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Over the past several years, reducing/limited physical access to physicians has increasingly forced biopharma sales reps to think more strategically about how they engage with their customers. Consider:

  • Almost 45% of prescribers restrict sales reps access, which is almost twice the rate seen in 2008.
  • Oncologists are the toughest specialty group to access—61 percent placed moderate-to-severe restrictions on visits from pharmaceutical sales reps, according to a 2012 Access Monitor report.
  • In addition, formulary pressures imposed by payers and health systems often force physicians to “step through” products that may not be their first choice for some patients.
  • Doctors do still want information from drug makers, but in more balanced formats that include virtual engagements, email, and direct mail.
  • Younger doctors prefer to communicate with biopharma companies via digital channels and mobile devices instead of face to face appointments.
The combination of decreased access, reduced physician share of prescribing decisions, and shrinking resources is forcing drug developers to rethink their sales and marketing strategies to increasingly engage with physicians and not just try to influence their prescribing behaviors. For many, that solution is a multichannel engagement approach to work hand-in-hand with their live sales efforts, through which physicians are sent the right information, at the right time, and through the right channel to optimally meet their needs.

More is not always better

It is not enough to know a physician prefers email, or phone calls. These IME deployments have to be strategic in the way they are delivered if they are going to be effective. In certain types of markets, one of the biggest mistakes marketing teams make is taking a ‘spray and pray’ approach, deluging physicians with multiple messages in hopes that one of them sticks. This approach is not only expensive, it can often do more to irritate customers than engage them, especially when the communication streams are disconnected or repetitive. Consider the busy physician who receives back-to-back email invitations to a conference or workshop, only to have the sales rep call and invite them personally, unaware that the previous invites had already been sent.

A truly integrated multi-channel engagement approach avoids such counterproductive efforts by ensuring that all communications are carefully planned to deliver information in the format and cadence that most appeals to the customer. This serves to both minimize the volume of material being sent out, and to add more value for the recipient.

A critical component of this process is crafting messages that deliver peer-reviewed knowledge that succinctly demonstrates the benefit of the drug over its competitors, and offers tips and strategies to make prescribing the drug easier for physicians. These communications often carry much more value than glossy pamphlets, especially in support of new or unfamiliar products. In addition, technology that is continuously updated with each interaction delivered to each physician will allow awareness of these interactions across all channels.  With this insight, that next interaction will fit seamlessly into the overall engagement plan for each physician.

There is no I in sales

Such an IME approach to sales and marketing makes perfect sense in today’s pharma culture. However to achieve success, sales and marketing teams need to tear down the silos that separate them, and commit to working collaboratively to craft a single IME strategy that promotes a consistent message across all communication channels. That means working together on messaging, sharing communication plans, and jointly measuring—and rewarding—the results of their efforts. Such change is difficult and painful, especially for sales teams who are accustomed to working independent from the marketing group. But if biopharma companies want to adapt to this new sales environment, where physicians are increasingly hard to access, change has to occur. The companies that figure out how to adopt this IME approach today will be the ones who are best positioned to succeed with their sales efforts in the future.

Topics in this blog post: Biopharma, Market Access, Commercialization