New sales force models: Get ready for the hybrid reps

Mark Gleason, senior vice president of corporate development at Aptilon, explains how sales reps are combining field visits with online meetings.

Mark Gleason, senior vice president of corporate development at Aptilon, explains how sales reps are combining field visits with online meetings.

Todays physicians are wedded to the Web.

A recent Manhattan Research study found that the average physician spends eight hours a week online.

Eighty-nine percent of physicians go online outside of office hours, while 75 percent go online for professional purposes on weekends.

The physician move to online mediums is mostly driven by practicality.

Physicians have adopted technology out of necessity to stay on top of medical information, says Mark Gleason, senior vice president of corporate development at Aptilon.

On-demand service

To cover overhead in a medical practice, physicians must treat more patients in less time while handling an increased load of technical complexity and administrative burden, Gleason says.

The average physician spends an hour of administrative time for every two hours of patient time, according to another recent study.

In this context, the only way physicians can stay on top of the constant advances in medical knowledgethe changes in treatment protocols and the lists of new medical information available dailyis to find alternative ways of accessing it, says Gleason.

And the best option is to go online.

Given this professional transformation, the old pharma sales model of sending reps to physicians offices is losing effectiveness, Gleason says.

Physicians simply dont have time.

Online, its a different story.

When a physician is online sitting at home, he can focus on complex clinical information, says Gleasonexactly the sort of information pharma reps want physicians to consume.

But selling to physicians in this setting requires a paradigm shift, Gleason says, from reps seeking out physicians to reps waiting for physicians to seek them out.

We need to make it as convenient as possible for physicians to get information they need on demand on an absolutely personalized basis, Gleason says.

Call centers for reps

Aptilon has developed a recruiting channel called ReachNet that connects physicians to online product content.

The channel strategically sprinkles links throughout medical publisher sites and forums with large pools of registered physicians.

The links present clinically relevant contentnew treatment advances, clinical datatargeted to a physician, his or her therapy area, and his or her practice setting.

Aptilon couples ReachNet with a video detailing service called AxcelRx Live.

If physicians are interested in the content they read online, one click puts them in touch with a live rep at a call center or online.

The rep is prepared with dynamic slide decks, specific information to be printed on demand, patient education material, samples, vouchers for patient starters, access to presentations by clinicians who studied the drug, and referrals to a medical science liaison for off-label discussions.

The rep becomes a concierge to help that physician get whatever information he needs, Gleason says.

Aptilon has found its approach to be effective for both responsive physicians as well as the 40 percent that are low-see or no-see.

Average Web-based meetings last eight to 10 minutes, rather than the two to four minutes reps average on the ground.

Aptilons approach also helps cut down on the millions of dollars pharma sales forces spend on cars, samples in trunks, storage warehouses, and other infrastructure expenses.

This approach allows companies to evolve their sales model to the way that best fits the physician world, Gleason says.

Implementing online

Aptilon launched its service in 2003 and now works with 12 of the largest pharma companies, including Merck, Johnson & Johnson, and Amgen.

The companys business doubled last yearfrom a commercial point of view, a year most of us would like to forget.

Were at a nexus point where its the right time for the physician, its the right time for pharma, and the technology is well proven, Gleason says.

Hes quick to add that a Web-based approach like Aptilons doesnt signal the end for traditional field reps.

Aptilon has seen the emergence of what Gleason calls hybrid reps who spend some days in the field with remote access to online resources, others in the office or at home.

Information freely flows from call centers and online databases, allowing the rep to be kept appraised of what his doctors are doing online at all times.

Reps in the field can be a very key component in quarterbacking the relationship with the physician, Gleason says.

Theyre key account managers. They can better serve the practice if they have more tools to use. And therefore they can become more efficient and more effective and a better value for pharmaceutical companies.


For more on the evolving role of reps, see Sales force effectiveness: Are reps still relevant?.

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