by Reps throughout precise brief messages within 1 or 2 minutes. OK, almost everybody knows this reality; but Reps are “sales oriented people”. Their performance is measured through sales results. Therefore, Reps push the necessary “messages” that generate sales. Interestingly, the objective of physicians is to successfully treat the health problem of each patient. Is the information provided enough to select the most accurate treatment that each individual patient needs? . . . And we can continue asking questions and “trying” to find out hidden answers.
    The reality is that physicians are human beings that can be influenced or properly informed. Apparently, during decades, the pharma industry accomplished its influential objectives to purely generate “sales”. The issue is how to achieve the goal of providing physicians with true data that demonstrate the benefits for suffering patients. This is the ultimate objective of Medicine and the Pharma/Biotech industry is responsible to find (discovery), analyse (research) and test (development) better (more effective, more efficient and safer) therapeutic options. Are the “Super Marketing Teams” ready to assume their responsibility and act accordingly? From my side, I have another question: Are the consulting companies “ready” to sincerely advice the top Pharma Management throughout newer strategic concepts? Anyone could say that “business is business”; but “Health Business” is different and everyone involved should assume the respective responsibility. Actually, it is now the “golden” moment to re-design the whole Pharma “Business” and avoid patchy “pseudo-revolutionary” solution like laying-off “a few” thousands Reps. We all have to meditate on finding innovative concepts.
    Dr. C. Camozzi, MD, PhD, MBA
    Postfach 735
    CH-4102 Binningen


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