POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Can Digital Tools Replace the Sales Force?

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This post is part of a series of point/counterpoint arguments proposed by different members of the Pixels & Pills staff. Were strong believers that healthy arguments can yield the best solutions, and we hope that you enjoy our series. Feel free to add your own arguments in the comments section below!

by Jason Brandt (@Jasondmg3)

First it was the dinners. Then it was the golf outings, vacations and promotional premiums. Is the traditional pharmaceutical sales force next on the chopping block?

Technology advances, particularly tablets such as the iPad 2, are supplementing many of the industrys pharmaceutical sales forces, but its only a matter of time until digital tools make the traditional sales rep a remnant of the past. Of course theres value in face-to-face interactions, but when reps cant get through the waiting room door or only have a matter of minutes to pitch their product, relationships dont seem to matter much.

With more doctors instituting “no see policies, pharma needs another way to communicate with doctors. A digital approach makes sense, particularly as physicians have been embracing technology with unbridled enthusiasm. Smart phones, websites, iPad apps and other digital tools offer a convenient solution that enables pharma companies to get more content not just marketing materials in front of doctors who prescribe their treatments.

Some of the drug giants have already begun slashing their sales forces and experimenting with digital marketing. Sanofi-Aventis has www.ipractice.com, AstraZeneca offers Touchpoints, and Merck & Co. has www.merckservices.com all of which offer information and services accessible 24×7 with a standard internet connection.

A digital approach to getting in front of physicians not only solves some of the industrys problems, such as garnering in-office face time and reducing the substantial costs of training, developing and maintaining a sales force, but it offers a better way of presenting information. The next iteration of the sales force will be a digital dynamo that delivers information at the physicians fingertips where and when they want it. Technologies that will gain traction include:

Information portals: Doctors visit drug manufacturers websites, but increasing adoption requires pharmaceutical companies to deliver valuable content not just marketing spiel. Interactivity will increase as physicians use these portals to ask questions, order samples or find out which insurers cover which treatments.

Video: Video detailing offers a rich multi-media experience that fits in with a physicians needs for depth of detail while offering the convenience of being able to consume content on their own terms. Alcons new “eyepad app features high quality video and shows off their state of the art cataract and retinal surgical devices and products. In the comfort of their office, doctors can observe real life cases and the techniques used.

Mobile decision support tools: Reference databases, online journals and dosage calculators are now within fingertip reach and delivered in an attention getting interactive format. Physicians can get the education they need without making multiple calls or sacrificing time with patients or other important work.

Moving to a digital sales force also offers other business benefits. It reduces risk and enables pharmaceutical companies to optimize their resources. They can ensure messages are consistent and compliant because they are delivered the same way each and every time. And, rather than needing multiple reps for multiple product lines, a single iPad app can contain the entire companys portfolio of drug information.

Technology is increasingly taking the place of jobs once held. There are no more Fuller Brush salesmen or telegraph operators so I say: watch your backs, pharma reps. Its only a matter of time until digital tools take your job and put you down the road to extinction.




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