In a pharmaceutical market where the days of the primary care blockbuster-selling drug appear numbered, the days of pharma sales representatives having time to visit physicians with drug samples are also waning. Reps must now embrace internet technology to ensure samples are efficiently distributed to physicians and also take on the role of educators in their dynamic relationships with physicians.
In a recent survey conducted by Datamonitor, 71% of surveyed physicians report that the availability of sample packets from drug makers impacts their prescribing decisions. However, 38% of these same physicians report that they do not receive enough samples through traditional methods of sample delivery, and 22% of physicians complain that the supply of drug samples is too unpredictable in general.
New playing field
Today’s pharmaceutical sales representative faces several challenges. A large number of drugs will lose patent protection within the next five years and, combined with dry product pipelines, this means pharmaceutical sales reps are increasingly faced with selling drugs for which there may be cheaper generic alternatives.
As the age of primary care blockbusters draws to a close, pharmaceutical companies are moving to focus a greater percentage of their R&D budgets towards developing specialty drugs for smaller patient populations. Intense competition within a limited number of highly profitable specialty drug markets means it is even more important for today’s pharmaceutical sales reps to gain access to key physicians and non-physician prescribers.
These challenges are surmountable, but they will require a restructuring of the traditional sales and marketing model. Future sales and marketing teams will be forced to do more, like launch patient- as well as physician- targeted campaigns in both domestic and foreign markets, on smaller budgets.
While eHealth applications, such as eDetailing and eSampling, are not complete solutions to overcoming current challenges within the market, strategic implementation of internet-enabled services has the potential to positively impact sales force efficiency and effectiveness.
Information is key
In addition, outside of the traditional detailing and sampling roles, the pharmaceutical sales force can be used to bolster a company’s other physician-facing online efforts, by taking on the role of educators.
Many prescribers continue to depend on sales reps as a primary source of information about both novel drugs and new clinical data for existing therapies. Datamonitor research has found that approximately half of surveyed physicians in the US and the EU, and over a quarter of surveyed physicians in Japan, had used a pharmaceutical sales representative as a source of medical information during the past week. However, the problem is that very few sales representatives have adequate face time with key prescribers. Gaining access to physicians is difficult because even those physicians who would like to spend more time with a sales representative, often do not have the time to do so during their work day.
Furthermore, sales reps generally fail to make the most of the little time they do have with prescribers. This is one of the key reasons sales reps are losing influence to patients during the prescribing process. Due to increased consumerism, the prescribing decisions of surveyed physicians are now equally as likely to be affected by patient requests for specific medications as they are to be affected by office visits from sales reps.
Harnessing available technology
Pharmaceutical representatives can use internet-enabled services to improve influence and efficacy by supplementing traditional sales and marketing practices with eHealth applications, such as eSampling.
There are three ways in which eSampling can be used as a supplement to traditional, sales representative-based methods of drug sampling. In the first instance, the physician orders samples online, usually through a third-party web portal. The samples are then delivered by mail to the physician’s practice.
In the second method of sample distribution, rather than order a specific number of samples, the physician prints out a single sample voucher from the internet. That voucher can then be given to a patient at the time of the office visit. This voucher, accompanied by a physician’s prescription, may then be redeemed at the patient’s local pharmacy.
The third means of eSampling – similar to the second method – requires a sample voucher being presented to a pharmacist. The key difference in this third approach, however, is that the patient downloads the voucher from the internet and presents it to the doctor for approval. More so than the other methods of eSampling, this third approach allows patient requests to potentially influence the physician’s prescribing behavior. However, this approach is not permitted by law in most markets outside of the US.
Although 29% of surveyed physicians report that in person delivery of drug samples by a sales representative is their preferred method of sample delivery, electronic sampling does provide pharmaceutical companies with a cost-effective means to reach physicians who have been routinely under-covered by sales reps.
Improvement all around
Through the improvement of services to physicians, patients are also better served, because the fact remains that patients are more likely to fill a prescription if their physician has samples on hand. Recent Datamonitor surveys find that only 54% of surveyed consumers will fill a prescription regardless of whether they receive a sample, voucher or coupon. Surprisingly, the remainder are most likely to fill their prescription only in the presence of a cost-saving supplement provided by their physician.
Drug sampling is a critical, but increasingly difficult, aspect of pharmaceutical sales and marketing. Sampling, much the same as detailing, is a central part of the relationship between a sales rep and a physician. However, the efficient delivery of drug samples suffers as physicians cut the time they spend with sales reps. eSampling allows sales representatives to respond more accurately to physicians’ demands. Over time it also allows reps to anticipate when a need is about to arise based on collected metrics, such as the timing of past sample requests.
Armed with this knowledge, pharmaceutical sales reps can expand their roles outside of the traditional detailing and sampling responsibilities. Pharmaceutical sales reps can be used to bolster a company’s other physician-facing online efforts, by taking on the roles of educators.
Beyond guaranteeing that physicians get both the information they need about a drug and the samples they need to start patients on the therapy, the sales force can also prepare physicians to field questions posed by patients. In particular, an overview of the messages patients receive through TV and magazine ads, as well as through company sponsored websites, should be shared with physicians.
In this way, physicians can begin to be integrated into the multi-channel marketing mix that their patients have come to know and thus better support patient requests and queries.