mHealth Monthly Mashup: Release 23.0 – evolution and future of pharma mobile sales tools

In this month’s mHealth monthly mashup, Michael Spitz looks into mobile health for pharma sales – does this mean digital technologies will replace sales reps altogether? And what does the new pharma mobile sales strategy look like? Read on to find out…

Trends of seismic proportion are sweeping through the pharmaceutical industry, reverberating across franchises, brands, and the very business model itself. As budgets continue to tighten pressure mounts for sales and marketing departments grappling with fewer reps with increased responsibilities, shrinking time with distracted and disinterested physicians, and a whirlwind of regulatory and privacy concerns. Pressed to get more for less, pharma has already sought to heighten efficiencies via digital technology to an extent that’s transformed the C-Suite, Chief Marketing Officers set within 5 years to spend more on tech than their Information Officers across the hall.

But is pharma getting the most out of mobile sales tools? We’ve all grown up with the “interactive visual aid” and “eDetail”, early and enthusiastic expressions of mobile adoption for an industry always innovating in R&D but proportionately taciturn in communication and outreach. Along the way, social media and mobile technology have transformed how users engage with each other, their technology, and what they expect from consumer brands and even healthcare — so can pharma step up to embrace these revolutionary new channels on an enterprise level, and in a risk averse manner suitable for increasingly savvy healthcare professional audiences and other key decision makers and influencers?

“Can pharma step up to embrace these revolutionary new channels on an enterprise level?”

The affirmative answer is inevitable yet still surprising, demanding a paradigm shift from conventional records-based IT to a more actionable marketing and communications model centered around engagement, connectivity, integration, and proven content strategy. Interestingly enough, the very problems facing pharma sales reps in the field and their corporate bosses at the HQ lend themselves perfectly to innovative enterprise-based software solutions. These not only reduce costs and heighten efficiencies, but create communication networks better suited for compliance, metrics, and increased benefit for end-users across the full gamut of relevant audiences, including physicians, patients, and even payers.

From digital discovery to “iPhoria”

About ten years ago pharma felt the acute pressure of diminishing sales force returns, and concluded quite rightly that innovation was required to increase productivity. Mobile tools were the logical solution, a “Beyond the Brochure” approach that delivered the power of digital directly into the point of care/point of sale physician-rep experience. Suddenly gone was the dependence on cumbersome print collateral, as increasingly sophisticated digital devices delivered multimedia content in forms that were profoundly more engaging, measurable, and even controllable. Traditionally sluggish pharma, typically innovating everywhere but in marketing and communications, had finally entered the digital age.

Fast forward a decade and pharma’s enthusiasm for mobile sales tools now often extends into replacing sales reps altogether. Although the “Death of the Pharma Rep” has clearly been exaggerated, continued lay-offs, physician skepticism, and ongoing corporate restructuring question the entire model. Further complicating matters is what Jeff Gaus, CEO of Prolifiq Software has called “iPhoria” — the tendency of pharma, now emboldened by astronomical increases in adoption via the iPhone and especially the iPad, to embrace new tech with an almost reckless, resolutely tactical approach to content creation and delivery. Devoid of a broader enterprise-level mobile strategy, opportunities are missed and ROI lost.

“Pharma and its sales forces have a host of needs that today’s information architects and user experience experts are finally able and eager to meet,” insists Jeff. “In a few short years everything has changed about how digital audiences engage with content: From icon-based touchscreens to deep personalization, seamless integration to modular platforms, pharma needs flexible, scalable solutions that optimize everything a sales rep does and reports. We need to stop thinking about individual nuggets of collateral that take a year to approve and implement, and start thinking about creating dynamic networks that encourage active, real time engagement.”

“Instead of replacing the rep with an eDetail, effective enterprise-level mobile sales tools can bolster efficiencies across everything the rep does…”

From “iPhoria” to “Appification”

Instead of replacing the rep with an eDetail, effective enterprise-level mobile sales tools can bolster efficiencies across everything the rep does: Pre-call planning, travel, waiting in the physician’s office, face-to-face HCP / rep time, sampling and inventory management, post-call and administrative reporting, physician follow ups, invoicing and billing, training and account planning, etc., all have potential digital touch points and extensibility. Systems must be designed to optimize these inputs, and process the results in a manner meaningful to the company, the rep, and the physician. “We’ve discovered that actual face time with physicians amounts to only 16% of a rep’s productive day,” says Jeff. “So why is the industry investing so heavily in only the one area that continues to generate questionable results?”

Today’s pharma mobile sales strategy must go beyond providing a tactical, one-off solution to a given problem, and instead create a modular, integrated network that is safe, measurable, and scalable. Prerequisites include seamless integration with a single sign-on and homogeneous look and feel, customization enabling user preferences, language, and interface controls, and “appification” of digital assets that cover the gamut needed by the industry. “Apps come in three flavors,” smiles Jeff. “Ours, theirs, and yours. Any preferred mobile platform should accommodate all forms of software, viewable across any kind of screen: desktop, smartphone, or tablet. It’s about pure flexibility, in content and device.”

An example of exactly this kind of implementation was done for Maquet Medical Systems USA. A supplier that relied entirely on reps fumbling through hardcopy sales collateral, the first step of creating a new mobile sales strategy involved digitizing this content and making it available through a network of more than 500 iPads. Not only did the content become more manageable and engaging, but the point of care experiences became for the first time measurable. Money was saved on printing costs, but efficiencies were also improved for additional sales rep tasks, such as ordering and inventory, demos, and other modular, app-driven experiences. “Content management is only the beginning,” insists Jeff.

From “Appification” to the new breed of eDetail

But what of the old faithful and well-trusted “interactive visual aid” and “eDetail”? Industry staples since reps first carried around laptops and custom tablets, the IVA has been the digital workhorse longer and more reliably than any tool in pharma’s digital arsenal. At the end of any given sales cycle, this new and impressively evolved pharma mobile strategy outlined above might be just what the doctor ordered, but the pharma sales rep still needs to detail an HCP, right? And that experience, the Caronia case notwithstanding, still has to be a controlled, mostly linear physician / rep conversation that is fully compliant and reduces the risk of off-label discussions. So back to square one, the question now is: How does the IVA fit in?

“The technology required to successfully implement this strategy must originate at the enterprise level…”

Seth Quillin, leading teams of specialists from buildingfive, insists on a similarly strategic, needs-driven approach to both content and context. “An engaging IVA or eDetail goes beyond delivering static content that happens to be on an iPad. Much like what Prolifiq does in terms of creating a flexible mobile platform designed with the users’ expectations in mind, we’ve engineered and routinely integrate an equally nimble content delivery system for controlled physician/rep experiences.” Used by over 1,500 reps in the field, “Granola” is a plug-and-play eDetailing platform that reduces scheduling, costs, and hassle for digital projects that are otherwise ad hoc, laboriously time-consuming, and prohibitively expensive.

With sights set on creating and distributing relevant content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience, Seth and his experts are content strategists and digital enablers for brand teams tired of designing and developing eDetails from scratch. With resident capabilities ranging from slide builder functionality to sharing tools and built-in metrics, Granola is the kind of app that fits perfectly into a broad, enterprise-level modular platform embodying the future of pharma mobile sales networks. “When you partner to create an effective eDetail or IVA,” insists Seth, “the focus should be on the point of care experience, and not on the tech that too often gets in the way.”

Key takeaways

• Pharma mobile sales tools have historically been in the form of “interactive visual aids” and eDetails, designed to improve sales rep efficiency

• Challenges with these tools include long ramp-up time, expense, limited interactivity and engagement, and difficulty in substantiating ROI

• The new pharma mobile sales strategy looks beyond these discrete sales tools and instead creates an integrated, customizable, modular digital network that optimizes efficiencies throughout the sales rep’s day

• The technology required to successful implement this strategy must originate at the enterprise level, and be built from a platform flexible and scalable enough to incorporate apps from multiple sources, purposes, and providers

• The future of pharma mobile sales has epic potential as brand teams look beyond individual pieces of content and set their sights on broad integration to the franchise level and beyond, benefiting from economy of scale and synergy across brands, content providers, and audience types.

About the author:

Michael Spitz is SVP of Digital Health at Edelman. Spitz combines his passion for technology with more than 15 years of clinical content expertise to help engineer digital healthcare solutions. Follow @SpitzStrategy on Twitter for his daily – often hourly – updates on all things digital for the ultimate benefit of patients worldwide.

What do you think is the future of mobile sales tools for pharma?