Drug companies in the United States have slashed the number of sales jobs in the last decade, leaving the remaining 80,000 drug reps with the challenge of reaching prescribers more effectively with fewer resources. Obamacare, pharmaceutical advancements, and policy changes are flipping the sales process on its head, impacting the way drugs are introduced to healthcare professionals (HCPs)
Where have all the sales reps gone?
As happens in rapidly developing industries and markets, there is often a push-pull that resets the selling environment. In healthcare, the advent of more and more specialized pharmaceutical products calls for more specialized relationships between reps and their physician audiences. Specialized markets may mean smaller, more targeted patient and physician groups that are easily accessed in large metro areas, but not necessarily in outlying regions.
If the push side of the equation has to do with changes in pharmaceutical company priorities, changes on the pull side speak to increased limitations placed on sales visits to HCP practices. With low-see or no-see conditions set by physicians, or the healthcare systems for which they work, even highly populated markets may suffer from limited time in which a rep and practitioner can develop a working relationship.
Filling the Gap
The gnawing question becomes: how can sales reps maintain continuity and value when conditions seem to be working against these very qualities? The answer lies in filling this gap with high-value, personalized interactions that can be delivered through the digital channel. This solution contains many a booby trap. Are the targeted physicians reading email? On what devices? At what time and on what day? What high-value content will encourage them to engage in the email channel?
There are three key factors that successfully connect HCPs to the sales process:
Know the digital habits of your HCPs
There is evidence that email marketing is positioned favorably in the changing landscape of pharmaceutical sales.
In a recent study that polled members of Sermo, the largest physician-only online community, 68% of physicians said that they prefer to receive information about emerging products from pharmaceutical companies through email. Another survey, conducted by Pharma Leaders, revealed that most doctors find email content with educational materials and case studies valuable, as it helps them evaluate which products are more suited for their patients.
Knowing when a particular specialty tends to open emails (i.e., day of week and time of day) allows a sales rep to send email when they will have the greatest probability of an open. And, email marketers know: no open, no click through or other response.
Understanding the behavior of your audience will influence how the email is created. Since more than 60% of HCPs are reading emails on a mobile device, the layout and landing pages must be optimized for mobile devices. More and more pharmaceutical marketers and their agencies have come to learn that it's no longer enough that the company website is responsive to mobile devices; email must be optimized for mobile, or campaign results will suffer.
Know what types of information matter to your HCPs
An email program that augments the personal selling process relies on sales rep insights about the HCP audience. Sharing recent news or studies about a product, announcing a webinar opportunity, and recommending a sampling program all add value to the HCP. They are much more engaging than yet another description of product benefits and patient information. Just as a rep comes prepared for a personal selling appointment, these emails should be prepared to deliver high value without fluff, in order to truly work their magic.
Plotting out an email content calendar that accounts for annual conferences, product updates, patient outcome case studies, and other newsworthy opportunities allow the rep to plan visits and emails to work in tandem throughout the year. It also gives marketing the time to get email content through the medical-legal process. The end result is a pre-approved inventory of email templates that sales reps can use to continue the conversation with their target HCPs, even if it's not face to face.
The task here is to develop relevant, timely, and helpful content via email. Of course, testing what works over the course of a campaign can yield improved response rates as learning from one campaign informs the next.
An added value built into the very DNA of email is the ability to test critical, response elements in a campaign. For example, subject lines and preheaders influence open rates. If several versions can be tested across a sales organization, winning combinations can be implemented to great impact.
The key here is to plan ahead in order to have alternative email versions with different copy, calls to action, subject lines, and preheaders. All versions should be approved from the beginning of the first deployment, rather than starting from scratch, if one email does not yield expected results.
When marketing and sales work together to secure message consistency and high-value content, email can create and sustain relationships in an efficient, targeted manner.