Vertical Focus: Pharmaceutical Firms Find a Spoonful of CRM Helps the Sales Pitch Go Down

Article excerpt

Does this sound familiar? "Ask your doctor if [medication name] is right for you." The barrage of direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical ads and the availability of medical information over the Internet are creating the most knowledgeable customer base ever, but as consumer awareness increases, so do antacid prescriptions for pharmaceutical marketers.

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The ad campaigns create a pull-marketing effect, bringing patients into doctors' offices with product-specific questions. The challenge is keeping physicians up-to-date on new products, customized content, clinical evidence, and comparative analysis of medicines. According to an Accenture survey of 400 physicians conducted last year, 30 percent stated that pharmaceutical sales reps are important sources for this kind of information--but good luck getting face time with a doctor.

Complicating the matter is the upsurge in the total number of pharmaceutical sales reps, which has quadrupled to 90,000 in the United States over the past four years, according to Tom Schwenger, a partner in the Health and Life Sciences practice at Accenture. As a result, the average talk time a sales rep has with a doctor has dwindled to only two minutes. "We've reached a point where doctors don't have any more time to give to sales reps," Schwenger says.

So when a rep can squeeze in time with physicians it is paramount to bring the right message to the right doctors at the right time. To do so, more pharmaceutical companies are turning to vendors that offer pharmaceutical-specific CRM products.

Dale Hagemeyer, principal research analyst of the CRM practice at Gartner, says pharmaceutical companies should "put the icing on their sales force automation cake," with tablet PCs to make it easier for reps to take tailored messages to doctors. Siebel Systems, which analysts agree leads the way in the pharmaceutical CRM market, has partnered with Microsoft, Pharmetica, Proscape, and Accenture to provide interactive multimedia content on tablet PCs in which the messaging changes as reps go through the presentation. And as with most tablet PC programs, the information reps collect doesn't need to be reentered into the system. What's more, firms can--and do--use that information to improve marketing and sales efforts.

"The concept of closed-loop promotion is really about to have a major shift," Accenture's Schwenger says. "This is going to have a significant impact on the way salespeople do their jobs."

Hagemeyer also suggests that to support their CRM efforts, pharmaceutical firms invest in analytics that, when cross-referenced with IMS Health's database of pharmaceutical sales activity, would identify when a doctor switches a patient from one product to a similar product from another company. This would alert the salesperson from the original firm to call that doctor to follow up. …