Pharma Sales Effectiveness: How to Stay Ahead of the Pack


“Remember the days…” reminisces Mark Degatano, “When the only available information on new Pharmaceutical products came from the sales reps themselves? A one-on-one visit to the clinic and a personal physician-rep acquaintance?”

Degatano, a seasoned Pharma expert with thirty-plus years of commercial operations under his belt, can remember those halcyon times.

“Those days are long gone,” he admits. “But a combination of digital technology and smart analytics can create a renewed, dedicated, and more personal relationship between sales reps and physicians.”

Verix’ latest advisory board member insists that the industry is caught up in something of a paradox: On the one hand, with the pharma-physician relationship now subject to strict regulation and doctors feeling the pressure of overwork, it clearly makes sense to move over to online communications for Pharma marketing. But here’s the rub – with so much online chatter and hullabaloo going on, it’s harder than ever to get noticed. Patients and physicians are bombarded with information 24/7, via websites, devices and social media. Astonishingly, today’s top doctors can expect to receive 2,700 Pharma marketing messages a year (that’s 7.5 a day, as Degatano is quick to point out).

“[It’s] ridiculous, right?” he laughs. “But, this is the current industry’s overwhelming marketing strategy with every product seeking to grab physician’s’ attention.” So pharma has to act smarter: “In the end, Pharma companies with a selective-tactics approach to physicians will be the ones to win attention, over the cacophony of all the other marketing noise.”

And the ultimate way to a physician’s heart? Create a tailor-made unique marketing and sales strategy. New analytic and reporting solutions are emerging to help commercialization teams provide their sales and marketing personnel with easy-to-use tools that enable them to analyze their particular situation, such as identifying which physicians to focus on, and physicians’ preferences for the way they receive new product information.

This targeted approach also lies behind the recent success of specialty product launches. Most, if not all, Pharma companies have redirected their pipelines to specialty therapeutic areas that take advantage of the ongoing rapid advances in biologic medicine. Degatano puts these triumphs down to the fact that smaller-to-mid-sized companies can act fast and innovatively, and be more focused on target populations. Vertex, for example, introduced Incivek, its first commercial launch, with fewer than 100 reps, to great success.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easier to launch a specialty drug rather than a blockbuster. “Specialty products,” Degatano is quick to point out, “are by definition distributed via specialty Pharma, either because they require special handling, like infusion therapies for cancer or autoimmune diseases, or are very expensive such as HCV products.” It’s difficult, sometimes impossible, to get accurate timely data about product use. Claims data provides some help, but it is delayed and it is challenging to create market share metrics. Also, adding to the difficulty, specialty products are often bought and billed at an account level, such as an infusion clinic.

On the other hand, Degatano says, there’s an urgency to treat in areas that are underserved by current therapies. Physicians and patients are receptive to learning about new products. Society is willing to pay more for these specialist therapies because of their potential to extend lives. The messaging has to be more disease-focused and backed with key publications.

In the olden days, bigger was always better and it would have been unthinkable to talk about targeting specific physicians, or regions. Now everyone acknowledges that the days of large personal selling models are over and the shift to other channels is well underway. Recent FDA guidance on promotion using social media has prompted innovative approaches. The companies that embrace all the new and emerging possibilities to reach out to their target audiences will find themselves ahead of the pack.