Is there substance behind your style?
The visual sales aid has a new competitor. Talk to any pharmaceutical sales rep today (one who still has a job), and you'll find someone who either has or is expecting to receive a shiny new iPad. No, it's not the latest in sales incentives; it's the newest way of presenting the lowly sales aid—the “digital detail.” But is it really something new and creative, or is it simply old wine in new wineskins?
Actually, presenting visually interesting content on these electronic devices is the least of our challenges. Creative agencies will fix that. The real issue is that the mobile device alone doesn't address the fundamental pharmaceutical sales and marketing problem—physician relevance.
The business challenge is well documented. The door to the physician is closing, and marketers are turning to new so-called closed-loop marketing technology and the tablet for their promise to reinvigorate the sales experience.
Closed-loop marketing means that data from every customer touchpoint are captured, analyzed and packaged into insight to create more valuable and personalized physician experiences. If the tablet is not part of an authentic closed-loop strategy, however, it simply replaces a glossy presentation with a shiny presentation. It's like replacing a traditional hammer with an auto-hammer: it's cool, it's electric, but in the end it still does the same thing.
Instead, mobile tablets should be one component in a larger strategy to listen, learn and build more personal relationships with physicians. The iPad is a medium for content, yes, but just as important, it's a tool to capture physician insight in the field and feed it back to marketing. But if that insight loop isn't closed, if we're not listening and learning and changing in response to what we learn, then the expensive iPad deployment is just, well, a cool, electric way of doing what the sales aid did. With the same results.
Physicians are early adopters of mobile technology. This year, smartphone usage is up to 72 percent among physicians and is expected to be at 81 percent by 2012.
There are three things that pharmaceutical marketers need to think about as they spearhead device rollouts to ensure they are closing the loop and providing value to physicians.
1. Marketing needs to take the lead with closed-loop marketing.
First of all, there aren't any “no see” docs out there. There are “no see me” docs. Physicians are accessing medical content every day, but it's happening through channels that might not include a field sales force. Fixing that is a marketing problem. Sales and IT play important roles and manage big budgets, of course, but that doesn't mean they should be setting the strategy. That's what marketing should be doing: finding new ways to achieve physician access and delivering greater message relevance. Marketing teams, lead.
2. To create personalized physician experiences, stop, look and listen.
Second, your pre-school teacher was right. When approaching a dangerous intersection, you should stop, look and listen. Closed-loop marketing and promotion must be approached the same way. Tablets, portals, eDetails and mobile apps are listening posts first and presentation devices second. The quality of data from these interactions is profound and offers marketers a view into their customers' behavior, attitudes and preferences, a view that never existed before. The ability to decode that data stream into actionable, predictable insight and compelling marketing messages will require new capabilities in analytics and imagination, but it will give brands a competitive advantage and sales forces a right to exist. Marketing teams, listen.
3. Closed-loop marketing is a social contract.
Finally, closed-loop promotion is not another marketing channel. It's a way of doing business across every channel. A commitment to providing personalized and relevant value to healthcare professionals when and where they want it. A social contract that trades data for respect. When physicians begin to see content that's focused on their specific needs and presented in a way that respects their time and business needs, even if it doesn't promote the brand, then you've established grounds for a relationship. Marketing teams, commit.
A first step to personalized physician experiences
Whether you are currently implementing or still contemplating a mobile device rollout, there is a way to close the loop. Hire a quarterback. This could be a closed-loop marketing consultant, but it's more likely to be a specialized agency that will help you lock down your customer strategy, define your success metrics, analyze the new data stream and then help you manage the interests and integration needs of multiple internal stakeholders and external agencies.
True closed-loop promotion is a new paradigm for the pharmaceutical industry. For those who truly “close the loop,” it can be transformative. But it will require commitment, investment and leadership. Putting iPads into the hands of sales reps without the right support is like fielding a Ferrari without a pit crew; it's fast off the starting line and looks good for a few laps, but it's not sustainable and will not win any races.
Closing the insight loop will provide the market intelligence to help both sales and marketing achieve customer relevance and personalization, leading to lasting physician relationships.
A version of this article, titled “The closed loop has a leak,” appeared in the March 2011 issue of PM360 magazine.
David Ormesher, CEO
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