Pharma companies invest heavily in this direct selling approach, spending as much as 25% of their total marketing budgets on training, managing and monitoring direct sales teams. Despite the fact that the average pharma sales rep detail may only last a minute or two, it is estimated that the cost to the pharma company to complete a successful face-to-face detail is between $250 and $500 per.
However, getting in to see the physicians is more difficult than ever before. Once armed with premiums and entertainment budgets, reps now find themselves competing for the physicians' limited time. About one-third of physicians now require pre-scheduled appointments and nearly one-quarter do not allow any pharma sales calls at all. As a result, only about 20% of pharma sales visits succeed in connecting with a physician.
For a variety of reasons (major drugs going off-patent, lack of new blockbuster drugs in the pipeline, the rise of managed care, etc.), pharma companies are all looking to reduce costs resulting from a wave of consolidations and cutbacks. It is not hard to see that the traditional selling model is passé. The number of U.S. sales reps has fallen from 102,000 in 2007 to only 92,000 today. And, it's projected to fall to only 75,000 in the next few years.
That is why the trend for pharmaceutical companies today is toward shifting budgets away from traditional selling techniques and toward eMarketing strategies and tactics. For instance, according to one study, Pfizer increased its physician eMarketing spending by more than 90% last year.
As the average physician migrates health care administrative needs to the digital world, a number of companies, including Physicians Interactive, are finding ways to reach health care providers seamlessly within their workflow. This might take place while a doctor is researching a drug on a smartphone or engaged in an electronic patient record. Or it could be when a doctor is sending an electronic prescription or ordering a drug sample online. In these examples, it's less about traditional advertising techniques and more about providing valuable and needed information to clinicians when and where they want it.
Other firms are rolling out innovative, interactive tools such as such as Heartbeat Digital's Service On Demand program. Physicians can obtain answers through the mechanism of their choice: live chat, live online meeting, interactive product tour, interactive FAQ's, and other means. Further, physicians can engage via banner ads on the sites they frequent most as well as on brand websites and portals.
The bottom line is that the offer to get an immediate answer is right there at the physician's fingertips -- no need to bookmark or memorize another website, no need to leave the site the physician is already on.
To communicate a brand's message, service is replacing selling and education is replacing promotion and eMarketing is replacing traditional techniques.
It is hoped that, at the end of the day, the result is that physicians get to spend more time with their patients providing more accurate information and higher levels of care -- an end-result no one would criticize.