Can Pharma and Physicians Engage Meaningfully?

It’s the holy grail for pharmaceutical executives. Physician engagement—the ability to achieve a meaningful dialogue between doctor and representative—is the ambition of every industry leader. Now, thanks to a dramatic shift in physician’s attitudes, engagement is a more attainable goal.

That’s good news for the life sciences industry. According to a recent survey (see the sidebar with the article here) the majority of doctors in the U.S. today want more visits from sales representatives. Among specialists, the number is even higher, with 9 out of 10 wanting more calls from specialty representatives.

“Don’t Waste My Time”

The caveat is that these doctors are saying, “Don’t waste my time.” They want more than a sales pitch. They want representatives who are capable of discussing clinical outcomes, face to face, using data displayed on an iPad. They’re asking for men and women who understand science, are thoroughly trained and care about patient outcomes.

For the office staff, these physicians want customer service support, such as patient materials, samples and medication access information. For the patients and caregivers, they want education about specific disease states.

Stage Set For Interactive Dialogue

Coming after a period of declining interest, this reversal is not entirely surprising. As the number of traditional sales representatives in the field has declined, the cadre of nontraditional teams—such as nurse educators and customer service representatives—has increased, with both field and remote teams. The doctor’s embrace of devices, such as the iPad, can literally put data into the representative’s hands, setting the stage for an interactive dialogue that demonstrates the effectiveness of a given therapy.

For the life sciences executive, the message is clear. In today’s marketplace, even with a smaller sales force than that of 10 years ago, a biopharmaceutical company can accomplish more with less. Recruiters can be more selective in hiring. Trainers can provide a stronger scientific education. And sales managers can focus on refining knowledge and skills. The result is quality without compromise, and that’s a bonanza for the brand.

Pharma’s Ivy League

When my company was asked recently to hire and manage 300 people for a sales force, we went through 5,000 applications. That’s a tougher ratio than most Ivy League colleges!

Some marketers quibble over the difference between access and engagement. But engagement without access is impossible. And access is easier when the representative has something of value to offer.

Recently, my wife and I decided to tear down the old barn on our property in Bucks County, PA. Building the new barn was a lot like building a sales force. We laid out all the components—the boards of different lengths, the rooftop and the beams—and then assembled them into exactly what we wanted. The pieces alone were not impressive, but when put together correctly, they turned into a structure that will last for years. Building a sales force is a similar exercise, but it takes a lot more experience. And the stakes are quite a bit higher.

  • Rick Keefer

    Rick Keefer is President and CEO of Publicis Touchpoint Solutions. Rick is responsible for the company’s promotional and clinical centers of excellence, including field and contact center solutions. He is a 30-year industry veteran with broad-based leadership experience on the biopharmaceutical manufacturing side.


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