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Pharmacos must adapt as physician communication preferences change rapidly, ZS report says

 — Effective physician outreach can now combine preferred communication channels with advanced analytics and industry benchmarking —

EVANSTON, Ill. – Oct. 29, 2015 – Digital media represent a powerful alternative  to help pharmaceutical companies reach health care professionals (HCPs) who increasingly block visits from sales reps. To be effective, however, pharmacos must match the right communication channels with the right HCP and coordinate outreach. Further, they must accept the reality that there is no single solution that will fit every physician.

That’s the conclusion of the AffinityMonitor™ fall 2015 report from global sales and marketing consulting firm ZS. Based on actual physician behavior (versus stated preferences), the report benchmarks and provides an analysis of how physicians interact with pharmaceutical and biotech manufacturers to learn about their products. The latest study reveals that the top 30,000 physicians considered "most valuable" by the pharmaceutical industry receive about 2,725 promotional messages each year, or about 7.5 communications each day. And this number easily doubles for select specialists with the highest patient volumes who are targeted simultaneously by many pharmacos.

"To connect with HCPs in a meaningful way, a pharmaco must coordinate its brands and marketing channels to provide physicians the information they want, when they want it and in the manner they find most convenient,” said ZS Managing Principal Pratap Khedkar. "The industry would do well to adapt and take this opportunity to enhance customer experience while guarding against the risk of driving away high-value physician-customers with a fire hose of information.”

ZS’s AffinityMonitor™ tracks how 630,000 HCPs in all major specialties engage with pharmaceutical and biotech manufacturers through a mix of personal and “non-personal” communication channels. It also studies physician engagement for in-person sales rep visits and alternative channels, such as digital "push" (e.g., emails or mobile alerts), conventional direct mail, telesales and speaker programs.

“Of the 54 percent of physicians who restrict access to sales reps, 15 percent are willing to engage with the pharma industry through other channels. Digital marketing efforts can help reach those who limit traditional sales calls,” said Malcolm Sturgis, an associate principal at ZS and leader of ZS's AffinityMonitor™ offering. “No single channel works for every physician, but most physicians (74 percent) have at least one channel that works well when pharmacos present relevant content. With proper insights into these affinities, brand teams can engage physicians more effectively – especially those who cannot or will not see reps.” 

Physician communication methods vary with specialty

Engagement via alternative communication channels offers pharmacos another method to reach increasingly access-restrictive HCPs. For example, 73 percent of oncologists restrict or entirely block sales rep access, as do 81 percent of nephrologists. However, 45 percent of oncologists and 36 percent of nephrologists will interact through other channels, including digital communications. 

"Physicians in highly clinically complex specialties are used to gathering their own information – mostly online. Pharmacos can extend their reach by using multiple channels to present physicians with valuable information on complex therapies and clinical usage,” said Sturgis. "For example, the number of oncologists who restrict sales rep access has increased by 5 percent since 2014. At the same time, 5 percent more 'rep-inaccessible' oncologists engage with these reps through other communication channels compared to 2014.”

In a similar vein, physicians who graduate from top medical schools are more likely to restrict access to sales reps, but they are just as likely to embrace digital communications and actually engage more often in industry-sponsored peer programs.

Further, AffinityMonitor™ showed physician experience is a key differentiator when deciding most effective communication methods. According to Sturgis, in contrast to stereotypes related to electronic engagement among older and younger adults, well-established physicians with more than 10 years in practice actually engage more across all channels — including digital.

Compared to their younger counterparts, well-established physicians are much more likely to meet with sales reps (44 percent vs. 36 percent) and attend physician-speaker programs (29 percent vs. 23 percent). In addition, well-established physicians are almost twice as likely to consume branded information through digital channels (20 percent vs. 13 percent).

“While digital channels present great opportunity, companies should be judicious in how often they deploy particular tactics and cater to individual affinities whenever possible for the greatest chance of success,” said Khedkar.

Pharmacos must exercise caution to avoid "information overload" and ensure digital communication remains a viable alternative method to reach physicians in years to come.

"Taking a customer-centric approach will ensure appropriate use of communication channels that work well for each physician," said Sturgis. "This, in turn, allows for a better customer experience, improved marketing effectiveness and increased customer engagement.”

For more information on ZS's AffinityMonitor™, including an executive summary of the fall 2015 report, please visit http://bit.ly/ZS-AffinityMonitor2015.

About ZS

ZS is the world’s largest firm focused exclusively on improving business performance through sales and marketing solutions, from customer insights and strategy to analytics, operations and technology. More than 4,000 ZS professionals in 22 offices worldwide draw on deep industry and domain expertise to deliver impact where it matters for clients across multiple industries. To learn more, visit www.zs.com or follow us on Twitter (@ZSAssociates) and LinkedIn.

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

Anahita Wadia Khan / Kyle Adams
Sikich Marketing & Public Relations