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Pharma sales in the digital era

A successful marketing strategy must embrace customer preferences and strive for a channel mix that provides the right information at the audience's convenience

Liz MurrayGoing digital is a global business trend across industries and the pharma sector has been relatively slow to embrace the technology-fuelled changes of the last decade. However, companies are now beginning to catch up.

Quintiles' 2015 Digital & Multichannel Marketing customer survey showed there is still reluctance among pharma executives to risk experimenting with newer digital channels unless traditional channels have failed. At the same time, patients and healthcare professionals increasingly use digital devices and sources for health-related information; this disconnect stands in the way of optimal pharma company communications with stakeholders

Based on increasing healthcare regulation, declining access to healthcare providers and the proliferation of technology, some commentators predicted that traditional field roles would be eroded or replaced by technological solutions. Recent evidence suggests that the reality is very different.

Quintiles categorises channels as:

  • Live! involving a real-time conversation between a pharma company and healthcare stakeholder. By its very nature, personal identification and consent for the interaction is required from the stakeholder and the interaction is highly personalised and takes place one-on-one. Examples include face-to-face meetings, virtual meetings (phone and platform) and telephone conversations. Pharma companies typically target these interactions at their most valuable customers; all activities and interactions are fully recorded and tracked in the company's customer relationship management (CRM) system.
  • Personal (digital), involving digital interactions that are also personalised and tailored to the recipients' interests. Personal identification and consent for the interaction from the health stakeholder is required. Examples include personalised email, social channels and one-to-many virtual meetings. Activities are tracked in delivery platforms, perhaps interacting with CRM or other systems
  • Non-personal (digital), where healthcare stakeholders access information through widely available channels such as websites, blogs or bulk email, with an 'opt out' consent scenario. Such communications are not personalised and do not rely on personal identification or consent; the relevant delivery platform tracks activities at aggregate level via cookies.

Today, a successful marketing strategy must embrace customers' evolving preferences and strive for a channel mix that provides the desired information at a time and place that suits the target audience and situation. To do so requires a tailored combination of Live!, personal digital and non-personal digital interactions.
Recent market research commissioned by Quintiles in Europe evaluated the newer Live! channel with 1:1 virtual meetings (qualified remote eRepresentatives + online meeting platform + telephone), sometimes called remote or virtual e-detailing. Quintiles has 5+ years' experience with this approach. The research was conducted with 60 physicians (primary and specialist) covering four Quintiles client projects. The findings clearly illustrate 'the power of AND:'

  • Almost two-thirds (63%) of physicians agree that e-detailing represents the future of promotional contact. Overall, physicians want to spend half their time in future on e-detailing and half on face-to-face contact
  • Almost all physicians (91%) are willing to repeat the experience of having an e-detail, due to key benefits including ease of rescheduling, fitting better into the physician's work schedule, avoiding the need to commit to being at work, having the option to discuss information at home, and saving time
  • Data reveals a more focused discussion during an e-detail, with more time spent talking about the brand and less time spent on social interaction compared with a face-to-face meeting
  • Almost half (43%) of healthcare providers (HCPs) feel e-detailing is more effective than face-to-face discussion in encouraging prescribing, and three-quarters of HCPs expect prescribing to increase following an e-detail.Physicians are satisfied with most aspects of e-detailing, in particular the ability to ask questions, the ability of the representative to be responsive and the interactivity of the discussion
  • With physicians regularly online for professional purposes, it is not surprising that HCPs are receptive to an e-detailing follow-up, including new product information, educational programmes, links to other web resources and drug formulary updates.

Overall, the results suggest a very positive reaction to the Live! personalised virtual meeting approach, alongside face-to-face contact.
The challenge of today's pharma commercial model is to successfully meet customer needs by using, understanding and connecting a range of channels. Ultimately, all communications are likely to be highly personalised and digitally-integrated. In the meantime, given that HCPs and patients are using an increasingly wide range of information sources, pharma companies should take advantage of innovative ways to reach them.

The field role offered a 1:1 interaction with healthcare professionals and it is that relationship that needs to be brought up to date. Perhaps what we need now, is to explore how to have impactful Live! conversations in the digital era?

Liz Murray is senior director multichannel strategy at Quintiles

In association with Quintiles

11th January 2016

From: Sales



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