Sales reps need to bone up on tech skills as drug launches move digital

Bristol-Myers Squibb customer engagement center head Nancy Phelan

Digitization in pharma means marketing integration doesn't end with websites and online campaigns. And the industry is looking at you, sales reps.

Getting reps to master digital tools is a big opportunity, according to Nancy Phelan, head of the customer engagement center, worldwide customer operations for Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY). In a recent keynote speech, Phelan talked up those tools and their positive effects on pharma brands, Medical Marketing & Media said in coverage of its leadership exchange conference.

However, it's an opportunity sales reps generally are not taking advantage of.

Wendy Blackburn, executive vice president at Intouch Solutions, said the digital agency helped launch some of the first digital sales aids about 5 years ago--and they did gain early traction, mostly because of their shiny-new-object cachet. Today, however, the luster has faded, and instead of moving to more advanced digital tools, sales reps have gone back to the same old clinical data proofs.

Intouch Solutions executive vice president Wendy Blackburn

"Despite pharma's efforts to provide appropriate and robust sets of tools like outfitting sales reps with iPads, closed loop marketing and big CRM platforms, and pouring a lot of money into them, reps tend to still do the face-to-face traditional things they're used to doing," Blackburn said. "You'd be surprised how many sales reps are not using digital tools at some of the major pharma companies."

Some of the problem are the tools themselves, she acknowledged, which can be difficult to use and don't always add a lot of value. Better digital sales aids are needed, Blackburn said. Tools that tie marketing materials to sales data are the ultimate goal.

The upside of sales rep tech is that "message impact, recall and brand preference increase when reps are well-trained and using digital tools," Phelan told MM&M.

Blackburn said pharma customers simply expect digital sophistication now, in part because they have it in the rest of their lives. Whether the customer is a patient, physician or payer, they expect information and tools that are on par with personal technology. For pharma, it's the manifestation of "beyond the pill" in which customers expect more than just a drug, such as lifestyle tools like apps that help keep patients compliant or mobile data that can help a doctor personalize patient care.

- read MM&M's story

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