I attended Pharmaceutical Executive's 1st Annual Marketing and Sales Summit today and sat in on a few interesting presentations related to sales force effectiveness. I review a few here. I hope to cover these in more detail in future Pharma Marketing News articles. If you are interested in this topic, you might like to order the Special Supplement: Increase Physician Access and Detailing Effectiveness (see cover image at left).
What Physicians Want from Reps
Noven Pharmaceuticals presented results from a survey of OB/GYN physicians they conducted to determine the effectiveness of their sales force in comparison to competitors' sales forces.
The study confirms several tenets of conventional pharmaceutical marketing & sales wisdom. For example, the surveyed physicians ranked sampling needs as the MOST IMPORTANT discussion they have with sales reps. Way down on the list of importance to physicians was reps' knowledge of competitors' products.
It turns out that physicians are getting precisely what they want from reps who don't seem to know much about competitors' products and spend little time comparing products. Of course, there is very little clinical data collected that would support direct product comparisons (most clinical trials focus only on comparing a drug to a sugar pill, aka placebo). Hence, it would be inappropriate for reps to make any comparative claims. But that's the topic for another day.
Clinical Educators as Adjuncts to Sales Reps
Innovex -- a division of Quintiles, the contract research people -- talked about the role of "Clinical Educators" (CEs) as adjuncts to pharmaceutical sales reps. CEs are essentially specially trained nurses that either work directly with physicians, their staffs, or with patients to do disease management, educate patients and enhance patient compliance with treatment -- all things that physicians should be doing themselves but are either too lazy to do or just not willing to do.
The use of nurses by Big Pharma in the US may be a new phenom and has attracted media attention. See, for example, today's article in Business Week ("Big Pharma's Nurse Will See You Now"), which claims "For a host of reasons, not least their own self-interest, Big Pharma is staffing up on nurses."
[Use of nurses by pharmaceutical companies was a topic of a Pharma Marketing News (PMN) aricle in 2004 (see "European Compliance Not Only Possible, But Leading Edge"). In the recent issue of PMN, Berlex's Betaseron Education, Training and Assistance program, which also depends upon nurses, was highlighted.]CEs benefit physicians by improving their practices and can help increase sales rep access to physicians. So it's a win-win, right? Not so fast! Although Innovex claims it can see no drawbacks to CE programs, there are some important issues to consider.
CEs provide value-added services that are offered free to physicians. Anti-kickback statutes might come into play if the program is construed as a gift to high-prescribing physicians. So pharmaceutical companies need to be careful how they deploy CEs among their physician clients. The best candidates may be "no-see" physicians -- the ones with signs on their office doors that say "Sales Reps Not Welcome Here."
Also, unscrupulous physicians might be tempted to charge Medicaid for CE services provided free of charge by pharmaceutical companies. That would be a no-no.
Another potential problem is the conflict between non-promotional and promotional aspects of CE programs. Innovex admits that CEs are "dedicated" to the sponsor's product (Business Week says "Admittedly, the nurses talk up their employers' products, both to the patients and to medical personnel in doctors' offices."). Where is the line drawn? If CEs talk about product benefits, are they also required to provide fair balance? Who monitors this? Will it become the next PR issue for the pharma industry?
Some critics also contend that by hiring nurses as CEs, pharmaceutical companies are competing with hospitals to hire nurses from a shrinking pool of qualified candidates.
Technology Makes Better Sales Rep Caterers
Free lunch for physicians -- delivered by sales reps -- is still an important door opener for reps. I've witnessed reps delivering lunch to my GP several times. Usually, the rep has a big guy helping carry in and set up the hot trays or whatever. It doesn't look that tough to do, although many experts claim sales reps are stressed over it. But there's a technology to ease the pain.
Attendees of the PE conference were treated to a "free" lunch thanks to a company called Total Take Out. But before we could go eat, Total Take Out subjected us to a presentation about their service, which is a Web site where sales reps can order lunches to be delivered to doctors' offices. It's actually a pretty cool application, which also offers discounts to drug companies from particfipating restaurants. But rather than going on an on about that here, I will just reproduce a cartoon that the company handed out. Enjoy!