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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Have we all gone tablet daft?

We need to think of new devices simply as an aid to selling
tablet detailing

Working as a strategist for a global communications agency I often find myself discussing the subject of tablet sales aids. I know... my life is truly fascinating, really.

But fascinating is exactly the word that springs to mind when I consider the bizarre effect on otherwise sensible people of bringing the tablet computer into the context of a discussion about an aid to selling. I choose the words 'aid to selling' quite deliberately lest we forget the purpose of the sales aid which is to facilitate a more effective selling interaction between a representative and a doctor. In many ways life was a lot simpler when we didn't have computers.

Pre-tablets these sales aids were very straightforward affairs. It was eight to 12 pages for first position detail, four to six for the second slot and a two-sider for the third line detail slot. You had to present these to the national sales manager who would send you back to the drawing board if it was anything other than an aid to selling. There should be one message per page, graphs or tables were simple and easy to read from across a doctor's desk, important facts and figures were in very large font. And in many ways paper and the 'read across the desk test' really helped the exercise - you couldn't put too much on a page and that was a very good thing.

However, now we have the tablet computer. The sophistication and complexity potential offered by the tablet is to the marketer/agency/MLR person like a shop full of candy to a small boy with money burning a hole in his pocket. The initial pleasure of the candy is only a forerunner to the inevitable nausea that follows. And so it is with tablet detail aids these days.

Driven by the pressures of MLR and the lure of the technology we can't quite resist the temptation to jam the kitchen sink into our sales aids. I can imagine the comment: "There will be times when it could be really useful for the rep to show the doctor the sub-analysis of the sub-analysis." Really? I miss the discipline of only being allowed to fill 12 pages. Want to share a sub-analysis? Only if it actually communicates a clinically meaningful benefit of the drug that the doctor will find crucial to the decision to prescribe it.

I will say however that even back in the days of the print press people still fell for the temptation of the bigger is better school of detail aids. In my first selling job I remember the 32 page detail aid for the market leading antidepressant I was selling. The one good thing it did achieve was that if you ever did go through the whole thing with a doctor you gave them a new found empathy for what it feels like for their patients to be depressed. It also provided me with this same insight when my slightly dimwitted but enthusiastic regional manager uttered the immortal words: "Bruce had you only referred to the data on page 27 of the sales and I think you'd have clinched the sale." I was immediately inspired to get promoted to marketing and make sure no sales manager ever had access to 32 pages of rep torturing material ever again.

Back to present day; maybe things are not so bad. Just recently I sat in another meeting on tablet sales aids and was really buoyed to hear the marketing and medical team enthusiastically embracing the need to simplify and tell a story. They talked of putting additional information into modules, separate to the visual aid. They talked of mixing paper and digital media to make the discussion a little more interesting, making the rep the star of the show, mastering her materials to support her proposals.

In another conversation we talked of little video snippets to let the patient tell the doctor what the really important things we're to them so the rep could then build needs that doctors could easily identify with. In another we talked about using CGI to bring to life visually a potentially fatal swelling disorder so that doctors and reps could discuss the correct time to intervene using the company's therapy and save the patient's life. We talked about selecting patients the doctor was interested in from an iTunes-like carousel and then organising data to allow the rep to deliver a tailored proposal about the exact patient the doctor wanted to talk about. In all of these examples the detail aid creators found something specific to the selling circumstances and utilised the technology to their advantage.

So where does this all leave us. The old adage 'just because you can doesn't mean you should' is more important than anything when it comes to digital sales aids. Marketers and in turn their agencies can feel pressured into showing that they are maximising the use of the technology. But as is often the case in life, less is more and this is especially true of digital sales aids and in fact this is no different than when we worked in paper. Tell a simple and interesting story, base it on needs, present only the relevant data and then draw a clear conclusion that proposes an action. If the technology can help any part of that then use it but don't go overboard. Supplementary data to support deeper discussions should stay where it has always stayed which is close to hand but not in the actual sales aid.

Article by
Bruce Ritchie

is Head of Strategy at S&H Group UK

21st August 2014

From: Sales, Marketing

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