3 Ways Data-Driven Technology is Powering the Pharma Sales Evolution

September 21, 2020
Chris Neuner

Across companies and industries, we’re still figuring out how to adapt and thrive in this new, post-pandemic “normal.” 

While mainstream headlines and opinion pieces about “navigating workplace change” have mostly focused on teachers, parents (as teachers), and industries like hospitality and events -- those of us working in or adjacent to the medical community are aware of another career that has changed dramatically in the wake of COVID: the role of the pharmaceutical sales rep.

Much like every other profession, the challenges that pharma reps are currently facing also  represent opportunities for future growth. What’s unique and promising about this time for pharmaceutical sales however, is that in some ways, that future potential is already here. 

Armed with a roster of data-driven healthcare marketing tools and tactics, we’ve officially entered the age of the tech-enabled (dare we say, augmented) pharma sales representative. 

The “socially distant” pharma sales rep 

Even before the global pandemic, healthcare providers (HCPs) were enforcing a bit of “social distancing” in terms of interacting with pharma sales reps. 

Just 54 percent of practicing physicians surveyed in 2019 said they were accepting in-person visits from pharma reps -- down from 67 percent the previous year. There were also seemingly fewer opportunities for information-sharing in general, as the same survey found that 39 percent of physicians hadn’t even communicated with a single pharmaceutical sales rep in the previous six months. 

So in a world where handshakes are taboo, doctors are increasingly providing virtual care -- and they’ve still got hours of administrative tasks to tackle before they even think about continuing education or personal promotion -- how is a pharma sales rep supposed to break through and be successful? 

By taking advantage of technologies like machine learning and AI that can help them maximize their time, make better decisions, and ultimately, give doctors info that actually adds value to their day (and their patients’ lives). 

Here’s what that tech-enabled pharma sales experience looks like: 

1. Insights to segment and prioritize HCPs     

As of March 2020, there were over a million practicing physicians in the U.S., and well under 100,000 pharma reps. That ratio means a single pharmaceutical representative is typically tasked with checking in on well over a hundred doctors in their specific region or territory. 

The first step to success is narrowing down that list to better understand which HCPs will be the most receptive and in need of receiving information, and whether it makes sense to invest the time and resources in communicating with a given physician at all. 

The tech-enabled pharmaceutical sales rep of the future has insights that help them segment the HCPs on their list based on multiple factors. 

These can include data from in-house platforms like Veeva or Salesforce, but also third-party insights into physicians’ everyday activities -- from what they’ve searched for online, to the podcasts they listen to on their commute home -- to better understand if there are gaps in knowledge or when the right time to call on them. 

And while there are many sources of insights into HCP behavior, the most accurate and impactful will leverage verified NPI data to help sales reps better prioritize the physicians on their list. 

2. Sharpened instincts about what matters to each doctor   

With a more manageable list of HCPs that are receptive to or actively looking for specific drug info, the tech-enabled pharma rep can now further refine their outreach by matching the right content to the right doctor. 

Platforms that provide NPI-level insights augment a sales rep’s ability to deliver the most meaningful, impactful content by helping to answer questions like: 

  • Does this doctor care about dosing info? 
  • Is she more interested in the exact science behind how a drug is made, or the performance in the most recent clinical trial? 
  • Is she already familiar with the potential side effects and just focused on downloading a savings card to help support a patient on a fixed income? 

Understanding what matters to an HCP can mean the difference between an unreturned phone call and an eventual prescription or dosing decision -- so the successful pharma rep of the future will have these kinds of insights readily at their disposal when putting together an education guide or pitch. 

3. The inside scoop on when and where to reach out 

With a targeted list and a tailored message, there’s just one thing left for the tech-enabled pharma rep of the future to do -- send the communication at the most opportune time, using the channel most likely to garner a response.  

Technology is enhancing this phase of the sales process by allowing the pharma brand to leverage a variety of types of data to better determine when and where to initiate (or continue) outreach. 

For example, by combining first-party data from Veeva, with data from a digital out of home (DOOH) ad network, and insights from a platform like HCP365, a pharma rep can pinpoint whether a specific physician has visited a branded website and watched a video, walked past a billboard on their way to lunch, or clicked on a banner ad that showed up at the end of a webinar about another tangential medical condition. 

In each case, details like the daypart, channel and preferred content type will help inform the pharmaceutical sales rep’s outreach strategy. And at this stage, the communication will likely be a tag team effort between the sales rep and the marketing team -- as marketing will be able to load a message template into a CRM or other marketing platform that the sales rep may or may not ultimately pull the trigger on to deploy. 

Sales technology that treats physicians as people, too

Ultimately, the successful pharma sales rep of the future -- also known as now -- will be empowered by technology, not only to manage their own time better, but to understand and interact with HCPs like the individuals with unique motivations they are. 

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