Pharma sales and the digital rep

Peter Mansell talks to Andreas Claus Kistner, Roche’s global head of commercial architecture, about how reps are using mobile technology for better value sales calls



With reduced access to key customers and deep cuts in the armies of sales reps who used to toil for share of voice in the pharmaceutical industry’s blockbuster era, sales-force effectiveness needs to be at front of mind for any company looking to establish or maintain a presence in today’s marketplace.

Strategies such as key account management—a familiar component of sales platforms in more consumer-oriented sectors but now answering pharma’s need for more meaningful and informed relationships with stakeholders across the healthcare spectrum—mean that keeping tabs on how those relationships actually play out has never been more crucial. (For more on key account management, see Key account management: A special report.)

Rather than just throwing more sales reps into the mix and hoping brand messages will stick, industry is having to think hard about where and how a leaner, more educated sales force is best deployed in a more complex, multi-faceted operating environment.

The digital rep

One factor that can ease this process significantly, and on a number of different levels, is the evolution of digital technology. This is an opportunity Roche has seized: The company is already reaping the benefits of iPad-enabled sales teams, both in terms of prompt, relevant feedback from sales calls and its reps’ ability to learn on the job.

As Andreas Claus Kistner, the company’s global head of commercial architecture, explains, a key consideration for Roche in adopting a digital sales platform was the need for “real-time information” that would give the company insights into sales coverage and the execution of its relationship-management strategy.

What the Roche sales force used to do was record call information in their Filofaxes and update it on the CRM (customer relationship management) system at the end of each week, or even once a month in some cases. (For more on customer relationship management, see Get ready for CRM 2.0  and What tablets can do for pharma CRM.)

Human nature being what it is, this task was “considered admin” and a lot of details would go astray, Claus Kistner notes. Computer notebooks were not a viable solution as they took too long to start up and load the necessary information, within what is typically a 10-minute window for a sales visit. At the same time, Roche was finding that the different CRM systems it employed worldwide tended to get “overloaded” with extraneous information.

The advent of the iPhone and other smartphones was an opportunity to resolve both of these problems using devices that could be switched on permanently and offered ease of entry for sales-call information. They had to be aligned, though, with Roche’s back-office systems, which “did not work that way,” Claus Kistner adds.

Mobile sales platforms

None of the available marketed solutions really fitted the bill, so Roche started from scratch, asking itself what kind of information sales reps absolutely needed to capture. The resulting “minimum input/maximum output” system was used to pilot the company’s first mobile sales platform.

The goal was to have all sales calls captured in three minutes and within three hours of the call taking place. As Claus Kistner observes, three minutes to record a sales call is “nothing” when set against the amount of time reps spend waiting for an appointment. “They can even do forward planning, decide what the follow-up is, what needs to be sent out, and all of that,” he comments.

Having achieved these objectives, Roche was in a position to embrace the new iPad tablets, with their improved capacity for information input and added functionality, particularly in terms of reporting calls. “So you can do the preparation, you can do the call, with e-detailing as well, and you can do the follow-up on the same device.”  The reps were only too happy to transition to an attractive new device that made them feel ahead of the game, Claus Kistner says.

Roche did consider other options, such as adding a keyboard to the iPad or using a similar device such as the Blackberry Torch, but it found a keyboard was surplus to requirements.

Near-time data

With the iPads, sales teams are now logging all of their calls on the same day, providing if not real-time then at least “near-time” data. Roche is getting much better quality, more accurate information on sales calls, and the reps save time not having to catch up on administrative functions after work. They effectively have one device for data input, CRM and e-detailing (e.g., downloading a relevant brochure on the spot) as well as for keeping track of e-mails and e-learning on the go.

“Normally training is done in classrooms or they have to do it at home on their PC,” Claus Kistner comments. “Now they can do it while sitting in the waiting room. The knowledge improvement and the knowledge management are much better."

The initial focus of Roche’s program was to enhance sales force effectiveness. The next step is leveraging the iPad to paperless interactions with doctors, other healthcare professionals, key opinion leaders, and even researchers in clinical trials. 

As Claus Kistner stresses, though, there “must be a pay-off” in all of this—not so much return on investment as a “very IT-centric” conception of “return on knowledge transfer.” That is not to say mobile sales technology is not susceptible to ROI analysis, using criteria such as manageability, the lifetime of the devices or the cost of maintaining them.

But what is particularly important, Claus Kistner notes, is understanding the value to the business of having near-time sales information that enables it to “make the right decision at the right time.” With a paper system, the feedback from reps was not only patchier but much more subjective. “Now we are able per detail to see what is really used, what the response was from the doctor, and to optimize the marketing approach,” he says.

Claus Kistner also underlines the need to integrate front-end solutions such as mobile sales devices and e-detailing with systems for CRM, marketing, e-learning or human resources: “I think the holistic approach is the better way here.”

For more on digital sales techniques, check out SFE USA on June 12-14 in Somerset, NJ and Emerging Markets USA in June.

For exclusive business insights, download eyeforpharma's Pharma Key Account Management Report 2011-12 and Pharma e-Marketing Strategy.

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