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Prepare to channel hop

Improved targeting may have been key to making the most of the direct salesforce but its relentless adoption has led pharma

Using a variety of marketing channels could help pharma connect with hard-to-reach GPs

Improved targeting may have been key to making the most of the direct salesforce but its relentless adoption has led pharma, companies regularly to ignore up to 75 per cent of the GP population. Facing lower margin products, increased competition and a changing NHS influence network, these organisations need to reach more doctors, not fewer.

To be effective, the interaction must be relevant, and preferably more frequent, to build new value across the extended GP audience. Sustained reliance on the direct salesforce alone cannot provide the sophistication required to deliver tailored messages to an increasingly diverse base of healthcare professionals.

To reflect the changes across the health service, pharma needs to use multiple sales and marketing channels more effectively. By adopting sequential marketing techniques to deliver tailored messages via a range of channels, like low-cost e-detailing and online conferencing, companies can increase the value of a far larger GP audience, increase the sphere of influence and maximise salesforce investment.

Hitting the target
Targeting has become the byword for pharma companies keen to maximise the effectiveness of their salesforces. But has the tactic gone too far?

Constantly refining and honing the GP audience has resulted in many GPs being regularly ignored by almost every pharma vendor. Do these GPs have no influence, no propensity to prescribe? Are they really of such little value to the industry? Of course not; the problem is that in an industry with a sales and marketing strategy dominated by direct sales, there is simply no cost-effective way to reach GPs.

Pharma companies are now focusing efforts, by using training and sales aids, and prioritised target lists, to improve the effectiveness of reps, along with increasing the numbers of visits to individual GPs. The result is that, in the UK, 75-80 per cent of all pharma sales and marketing spend is absorbed by the salesforce.

This means that in practice three quarters of the budget is spent on achieving intermittent contact with less than 25 per cent of all UK GPs. It should also be noted that GP target lists automatically disregard any doctors who refuse rep visits. The direct approach is still proven to be the most effective selling tool. However, it is not the most efficient or cost-effective approach to reaching GPs. Given the clear move away from blockbuster drugs to mid-range brands, can this single-channel approach to sales and marketing really be sustained in the longer term in an industry suffering margin erosion and greater generic competition?

The big picture
While targeting has played a part in increasing salesforce effectiveness over recent years, is the current strategy really viable, especially when there are other marketing channels that offer far lower cost interactions and can be employed with greater frequency?

Using online marketing, pharma can reach more GPs cost effectively; but to what end? Many firms query that if these GPs have not been identified as targets based on propensity to dispense, why bother?

Yet, it is by combining online sales and marketing with the rep channel that firms can increase the propensity of these GPs to prescribe, maximise sales and marketing investment and, critically, provide the reps with significant selling advantage.

This also provides an opportunity to move those doctors along the treatment pathway to a point where they become part of the salesforce target list.

Using these sequential selling techniques enables pharma to increase the value of its potential customers to a point where the most effective sales tool - the rep - can be used.

Critically, using online marketing enables companies to interact with GPs based on individual requirements, providing a range of information choices, such as generic research or product specific information.

The GP's response offers clear insight into current perception of the therapy type and/or product, and can help to determine the next phase in the marketing sequence. Indeed, only by integrating multiple channels can pharma firms deliver tailored messaging cost effectively to several segments of the GP population - messages that are based not only on the propensity to prescribe but that also reflect regional issues, such as the new Primary Care Organisation (PCO) guidelines.

A time to sell
In the fast changing healthcare market, there are growing signs that, regardless of how good the targeting strategy, a single-channel model no longer adds up. Pharmaceutical companies cannot afford to ignore the majority of GPs in this way - yet the cost of the direct model leaves them with few options.

By using each channel appropriately, it is possible to raise a GP's interest in a product to the point where the salesforce can step in to reinforce the message. Furthermore, the availability of online information - such as disease faculties - can be used by the rep to enhance the sales process and feedback information on product perception into the CRM system.

In this way, the investment in CRM will evolve from the current generation of rep monitoring tools to delivering an in-depth view of GP interactions across every sales and marketing channel.

For those companies that are skeptical about finding the budget for such multichannel marketing, it is worth noting that by increasing the frequency of interactions via online channels, pharma can actually afford to reduce the number of rep visits per GP.

Sequential selling not only increases GP value by using different channels to deliver tailored messaging, but also enables the sales rep to focus on selling at a time when it is appropriate to sell.

The Author
Erik Jan Scholten is managing director of MedeConnect

2nd September 2008

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