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How to Win the Pharma Sales Force Scrimmage

Medical advances and competition in the pharmaceutical industry are driving an incredible number of sales initiatives aimed at influencing physicians’ prescribing habits. Managed care drives doctors to see more patients each day; so the knowledge sales reps convey to physicians about new FDA-approved drugs is a valuable benefit, eliminating hours of physician research. Yet, a high-prescribing physician may have 50 or more sales reps calling on a regular basis. Many now place limits on sales visitations, resulting in sales calls lasting, on average, two to four minutes.

“To be effective, pharma companies need to put concise data into sales reps’ hands along with a targeted message to deliver during their brief interaction with a doctor. Conveying useful data enables a rep to get back in the door with additional information later, building on a previous call,” explains Greg Umstead, CEO of Everest Field Technologies, a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based provider performing sales force automation (SFA) and customer relationship management (CRM) support services in the life sciences industry. “In the case of a new product launch, two weeks’ lead time against a competitor’s product can make the difference between a blockbuster and an also-ran,” adds Umstead. “It’s that tight in establishing market presence.”

Reps depend on technology to inform them of doctors they are to call on the next day and which drugs to talk about. Their agenda also includes data collection regarding a doctor’s specialty and prescribing habits, changes in payer plans (and formulary drug restrictions) or hospitals where the physician is on staff, as well as new doctors.

In such an environment, SFA and CRM technology are crucial competitive advantage tools. But pharmaceutical SFA software and data manipulation is unique, requiring unusual help desk expertise. Pharma sales reps can’t afford to wait for help desk support. “During a product launch, there is often a frenzy to move prescriptions. Reps can’t afford a laptop or PDA to be down for three hours to get a support issue resolved,” Umstead points out. A pharma help desk needs to provide first call resolution, turn hardware repairs around the same day and be available when/wherever a rep needs support.

One Call–That’s All

Pharmaceutical companies have long outsourced their internal help desk process to providers with the requisite infrastructure and expertise; but field support for their sales reps has been handled by pharma software vendors understanding the SFA applications as well as the pharmaceutical selling environment. Unfortunately, this dual model–which is expensive–places a sales rep in the position of having to place several support calls, not knowing whether the problem is in the system, network or software. Until now, there was no other option.

On the cutting edge of delivering effective IT solutions, two outsourcing providers–Getronics and Everest Field Technologies–are now teaming to deliver a “unified help desk” solution.

Getronics has best-practice IT help desk processes and world-class call center infrastructure, as well as on-campus help desk experience with pharmaceutical clients. Everest Field Technologies has the pharma application expertise and knows the industry’s high-touch selling environment.

Their new teaming solution provides a single point of contact for pharmaceutical sales reps, enabling them to get all their problems attended to without having to figure out if it’s a system, hardware or application problem. The solution also provides reporting, billing and other integrated management features enabling executive decisions regarding campus and field support.

Together, Everest Field Technologies and Getronics conducted a recent study of field sales help desk call data among four leading U.S. pharmaceutical companies. Their preliminary analysis, including support environments for over 20,000 field sales representatives at these top companies, reveals that up to 30 percent of call volume represents topical areas common among both field and campus users.

Figure 2 below illustrates the significant potential 25 percent year-one savings that could be achieved with the Getronics-Everest Field Technologies unified support model.

From Vacuum to Value

Patrick Daniels, vice president, Pharmaceutical, states Getronics’ existing pharmaceutical help desk clients “have been asking us to provide this combined type of service.”

Their plea for a more effective solution is driven primarily by costs but also, in part, by the result of modifications to federal regulations impacting sample-drug activities. The regs (21 CFR Part 11, Parts 203 & 205) now require lot-level tracking from distribution to the prescriber who receives the samples. In addition, samples cannot be distributed to a prescriber without verifying state license validity. The regs also allow electronic recording of prescribers’ signatures.

With the regulatory changes came software modifications, and Siebel has now trumped other software vendors in this market. However, Siebel’s business model is not focused on support services, and the smaller players were unable to support the new software. The subsequent support vacuum caused pharmaceutical companies to seek a new solution. As 39 percent of the employees in a pharma company are in sales/marketing (according to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America PhRMA Annual Survey) and require field support, this vacuum represents a huge bottom-line drain.

Research and development costs, advertising and big-seller drug products going generic all bombard a pharmaceutical company’s ability to impact its top line. As Getronics’ Daniels points out, “With earnings under pressure, they have to determine where they can cut costs.” He says 80 percent of help desk cost is the people answering phones. Getronics has integrated customer-automated tools into its solution. Using Web front-end tools, pharma users can perform some self-help, resulting in Getronics’ ability to reduce the number of people needed to provide the service, thus reducing the buyer’s cost. The unified support solution now provided by Getronics and Everest Field Technologies drives support costs down even further.

Umstead believes the long-term result of their teamed approach could facilitate cost-effective globalization of pharmaceutical support. “This has not been very successful in past years,” he says. “But when you can put all your field forces throughout a country and all your sites throughout the globe on the same infrastructure with the same service provider, that’s really powerful and can really drive down your cost of support in the long run.”

Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:

  • In a tight competitive market, where industry-specific software is a crucial facilitator of a process, outsourcing help desk support is crucial for maintaining uptime and competitive effectiveness.
  • A consolidated help desk capability, combining on-campus and field support services, is a more scalable, cost-effective solution.
  • When looking to outsource a help desk/support function, seek a provider with industry expertise, software expertise, scalable help desk capabilities and ongoing investment into components that continue to reduce the buyer’s cost of the service.

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