Alternative Vehicles for DTC Sales Efforts

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Direct selling remains the most consistently proven vehicle for pharmaceutical selling and for rapid generation of over-the-counter recommendations in a highly competitive environment.

However, pharmaceutical marketers may rely too heavily on the availability of sales time and need to be encouraged to develop and test at least one or more alternative approaches for their business.

Pharmaceutical companies need to encourage and reward pharmaceutical product managers and sales teams that actively seek and develop these new methods. Results then need to be well-documented and shared broadly throughout each organization.

Contract selling - engaging a contract sales organization to provide physician detailing on a contractual basis - is the most promising vehicle to match the impact of a company's internal sales efforts for both OTC and Rx initiatives.

Contract selling is typically not a short-term cost savings vs. internal resources, it's a longer-term cost savings realized through flexibility to build up or cut back the sales team without the costs and liability problems inherent in making these moves with an internal sales organization.

Group selling is defined as five or more healthcare professionals attending a single program or presentation. The speaker may be a sales representative from the sponsoring pharmaceutical company or an outside expert. Group selling includes (but is not limited to) in-office lunch programs, speaker programs, symposiums and other special meetings held at trade conventions. While quantitative results in program efficiency and market share growth are difficult to obtain, qualitative feedback and review of representative close rates suggest group selling is a powerful vehicle.

Group selling appears most effective if the product has sufficient news or valuable information that justifies a full presentation. For this reason, it has been less effective in stimulating growth of mature products but has proved very effective for new product introductions or new Food and Drug Administration approved claims. When representatives are to deliver the presentations, a specially trained cadre of representatives may be necessary. Group selling is a specialized skill; not all representatives will be able to achieve good results. These efforts typically require more advanced presentation skills, including the ability to segue from a general presentation into a product close.

In the absolute, selling one-on-one or to groups generates the strongest results. However, direct mail can be very cost-effective as a means to cover tertiary target customers or high potential prescribers not in coverage, supplement regular coverage or generate leads. Industry leaders would agree that direct mail can successfully build market share, particularly when the direct mail presents an element of news and is targeted to a specific, clearly defined audience. Defining the right target is one of the most important factors in using direct mail effectively. This includes (but is not limited to) the following:

• Medical specialty or audience.

• Current product used/recommended.

• Volume of Rx/recommendation support.

• History of responding to mail programs.

• Interest in the product category.

• Geography.

• Previous contacts with field or telemarketing representatives.

Keep in mind the following tactical keys before implementing your direct mail program:

• Select and maintain the right target list and tailor the direct mail material to make it meaningful for each target audience.

• Include samples or offers for samples (both OTC and Rx) to increase the value of the direct mail for the target audience.

• Use simple personalized notes, dimensional notes, dimensional mail or premiums to improve openership.

Outbound telemarketing also has proven very cost-effective in covering tertiary customers or high-potential prescribers not in coverage, supplement regular coverage or generate leads. When used to supplement regular coverage, telemarketing is most beneficial when telemarketing events are in concert with field sales efforts. Telemarketing sales representatives and field sales representatives should be part of the same selling team.

They should form one cohesive team that supports and complements the other toward the mutual goal of increasing market share. Outbound telemarketing representatives and field sales representatives can form teams based on geography, where designated telemarketing representatives are responsible for accounts in designated regions and for supporting those field representatives operating in those regions.

Field sales representatives should consider their designated telemarketing representatives as sales associates and team members.

Today, every facet of business is abuzz about the power of the Internet and how it will revolutionize the way we do business. While much of this is indisputable, the value of the Internet to impact the healthcare professional is yet to be realized. This is based on industry data, which indicates that practicing healthcare professionals are not yet regularly using the Internet for business purposes and specifically, to access new drug information.

This could quickly change with the emergence of content-rich Web sites targeted specifically to healthcare providers, e-commerce portals that provide cost-saving product purchasing opportunities and the establishment of vertically integrated online communities of healthcare providers, payers, patients and drug manufacturers.

My personal experience has consistently demonstrated that the most powerful promotional campaigns result from using a variety of the vehicles discussed above in a closely integrated and complementary way.

As isolated events, direct mail, telemarketing and field sales efforts can have a measurable impact but a less desirable result in driving market share than if several promotional vehicles are simultaneously engaged as part of one overall campaign.

Walter Dewees is co-founder of ICS LLC (Innovative Customer Solutions), Cincinnati.
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