When will we be convinced eDetailing works?

There are a few reasons why eDetailing was a natural evolution of pharma promotion. Every healthcare professional, and particularly specialist physicians, report a reduction in availability or willingness to receive visits from pharmaceutical reps. In fact a 2016 survey showed that only 11% of HCPs preferred to be contacted in person. At the same time, the most successful new medicines all address specialty therapy areas that tend to be more complex and require longer discussions with prescribers. Finally, as younger physicians begin to practice medicine, the proportion of digitally native HCPs is increasing. As they start getting their first visits from pharma reps, learning about a new online collaboration tool or social media feature can be as engaging as discussing the results of your new clinical trial, which they will also expect to receive in digital form. As physicians spend increasingly more time on digital platforms, choosing not to engage them digitally will be as effective as shouting your product’s core messages at them from the waiting room.

If the above reasons have not convinced you and half of your colleagues, you’re not alone. Although most of the top 20 life science companies have given digital detail aids to their field teams, few would feel comfortable in saying that the return on this investment has been particularly high or even positive. Most of them in fact describe the lack of a digital strategy in general or a delay in establishing it as a concern. So why do we keep trying and when will we be convinced that it was worth it? The answer to the former is fairly straightforward Most market research on this topic shows that up to 90% of physicians enjoy the eDetailing experience and believe it is the way forward. Physicians state that they can have more focused discussions and can schedule follow-up remote interactions more conveniently, with clear time savings and an easier fit with their schedule. (As covered by Liz Murray in her write-up Pharma sales in the digital era.) This translates into an average 7.5 minute per e-detail vs. 2 minutes for a traditional sales call. The second part of this question is a bit more difficult to answer convincingly.

Mobile CRM solutions were almost certainly a drive behind many rollouts of eDetailing, and solution vendors have previously reported that the use of eDetailing increased overall efficiency by 50% at MSD over 5 years and improved reporting efficiency by 89% at AstraZeneca, while improving pre-call planning efficacy by 118%. Better reporting is something sales management have always asked for, and better planning and collaboration is something that both sales teams and management want. So why is adoption within the company so difficult? We could argue that change is always difficult, resistance to change is very common and new technologies usually inspire fear. If you present a digital strategy to a sales team showing the evolution of a rep carrying an iPad, to scheduling a remote conversation with a customer to that same customer eventually self-detailing on one of the company’s websites or applications, you’ll almost certainly face a group of individuals wondering why they’re asked to introduce the tools that will lead to their own extinction. So this is the first part of the organization that you need to make sure you engage and convince of the value of adding eDetailing as part of their tools. Engaging with first line manager is a proven approach. Research has shown that rep details continue to be more effective than eDetails and more strikingly that a mix of personal and non-personal details is 60% more effective than a rep detail alone. Given the potential impact, showing this separately from a discussion on sales targets is probably a good idea.

eDetailing roll-out plan should include at least the following (eight) 8 steps, not necessarily in sequence:

Step 1

Present past experience, internal and/or external, showing increased effectiveness of sales forces using eDetailing as part of their promotional mix. This is also a great time to alleviate concerns over “tracking” of what they are doing. Focus the discussion on what the customers want and what the sales teams can get out of it, not on what the company will save or improve.

Step 2

Engage select individuals from the sales force in the design of the content and flow of eDetailing tools (these will become your internal experts/champions). If possible, engage HCPs as well to get their perspective and demonstrate to the sales teams how their customers might interact with different parts of the material.

Step 3

Train, simulate, then train again. Some sales reps will pick up an iPad and never even show it to their customer. Some will use it exactly as they would a paper detail aid but will not take it out of the bag before or after they finish they visit – so no planning or recording. It is important to observe every rep in how they are planning to use their tools both in front of a customer, as well as when they are nowhere near them (physically). Remind your teams that whatever embarrassing things they do in front of their peers, it’s better than doing it in front of a customer.

Step 4

Raise expectations. One of the big points of using eDetailing is to be able to get more appointments, more time with customers and spend less time waiting and/or traveling. So, increase the goals of call plans to reflect this. You could even go as far as suggesting periods of time during the week or even the cycle, where all interactions should be digital.

Step 5

Link eDetailing to incentives, but do it smartly. There is no more effective tool to manage a sales team than bringing up their incentives. This still applies to driving adoption of digital technology in eDetailing to HCPs, but it has to be done right. Denying sales reps access to their incentives if they do not meet a digital engagement quota is demotivating, especially if they meet their sales targets. At the same time, paying extra bonus percentages for reps to click on their iPads a few times is not driving any more sales. So find the right balance – find the metric that is truly representative of the behavior you want to drive (e.g. combine time spent on different pieces of evidence according to the digital detail aid with a modified message recall study) with an appropriate reward (e.g. internal recognition, prizes, or upgrades to their existing tech).

Step 6

Show teams their data and how it is going to influence decisions made by the company. How time spent on one screen or piece of data will change materials, campaigns or even the entire positioning of a product. The best engagement happens when people are involved, when they feel like they are contributing and defining a direction for the whole.

Step 7

Continue to improve the content and the design. It’s important to listen to customers and also to listen to the ones detailing to the customers. A few of the more digitally inclined reps will have their own hacks. Learn from these and improve the tools.

Step 8

Roll out eDetailing as part of a clear, digital strategy for the company. The truth is that eDetailing alone is nowhere near where most pharma companies need to be with digital engagement. So, it is important that the field force understand where they’re contributing to the digital strategy, and where that strategy is going to help them (e.g.: social media monitoring to help them select where/how/who/when to engage customers). The ones that want to join the digital world will feel more at ease knowing their efforts are part of a bigger effort that will ultimately help them as well. The others won’t be convinced anyway, so you need to be clear about who you want on your team and how you need them to work.

Beyond the field sales teams, the remaining internal discussions should be fairly straightforward.

The increase in reach and frequency of remote details, and reduction in cost to achieve them, is an easy financial sell to management. The ability to update content while collecting more feedback automatically should please most marketers who frequently yearn for more data and/or feel disconnected from what’s happening in the field to their carefully planned messages, materials and tactics.

These latter points, around content and feedback data, are non-trivial and will be the subject of parts two (2) and three (3) of this series. Content is one of the biggest drivers of success or reason for absolute failure of eDetailing. It is complex both because of the technical requirements to manage the processes behind producing content, as well as the marketing expertise needed to construct digital content that is appealing, engaging and goes beyond the traditional one directional push. Closing the loop, by generating insights from data and adjusting tactics accordingly, is a challenge of speed, agility and interpreting large amounts of data. To answer the question of when will eDetailing convince us all that it is worthwhile, we need to understand and respond to all three challenges. If history of tech is to repeat itself, by the time we do, it will be business as usual.


eDetailing can lead the way in making valuable improvements to a commercial organization.  When successful, these initiatives can be impactful to doctors, their patients and have a substantial ROI. Here we explore the basics of a roll-out framework that can help organizations implementing their eDetailing initiatives.

If you want to learn more about eDetailing and Commercial Excellence, contact me Antonio Pregueiro, VP Commercial Excellence, Europe.