BIZMOLOGY — Recent news of sales force layoffs in the pharmaceuticals industry is bringing renewed attention to the growing popularity of digital marketing techniques among physicians.
It’s easy to see why these issues go hand in hand: Digital marketing tools not only ease the expense budgets of pharmaceutical companies (by allowing them to cut field sales costs) but also meet the needs of physicians who no longer have time to conduct sit-down meetings with drug reps.
Instead of sending out a large pool of sales representatives to idle in waiting rooms full of coughing children, hoping to pass out samples and marketing swag to friendly physicians, pharmaceutical firms are able to maintain relations by emailing links, brochures, and coupons to physicians via the Internet and smart phone and tablet applications.
Meanwhile, physicians are able to peruse and use materials at their leisure. Doctors are also able to avoid worries that a sales representative will inappropriately promote a drug for unapproved conditions, an issue that has brought pharma companies and doctors under fire in recent years.
Efficiency and convenience are factors on both sides. Many drug companies have set up easy-to-use web portals and help groups that allow physicians to ask questions and request additional information, samples, or callbacks as time allows. Drugmakers increase efficiencies by collecting data that allow them to tailor subsequent physician interactions based on what’s been viewed and requested in the past. To further cut expenses, pharma firms have the option of outsourcing customer service and data exchange functions.
While some drug companies maintain that personal sales visits to doctor’s offices are still the most powerful way to boost a new drug’s sales, sales force layoffs have continued to manifest in recent years as drugmakers struggle against rising generic competition. Recent data show US pharma rep numbers falling from more than 100,000 in 2006 to about 60,000 in 2013. Additional evidence reflects cuts in spending on drug samples and free meals for physicians who do make time for sales reps.
It remains true that a healthy number of doctors prefer personal visits. However, an increasing number of time-conscious physicians are also refusing sales calls altogether. Even physicians who are willing to see reps are often unable to work them into overloaded patient schedules.
So while the shift will continue to be gradual, it could be concluded that in the future pharma promotions will be handled almost entirely through electronic means, with only a select number of specialized, face-to-face meetings conducted between doctors and sales force members.