Missing Link: Detailing to e-Detailing
By Robert Cykiert, MD, President and Founder
Pharmaceutical companies and medical device
manufacturers spend over $20 B in marketing annually and over
$12B of that goes to Detailing. Over 90,000 sales people focus
on selling and providing samples to about 1 million doctors
in the USA. Some focus on doctors, others focus on nurses,
physician assistants, hospitals and other office staff. It's
a big operation with a long and firmly rooted tradition. It
may also be a hard to break habit...
Detailing has been effective for years, and
budgets keep climbing despite the gut feeling Pharma executives
have that the party will soon be over..."if my competition
does it, I've got to keep up," so the budget keeps increasing.
ROI from detailing is not as good as alternative forms of
advertising like journal ads and the newly emerging Internet
sites (primarily because of the high cost of Detailing). However,
Detailing efforts seem to have the most direct correlation
to increase in sales, and these are metrics measured with
high precision, down to a specific doctor who prescribes a
specific medicine. It is hard to argue with something that
works and has worked for a long time.
All this makes lots of sense because after
all, doctors are the most important customers of Pharma. A
single doctor who oversees hundreds or thousands of patients
can make significant contributions to the bottom line of a
specific medication. The numbers are available within a few
weeks, and that is indisputable evidence of the value of Detailing.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?
The world is changing and the $12 B Detailing
expense stands out like a sore thumb. Drug life cycles are
shortening, competing alternatives and generics are increasing,
the Feds are scrutinizing pricing, and Canada is flaunting
significantly lower prices. The public drumbeat has already
started, and politicians are sensing a new opportunity to
get elected. Before long, laws are bound to cut into Pharma
prices and profit margins. It is inevitable! The writing is
on the wall, it is just a matter of time.
What to do? Pharma margins will be cut severely
if politicians and the public win, and win they will, eventually.
But Pharma is far from dead. The $12 B expense for Detailing
stands almost as an insurance policy, as a bankroll, as a
cost reduction center! It will likely be the first cost cutting
target because it is so big and because current ROI is so
low. Let's face it, if profits go down by $6 B due to the
public squeeze, won't Pharma executives shrink the $12 B budget
to retain safe margins and stabilize stock prices?
Shrinking that $12 B budget means lots of layoffs
looming in Pharma, but it also presents rejuvenation opportunities.
Opportunities to improve on Detailing with e-Detailing, where
the Internet is leveraged, and people expenses are cut drastically.
It is the ace up the sleeve of Pharma executives!
The transition from Detailing to e-Detailing
has already started, but funding for e-Detailing is still
meager compared to Detailing. Industry numbers suggest e-Detailing
spends about $100 Million compared to $12 B for Detailing,
but e-Detailing budgets are growing fast. E-Detailing growth
today is likely limited by lack of evidence that it is as
effective as Detailing, but it may also be limited by internal
political struggles between a Goliath and a David. David will
ultimately win, because the handwriting is on the wall, it
is just a matter of time.
E-detailing radically cuts costs because there
is no longer a need for a Detailing sales person to cover
a certain number of doctors. Doctors can presumably come to
a web site to get the needed information or samples or to
contact someone. One person can cover hundreds or thousands
of doctors, but it is a different person than the Detailing
sales person. Background is different, training is different
and the marketing approach is different.
E-Detailing requires imagination and new breakthroughs
for creative interactivity, personalizing the information
and communications, harnessing the power of computers and
the Internet and creating whole new relationships with doctors.
It won't happen over night, and many experiments are needed.
Abundant ideas are being explored about how to create that
unique blend of comfort and intimacy with doctors over the
Internet, but it will take time to prove out what works and
what does not. Lessons learned from Amazon, eBay and Google
already suggest what seems obvious at first may not work,
and what works may be more surprising than originally anticipated.
The key is to keep experimenting to find the
unique blend of ideas that will attract doctors to Pharma
like customers are attracted to Amazon, eBay and Google. There
has to be a magnet, there has to be a reason for doctors to
come, and there have to be win-win propositions for doctors
and for Pharma. There has to be tasty honey for the bees to
come back, because a stick won't work.
E-Detailing has yet to prove itself, and prove
itself it must. The only way to do it is to keep experimenting
with software, interactivity, relationship management, psychology
and value propositions that will offer win-win for doctors
Experiments in e-Detailing abound already,
but there is a missing link... How do you get doctors to taste
the honey initially? Presumably, once they taste the honey,
if they like the taste, they will come back, but how to invite
the doctors while you are experimenting with different blends
of the honey? There will be many experiments, and many blends
of honey, and much time will be needed for experiments and
The missing link is email. Over 85% of doctors
already use it daily, and you don't have to bypass a receptionist.
Email can be used to invite and re-invite doctors for experiments
until the honey is blended so there is no longer a need for
email, because the honey tastes so good, the value proposition
is so compelling, the doctors will come and interact without
Why will e-Detailing save Pharma? Because a
single email broadcast can go to every doctor out there in
an instant--the high- prescribers, the thought leaders, the
average doctor, doctors in remote areas and even the low-prescribers
that Pharma wants to convert into high-prescribers. Detail
people no longer need to keep visiting as often, their new
role is anticipating what the doctors need and providing that
over the Internet through software and automations. Detailers
have a new role in e-Detailing, but there will be significantly
fewer of them. That translates to significantly diminished
costs that can sustain Pharma margins and stabilize stock
prices as the public and political squeeze continues.
Cykiert, MD is President and founder of DoctorNet.com. DoctorNet.com
specializes in email broadcasts to doctors, helping Pharma
and ad agencies with creating and executing potent e-Detailing
programs. DoctorNet.com has hundreds of clients in the USA
and internationally who use our database of over 220,000 doctor
email addreses, and our 80,000 medical company B2B email address