From PharmaLive "… It turns out that 60 percent of physicians are using—or are interested in using—online social networks, according to a study released on Tuesday by Manhattan Research."
About 10 years ago, during the dot-com boom, the buzz was always about "convergence" — TV, Internet, phone, PC — all coming together. It was a great dream, but limited by technology and we consumers have ended up with more devices than ever. Humans like choices, even when, as Barry Schwartz pointed out in his book The Paradox of Choice, more choices aren't always a better thing. Well, for better or worse, a different form of convergence is occurring in the world of healthcare communications and it looks like it is leaving Pharma sales and marketing behind.
Actually, to be more precise, pharma does not seem to be invited to the party which is being held in Washington. Who actually was invited? Well, you have Senator Grassley and the renewed Sunshine Law. You have Henry Waxman with his vendetta on DTC. You have Masachusetts and New Hampshire and the AMA allowing doctors to opt out from meetings with pharma sales reps. Suddenly what was always the bulwark of selling to doctors is fading away. It is creating a vacuum — and as nature abhors a vacuum, something's going to have to fill it.
I believe that something is social networking. This convergence of trends and change have created the opening for true, independent online HCP communities. Thus, we have Sermo.com, an online community for physicians. (Which I cannot get into without having a DEA number of my own.) And doctors do not want to have a community which has anything to do with a pharma company. Doctors are human too- maybe they want more choices, not less, on how they get their credible information.
Maybe everyone is asking the wrong question. The real problem is the issue of "sales" not science. Sales folks just do not have the credibility, nor are they real scientists. This inherently handicaps the efficiency of a traditional sales force. Back in the day, when there weren't too many other options for physicians who needed to learn about pharmaceuticals, the classic "detail man" was really the only option. Not anymore. So, what should pharma companies do?
Integrate, that's what. Instead of thinking about sales as a blunt instrument, or a fungible force, begin to see it as just one option among many, and begin reconfiguring it to reflect the state of the brave new post-DTC world. Simple sales firepower is not enough anymore. The industry needs something more nuanced, more targeted and more effective. Which means thinking smaller.
To begin with, pharma firms need to start to layer their connections to doctors. Turn the issue of the sales force being squeezed out on its head. What if you kept a smaller sales force for traditional sales detailing, which will not go away entirely, but added some other elements of communication and influence?
Try this idea out: what about creating smaller communities of pharma-employed scientists assigned to clusters of doctors where they have a direct science conversation, not sales. Or, even better, what if you used your KOLs and created a series of condition-specific communities for them to speak directly to doctors and specialists? The company would sponsor it, but the the sites could be managed by a third party. It would be a cluster of KOL's forming the core of the conversation, with invited doctors to join in or just observe.
This would create micro-communities, smaller, more manageable and relevant. Pharma could move from the sales focus to the science focus it once owned with unimpeachable credibility.
And in the end, the Sunshine Law, the banning of reps and DTC, would have an impact, but the creation of micro-HCP communities run by KOL's or pharma employee researchers, would leave intact the core goal of the sales force: influence.