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As Doctors Keep Closing Doors On Pharma Reps, Do Digital Communications Provide a Better Solution?

Pharma must adapt to physician preferences to ensure continued access

EVANSTON, Ill. – August 24, 2016 – The number of digital and non-personal contacts that the pharmaceutical industry now has with physicians exceeded its number of sales rep visits to doctor offices, according to the spring 2016 AccessMonitor™ and AffinityMonitor™ reports from global sales and marketing firm ZS.

According to AccessMonitor™, the number of “rep-accessible” physicians – that is, the number of physicians who meet with more than 70 percent of sales reps who attempt to meet with them — dropped to 44 percent from 46 percent in 2015. As sales rep access to physicians continues to decline, ZS found through a related study — AffinityMonitor™ — that more than half (53 percent) of marketing outreach to physicians now takes place through “non-personal” promotion, such as email and mobile alerts, as well as direct mail and speaker programs.

ZS notes the remainder of marketing to physicians (47 percent) still takes place through in-person interactions with sales reps.

“Over the past five years, we’ve seen a steady decline in sales rep access to physicians,” said Malcolm Sturgis, an associate principal at ZS who led the study. “While non-personal communications provide an opportunity to reach those ‘tough-to-see’ prescribers, blindly inundating health care providers with digital communications isn’t the best solution. Today’s physician estimates that he already spends 84 hours per year — about two full work weeks — interacting with pharmacos via digital and other non-personal marketing channels.”

While marketing executives and doctors notice the increase in non-personal communications, pharmacos’ finance teams have not seen a significant difference in spending. As pharmacos continue to allocate most (88 percent) of their total sales and marketing budget to the sales force ($12 billion), non-personal communications – including digital – comprise 53 percent of marketing outreach. Physicians, however, feel like it’s more. They estimate that 62 percent of the time they spend interacting with pharmacos is through non-personal channels. If pharmacos continue to increase investment in less expensive digital communications without considering customer preferences, physicians may feel overwhelmed and eventually ignore them.

Based on actual physician behavior (versus physician-stated preferences), ZS’s AffinityMonitor™ examines how 681,000 health care providers actually engage with pharmaceutical and biotech manufacturers across promotional channels. The firm’s AccessMonitor™ study analyzes data from more than 40,000 pharmaceutical sales reps to examine how frequently individual physicians meet with sales reps. Of the prescribers that ZS assessed, AccessMonitor™ found:

  • 44 percent of physicians are “accessible” (that is, they met with more than 70 percent of sales reps who try to meet with them). By comparison, in 2008, nearly 80 percent of physicians met with most reps;
  • 38 percent of physicians restricted access (that is, they met with 31 to 70 percent of reps who try to meet with them); and
  • 18 percent of physicians “severely” restricted access (that is, they meet with 30 percent or fewer reps who try to meet with them).

“As physicians limit access to sales reps, pharmacos should embrace a customized, thoughtful marketing approach to deliver the right message to the right provider at the right time,” Sturgis said. “This will increase the likelihood that health care providers will continue to respond positively to communications from pharmaceutical companies despite frequent contact from sales reps.”

Physicians may tune out sales rep ‘noise’ if pharmacos fail to coordinate interactions.

Today, each of the 26,000 prescribers contacted most frequently by pharmacos receive around 2,800 contacts per year from the pharmaceutical industry. This amounts to about one contact – an in-person sales rep visit, email, phone call or other – every working hour, including weekends and holidays. And they receive these commercial messages on nearly every device, including iPads, mobile phones and laptops.

Pharmaceutical firms engage more than a dozen communications channels to launch a drug today,” said ZS Managing Principal Pratap Khedkar, leader of the firm’s global pharmaceuticals practice. “With this volume of outreach, it is critical that pharmacos tailor their interactions to the physician’s preferred channel and ensure sales reps bring meaningful material to the physician’s attention.

Sales reps can increase engagement through phone calls, office staff visits.

Oncologists continue to restrict sales rep access the most of all specialists. Less than 20 percent of oncologists are considered “accessible” to sales reps, while the remaining oncologists limit access or restrict access completely.

The report also stated that drug launches and the number of drugs a sales rep carries contribute to whether a health care provider agrees to meet with a sales rep. Sturgis explains that when a truly novel drug enters the market, health care providers are more likely to meet with sales reps who carry that particular drug – as well as their competitors.

Further, as physician access declines, nurse practitioners and physician assistants may be easier for sales reps to see. Fifty-three percent of nurse practitioners and physician assistants meet with sales reps, compared with 44 percent of physicians, according to the report.

This report also points to the merits of old-fashioned phone calls to reach physicians: In some cases, more than 25 percent of rep-inaccessible providers remain open to these calls from inside sales reps. Most pharmaceutical companies previously limited calls to health care providers in rural areas or those who write a limited number of prescriptions for a particular brand or category.

“Though health care providers continue to limit access to sales reps, rep interaction with key prescribers remains important,” said Sturgis. “To reach physicians, the pharma industry must become more targeted and sophisticated in its multichannel marketing efforts. As the variety of alternative marketing channels available today continue to expand, it is critical for pharma to focus on providing a better experience and respond promptly to customer challenges.”

For more information on ZS's AffinityMonitor™ and AccessMonitor™, including an executive summary of the spring 2016 report, please visit http://bit.ly/ZS-AMonitor2016.

About ZS

ZS is the world’s largest firm focused exclusively on helping companies improve overall performance and grow revenue and market share, through end-to-end sales and marketing solutions – from customer insights and strategy to analytics, operations and technology. More than 4,500 ZS professionals in 22 offices worldwide draw on deep industry and domain expertise to deliver impact for clients across multiple industries. To learn more, visit www.zs.com or follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

About AccessMonitor™

AccessMonitor™ is a proprietary data source that incorporates the call reports from more than 40,000 sales reps across the U.S. pharmaceutical industry. It examines how often over 400,000 physicians and other prescribers meet with pharmaceutical sales representatives who visit them and then classifies these doctors into one of three groups: 1) “accessible” (physicians who met with more than 70 percent of reps who call on them); 2) “access restricted” (between 31 and 70 percent); and 3) “severely access restricted” (30 percent or less).The report equips companies with data to make the best use of sales and marketing resources in a systematic way and includes sales operations, field management and marketing strategies. In addition to the bi-annual national industry reports, participating companies also receive a prescriber-level, company-specific AccessMonitor™ report that provides customer insights based on industry data that is processed, cleaned and anonymized according to a rigorous set of rules. To learn more or to participate in the next round of reporting, visit http://bit.ly/ZS-AccessMonitor.

About AffinityMonitor™

AffinityMonitor™ provides a unique view of how health care practitioners engage across all pharmaceutical marketing and sales channels. Pharma companies can use this information to better understand physician channel preferences and streamline their sales and marketing plans. To learn more or to participate in the next round of reporting, visit http://bit.ly/ZS-AffinityMonitor.

Greg Austin
Director, Marketing & Communication, ZS
Greg.Austin@zs.com 

Anahita Wadia Khan / Kyle Adams
Sikich Marketing & Public Relations
akhan@sikich.com  
kadams@sikich.com