How can reps reach docs? Try thinking like Netflix or Amazon

If the personal doesn't work, then get impersonal. That's the message of a new look at doctors' preferences for listening to drugmakers. Some doctors who aren't interested in face-to-face rep meetings are plenty accessible when pharma knocks on their doors electronically.

According to a new report from ZS Associates, 15% of all doctors bar pharma reps at the door but listen when contacted in other ways--email and other digital channels, direct mail, speaker programs. That's not as large as the group that's still leery of pharma chat--that would be 37% of docs who are no-see in person and otherwise. But it's something.

Of course, the trick is knowing which personally inaccessible docs are which. And that's not easy. Specialists of different stripes are wildly different in their interaction preferences. We've reported before about how much easier it is for reps to get in to see dermatologists versus other specialists, particularly oncologists. ZS has some new numbers on that: Some 64% of derms would rather meet with a rep than receive email or direct mail or some other nonpersonal outreach.

By contrast, only 16% of cardiologists think this way. More than half are open to reps and to other forms of communication, but fully 11% prefer the impersonal. "The differences in accessibility between specialties is quite striking," ZS Associates Principal Malcolm Sturgis writes in the report, adding, "Not only do physicians in different geographies or specialties act differently, but those in the same specialty or geography will have different affinities and levels of access."

ZS Managing Principal Pratap Khedkar

So, how to identify the docs to contact via email or offer e-sampling or invite to a speaker program? Data, data, data. ZS has a bunch of it, as do some other consulting firms. The vision, according to ZS Managing Principal Pratap Khedkar, is to eventually approach marketing just as Netflix and Amazon approach their customers--via highly personalized intelligence.

Netflix recommends movies, Amazon recommends almost everything, and doctor data-crunchers like ZS will be able to recommend which channels, which offers, when, and in which order, Khedkar figures. "This level of customer insight has not existed before," he said in the report. "[P]harma companies must leverage it, because otherwise they cannot become customer centric, and customers will be increasingly difficult to reach."

- check out the ZS AffinityMonitor report