Engaging doctors remotely

A new frontier
Time to read: 7 minutes
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, a huge collective sales force from pharma companies across the world has suddenly been forced to communicate remotely with doctors and health care practitioners (HPCs). This has been the only way for the pharma companies to try to meet their targets in terms of territories and HPCs reached, since most cannot travel to meet their target doctors physically. The challenge of connecting to doctors through cold calls has led to disappointing results.

For example, if each rep is normally expected to make about 1,000 detailing calls to about 100 HCPs each year, missing just a quarter of those connections due to COVID will reduce reach by 25% and add 33% to the cost of each call.
Yes, normal life is gradually coming back and that 25% gap in coverage frequency may be balanced by additional efforts or even the hiring of additional reps closer to the end of the year. But actually, traditional rep’s access to HCPs has been deteriorating for decades. In some markets a rep may even be limited by law to just 2 face to face visits to HCPs per year, and this problem won’t go away, even if COVID does. That means all pharma companies should be learning from this forced move to remote working methods.

We’ve learnt that the first reaction of most pharma companies was to have reps cover their target list by remote detailing (TeleWeb) calls. The expectation on the daily number for detailing calls was close to normal field targets – about 10 confirmed detailing calls to doctors from the rep’s target list. These 10 calls did not include scheduling calls, “no shows” or calls without visual presentation.

The sophistication of digital communication allowed organizations to record and track everything in the scheduling and detailing calls of reps to doctors, unlike face to face calls in clinics. It’s possible to keep track of actual progress – without this there is always the danger that “the performance steadily grows, and sales steadily decline”. Reviewing of scheduling and detailing calls recordings along with traditional rep-checks with the HCPs themselves allow reliable reporting on the number of remote detailing calls each rep makes to target doctors. If a company lacks a customer relationship management (CRM) system, centralized target list, personal contacts of HCPs or can’t manage Personal Information this poses a problem to the tracking of sales force remote detailing and webinar activities.

When enough tables had been crunched, the first results of “remote coverage” came in – and the number of detailing calls per rep usually looked way below 50 per week. If an employee makes just 5 successful target visits per week instead of 50, this means each visit costs a company 2,000 EUR instead of 200 EUR.

When challenged, explanations vary from “not all HCPs on my target list provide the right phone number or e-mail” to “after I’d called three times with invitations to TeleWeb sessions or webinars the HCPs from my list stopped picking up the phone to me”.

In short, the “push method” does not work.

Push methods (cold calls especially) worked 15 years ago, when a doctor’s inbox totaled around 5 emails per week, and to get 1 webinar invite would have been a miracle. In 2020, however, HCPs are flooded by cold calls and invites and messages, and your “push” gets lost in the noise.
Nobody likes cold calls or cold messages these days, even from friends, much less from vendors or suppliers like pharma reps. Getting an inbound call from a rep with an offer is a cold call, unless the doctor has asked for it and is sitting and waiting for this call at this exact time.

The “Pull method”, on the other hand, permits the scheduling of calls to doctors when and how they want, so when the rep calls the doctor, he is sitting and waiting for the call. Our customers’ reps have been doing 8-16 detailing TeleWeb calls per rep per day for the last 3 years. They coped with the extra COVID challenge by adding reps to the remote engagement team and maintained 8-16 detailing calls per day per rep performance throughout 2020 without any resorting to cold calls.

We call this service of engaging target list doctors in remote visits the Digital TeleWeb Booster, while the technique of engaging target list doctors in webinars is Digital Webinar Booster. The solution enabling collection of personal information of HCPs and proper communications consents - Digital Consent Booster.

Engagement, screening, target list matching and Personal Information handling is all managed automatically, with near 100% universe coverage, and this allows us to find exactly the right doctors you need online to fill the slots of your reps for detailing sessions.

All of the evidence shows that “pull” approaches work and don’t create the negative reaction associated with cold calls or draw a doctor too far from his comfort zone. This allows us to invite doctors to learn more about your valuable content more often, without the risk of “burning out” your target list.

Additional costs associated with running the scheduling system that “pulls” doctors from your target list to your remote detailing and webinars are well compensated by optimal utilization of reps’ time. They start making about 50 detailing calls with video and audio to their customers every week, instead of doing cold calls.

The results are huge, not just in sales but in improved, mutually supportive relationships and potential for even closer future partnerships.