Remote Selling: Selling Smarter Across the Portfolio

As we look toward another year of pharmaceutical marketing, a key strategy in brand marketing is emerging. With more physicians eschewing or limiting time for rep office visits, the pharmaceutical industry must find additional inroads to present value propositions to their targets.

Enter remote selling: The use of call centers and digital channels such as eDetails, website portals and eMeetings, all used to reinforce the field detail. In addition to addressing the needs of mature brands that still offer strong ROI opportunity, remote selling tactics are used to meet physician preference for receiving information on the entire portfolio, no matter where the brands fall in their lifecycles (see Figure 1).


How does remote selling translate to selling smarter? The answer: It brings value to the physician and ultimately impacts patient outcomes in a cost-effective manner. Sales representatives who understand the science of the brand and its ever-changing position in the formulary can be tremendous assets to today’s harried physicians. Physicians recognizing the value of new information will make time to catch up on the latest medical news and drug information from the rep— even on the run. However, these in-person details are costly.

Cutting Edge Information recently reported the average cost of an in-person rep visit without providing samples was $178 to a primary care physician, $267 to a specialist, and $228 to a hospital.1 Visits in which samples were provided ran at least 15% higher. At these costs, the industry gains by finding promotional tactics that improve sales efficiency while also satisfying physicians’ needs and improving patient outcomes.

Leveraging Personal and Digital Resources

As a result, pharmaceutical companies are moving to a more integrated model of selling that optimizes personal and digital resources across brands and geographies. They are tapping into remote selling channels to create efficient and effective touch points with prescribers, many of which are digital. The data captured from these digital interactions can then be used to more effectively target future personal and remote selling efforts. The goal is to integrate remote selling with rep details in overall coverage strategies, and thereby reinforce the value of field efforts across the portfolio.

Optimizing Call Centers

Pharma’s use of call centers is not new. In 2010, Cegedim Strategic Data reported that the use of teledetails comprised almost 50% of the overall new media spend.2 Since that time, actual usage of in-house and outsourced call centers has evolved from purely mature brand and whitespace outreach, to engaging in a variety of remote selling tactics.

Today, call centers staffed with the appropriate clinical or administrative personnel are used for such remote selling activities as:

  • Setting field appointments for in-person visits, eDetails or video conferences giving the rep a head start on creating more impactful engagements.
  • Teledetailing in whitespace areas or lower prescribing deciles providing cost-effective coverage for brands in all lifecycle phases.
  • Providing advance notice on new drugs achieving formulary status within specific regions to set the stage for subsequent details.
  • Offering customer support functions such as determining the office’s need for samples, literature and formulary updates.
  • Establishing experienced succession for field territories as they become vacant. Call center reps are hired with the understanding they may be deployed to the field at a future date and are therefore aligned with the field team and serve the same management. When a field vacancy arises, the call center rep can then hit the ground running.

These centers also provide an important inbound function that supports digital remote selling tactics including website product sites or eDetails where there is a request for more information that can be handled, in many instances, on a 24/7 basis.

Remote Selling Digital Channels Set To Expand

At this point, the industry is choosing to test the waters before fully embracing digital outreach to its physician targets via eDetails and emails, website portals, eMeetings, social media and web banner advertising. Growth in the digital channel spend for all marketing expenditures grew 14% in 2013, a Cegedim Strategic Data (CSD) study stated,3 with 10% (see Figure 2) of all interactions with physicians being digital. However, despite this, digital remote detailing spending was flat, according the same study.3


Most do believe growth in digital outreach will continue to trend upward. Why? Because physicians demonstrate strong acceptance of the electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets used to deliver remote selling tactics. These devices allow physicians “on-the-go” remote learning, which is made necessary by increased constraints on their time.

Customer Centricity is Key

The appeal of remote selling digital channels such as eDetails, web portals and eMeetings stems from the ability they give physicians to tap these resources at their convenience. Physicians receive information where and when they want it. In meeting these physician preferences, the industry moves to a more customer-centric focus: Ultimately a win for both sides.

Although digital channels have the capability to deliver self-guided content on demand, they work best when part of an integrated program driven by inside reps or field teams. Sales reps can optimize the effectiveness of remote selling by combining their personal insights of the target with those derived from data capture of multichannel interaction to drive further digital outreach.

For instance, a rep sends an eDetail invitation to a physician via email. The physician’s interaction with the eDetail is recorded in the CRM. While monitoring the CRM, the rep sees the physician’s response to the eDetail and can better target the next round of outreach. That could be compliant material sent via email or a website portal providing more information. In this manner, subsequent in-person meetings can address any outstanding issues or point out new material.

Remote Selling Popular With Other Targets

Digital remote selling tools such as webinars or self-guided eDetails and eMeetings with reps are also used quite effectively to reach the payers, nurses and pharmacists who have increasing influence on what is being prescribed and adhered to based on the need to improve outcomes and reduce costs within the U.S. healthcare marketplace.

According to a report by Manhattan Research, these groups (payers, nurses and pharmacists) are “digitally savvy, are already engaging with pharmaceutical companies and indicate strong interest in support and services.”4 The report further indicates that over 80% of hospital-based formulary decision makers are looking for support and resources from pharma, such as patient and provider education materials and economic models that are well suited to remote delivery.

More than 75% of hospital and specialty pharmacists use or are interested in using online promotional programs such as webinars, self-guided virtual details and eMeetings with reps, and 60% of nurses are looking for online access to patient assistance programs and links to disease states.

Certainly the industry has recognized the need to bring these groups into a brand’s promotion by field sales and market access teams. The fact that these groups are receptive to remote selling can make this task all the more efficient, freeing the rep to address those physicians needing personal interaction.

Providing Smarter Service

The integration of remote selling and field sales outreach is critical to successfully and efficiently drive brand awareness in today’s marketplace. The development of technology to support digital channels and integrate captured data into CRM systems accessible to sales reps and management—breaking down silos that have isolated most of these efforts to date—is moving forward at a rapid pace, as it must. With such technology in place, the industry can better address the elusive ROI of digital remote selling efforts, and determine how and where they will prove most effective in the future.

Much is written about the difficulties sales representatives face in traditional detailing and how the field sales model has changed to one in which representatives now must function as relationship managers to be successful. Scientific and formulary updates, competitive review, samples—are all important to the practice of medicine—and the ultimate success of the brand.

As relationship managers, field reps are now in a better position to manage the delivery of needed and suitable information or samples based on an understanding of the practice derived from personal interactions and data capture from remote selling. High-cost field representatives can use, or better still, become integrated with lower cost remote selling tools that provide the data needed to target customers more effectively—ultimately delivering smarter service.


1. Ed Silverman, “The Pharamaceutical Sales Rep Lives To Fight Another Day,” WSJ, 3/13/14.

2. Cegedim Strategic Data. “U.S. Pharma Company Promotional Spending Trends In New Media,” updated November 2010.

3. “Worldwide Pharma Industry Marketing Investment Flat In 2013,” June 2014,

4. Manhattan Research, “Studies Show Pharma Has a Strong Opportunity To Market To New Decision Makers via Digital Channels,” February 7, 2013.

  • Dan Piggott

    Dan Piggott is CEO of Ashfield Commercial, Clinical and Medical Information areas of expertise within Ashfield Commercial and Medical Services. Ashfield is an international healthcare services organization that redefines outsourcing to accelerate success.


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