The Three-Minute Sales Rep: Optimizing HCP Access
Three minutes – that may be the new normal for access time that medical sales representatives have with a healthcare provider (HCP). Louella Morton of Qstream describes how brain science, mobile technology and analytics can help optimize HCP access and ignite high-performance sales teams.
Six minutes – that was the average length of a medical sales representative’s call with a healthcare provider (HCP) several years ago according to the oft-quoted BioPharmAlliance study. Since that time, we’ve seen rapid change in the industry – marked by reductions in sales forces, M&A activity, an expanding number of brands, and the emergence of multichannel communication strategies. ZS Associates’ Spring 2014 AccessMonitorTM Survey estimates an additional 33 percent decline since 2008, making that six-minute figure closer to four minutes. Or less.
What can a medical sales representative accomplish with a healthcare professional in three minutes?
To put it in context, three minutes is the length of the average pop music song. It’s the time it takes to brush your teeth or eat an apple. It hardly seems enough time to deliver important and valued drug information to HCPs.
At a time when more than half of the physicians in the CMI/Compas survey said they restrict access from medical sales reps in one way or another – and administrative burdens increasingly consume a physician’s day – three minutes may be the new normal.
Transitioning from “Sales Person” to “Trusted Advisor”
The research reveals that the physicians that representatives most want to meet with – including oncologists and internists – are also the least likely to take an in-person meeting unless it concerns a new drug. That window of opportunity is usually just a few months’ long, as specialists turn to other digital forms of communication for information.
Yet the value of the representative call remains high, even while increased demands and restrictions on HCP’s time have significantly eroded the access they once had. While the role of the representative is changing– and the day of regular 20-minute visits may be long gone – there’s a transition underway in their role that is the harbinger of greater opportunity than one might imagine. With online channels available for doctors to acquire the product knowledge they seek, representatives can optimize their limited access by becoming “trusted advisors” – participating in conversations highly valued by physicians, such as those related to new research, business practices and patient outcomes.
Making the Minutes Matter
To be effective, however, representatives must plan, act fast, think on their feet and make every available moment with a HCP count. This can be achieved not only by sharpening their selling skills, but also with a more thorough understanding of clinical trial data, disease states, product safety, efficacy, access and other issues that pertain to the physician’s practice.
Three-minute clinician access demands that representatives:
- Know their stuff, cold. No flicking through a slide deck on an iPad.
- No reading from a brochure while they stand with a physician.
- No paper-based detailing.
- Are adaptable; They don’t waste time explaining conditions when there’s no time to spare.
- Transfer confidence in the drug to the physician.
- Keep the focus on patient outcomes – not the brand, and not the relationship with the clinician.
Achieving a three-minute approach that works requires a mind shift for most representatives. They need the right attitude – the right technical information – and concise and targeted marketing messages. It’s a challenge both for experienced reps, who may tend to rely on their relationship with clinicians – as well as for new reps, who may be learning situational fluency.
The trouble is, all of the above requirements are not static – but changing all the time.
- New launches demand new messages. If launches are delayed weeks or months, sales and marketing executives need to ensure the messages are still intact.
- Drugs coming off patent add a plethora of market options.
- Competitive entrants that frame significant threat to existing brands.
- New treatment options and new indications.
Pharmaceutical companies spend hefty sums on annual sales meetings, semi-annual regional meetings and Plan of Action (POA) sessions, with corresponding investments in face-to-face sessions and follow-on webinars in order to drive comprehension and enable reps to ask questions and get up to speed. However, the classic ‘forgetting curve’ applies – where representatives forget up to 79% of new information within 30 days – research more recently corroborated by ATD Journal which demonstrated that sales reps forget 85% of content and skills within 4 weeks of a sales meeting.
Brain Science and Technology Together Provide the Answer
Brain science married to the latest mobile, predictive analytics and game-based technologies are offering smarter approaches to the three-minute challenge. Already 8 of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies in the world – and almost half of the top 50 pharmaceutical companies – are now using a simple but powerful method to reinforce knowledge and keep a “pulse” on sales team strengths through real-time analytics.
Based on a learning and diagnostic model developed, proven and used at Harvard Medical School, this approach has been successfully implemented at scale in large life sciences organizations, such as Pfizer, BoehringerIngelheim and others.
Data from over 18 peer-reviewed RCTs demonstrates that the approach is effective and efficient. The clinical data shows that mobile sales reinforcement is clinically proven to increase knowledge retention by up to 170%, and durably change on-the-job performance.
The solution is designed to be simple and fun for the representative. Onboard game mechanics capitalize on reps’ natural competitiveness to ensure active, ongoing participation. Users earn points by answering questions and optionally compete with colleagues for position on the leaderboard. The approach takes little time, is convenient in its use of a mobile device, and leverages the reps’ inherent motivation to stay engaged in content that, if delivered in a more staid vehicle of email or Web-based modules, may not yield the same long-term interest.
Conversely for the pharmaceutical sales executive, a predictive insights engine sifts and analyses response data to provide continuous real-time management updates, comparisons and trends on team capabilities, as well as targeted coaching actions that contribute to management’s ability to identify and remediate gaps before they can create business or regulatory risk.
Whether brand managers are delivering information to new hires for the first time or reinforcing critical knowledge from sales meetings and POAs, the approach makes the information stick. The approach is used to keep sales teams up-to-date on disease states, competition, compliance and more via any mobile device in just minutes a day – making continuous improvement part of the sales culture while reducing valuable time away from selling.
One Pharma’s Results
In April 2014, a top pharmaceutical company using this approach to reinforce product knowledge following its mid-year kickoff proved the ability to deliver durable change in selling behaviors. Following the acquisition of a competitor’s drug, the company held an intensive in-person meeting to deliver new product information. It established a control group of approximately 500 reps and a separate group of 2,000 reps who actively participated in a mobile reinforcement initiative to ensure they retained important information on the new products.
Figure 1 (below) shows the classic “forgetting curve” knowledge drop off over a six-week period. But note that the representatives using the knowledge reinforcement platform increased their critical skills and information retention by 20% – as measured by the accuracy of a rep’s first response attempt vs. their final attempt up to six weeks later. The curve shows that reps gained knowledge over time in addition to retaining it. What’s more, after program completion, new messages and information retained by the 2,000 reps who participated was 32% better than the control group, which continued to experience decays in important information they needed to know.
Real-time dashboards provided management with graphical views of baseline knowledge and improvement over time. In addition, the aggregate performance on the first attempt at a question was significantly higher – 63% compared to 52% – among those using the reinforcement program compared to the control group. In other words the very act of interval reinforcement and continuous recall helped reps answer more accurately.
Driving Results, Three Minutes at a Time
Medical sales representatives are busy, and we want them to stay focused on selling. Yet, in the absence of other approaches, a representative’s ingrained sales behaviors can be hard to change, and organizations can’t hope to cope with the new three-minute access realities in a way that allow them to win without a game-changer.
It’s time we apply the same level of rigor that medical researchers do to meeting the demands of today’s selling environment– helping medical sales teams optimize every available moment with HCPs. By making sure reps keep their selling skills sharp, executives can assure their team obtains the greatest return on the three minutes the sales reps may have with the healthcare professional.
Louella Morton is Vice President of International Sales and General Manager of Qstream, a mobile sales performancesolutionbased on the of extensive research conducted at Harvard Medical School. Louella has over 20 year’s experience in enterprise software. She has worked extensively with life sciences companies and has a lot of experience rolling out solutions to improve sales performance, particularly within regulated environments.