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The (Ongoing) Integration of Digital with Pharma Sales

The use of (any) technology by sales is the norm for the vast majority of global pharma companies today. However, the strategic integration of multi-channel/digital/innovation with the traditional field force model remains an ongoing debate within most companies seeking to reinvent the commercial model to adapt to a world where the customers (of the sales rep) are very comfortable using technology and digital on a daily basis and often view it as a complement (or replacement in some situations) to existing offline relationships.

Although there are numerous dimensions and ways to evaluate the successful integration of technology with the field force, we’ll touch on three dimensions as a starting point … use of email with physicians (by reps), e-detailing share/activity by company, and overall rankings (by physicians) with regard to what reps/organizations they believe are doing the best job with the technology they have today. To keep things simple we’ll look at the audience of US primary care physicians.

In the ideal world, technology truly is a complement to the field force – and their ongoing relationship with their customers. It provides updated (if not real time) access to the latest information about the customer and provides an opportunity for the field to share insights at the customer, group, or regional level with corporate to inform and shape brand and strategic insights.

digital_integrationEMAIL (PRIMARY CARE)

Let’s start with the use of email to engage a physician audience (from rep to physician). The top three companies using email with a physician audience in Q3 2014 (Digital Insights Group) were Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Merck. Approximately 1 in 5 primary care physicians in the US report they received email from any pharma sales reps … and just under half of primary care physicians with any email interaction report email with Pfizer.  Although email is arguably a very small step towards the strategic integration of technology with the field force, it represents a key step for most companies seeking to link ongoing communications and provide a way for physicians and the organization to maintain the relationship between in-person visits. Perhaps the most interesting email insight is the wide range between companies with the leader (Pfizer) having almost 4 times the reach of other pharma companies.

Primary Care Physicians Most Likely to Receive Email from Reps with…

  1. Pfizer
  2. AstraZeneca
  3. Merck


The next topic is also one of the most confusing in that companies still debate the right target audience for e-detailing programs. Is it a complement for high value physicians seeking to close information gaps? Is it more relevant for hard to reach physicians willing to use e-detailing in targeted situations to complement their ongoing need for product information? We see Pfizer at the top of list again. Sure, the sheer size of the organization and frequency of overall activities is driving reach specific to e-detailing as well. While AZ also shows up in the email rankings we see Novartis enter the top 3 specific to e-detailing in Q3.  For context, approximately 1 in 5 primary care physicians reported they participated in e-detailing with any company. Looking at the gap between the top companies and lower tier, the market leader (Pfizer) had almost 5 times the share in e-detailing compared to the lower tier companies.

Physicians Most Likely to Participate in E-Detailing with…

  1. Pfizer
  2. Novartis
  3. AstraZeneca


Speaking to the successful integration of technology within the field force overall, we can look to how the customers view the use of technology by reps (in person). While we see Novartis emerge again (#2 in e-detailing) in the top spot for overall tech by reps, we see two different companies at the top of the charts – GSK and Novo Nordisk. What can we learn from these organizations not only meeting the needs of the customer … but (relatively speaking) doing a better job than their peers from the customer point of view?

Top Overall Use of Technology by Pharma Sales Reps (as rated by physicians)…

  1. Novartis
  2. GSK
  3. Novo Nordisk

As we head into 2015 – and with ePharma Summit just around the corner – we get a chance to not only think about where individuals organizations and brands are headed but we also get a chance to think about where pharma companies fit into the overall mix from the customer point of view. A great way for most companies to improve or optimize their current strategy is to ponder and reflect on the companies judged “successful” by the end customer. Although we are not likely to receive a detailed briefing or step by step case study from these market leaders in a public forum, we can evaluate what makes then “tick” from the customer point of view to determine what lessons can be integrated by the second and third tier organizations. By studying what “good” looks like (from the customer point of view) … we can collectively move the entire industry forward.

Author: Mark Bard – Digital Insights Group –

Digital Health Coalition –

(This article was originally published on January 6, 2015)

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