There are few sales processes as complex—and as vital—as those employed by modern pharmaceutical companies. Not only must sales reps keep track of healthcare clients who are often harried and demanding, they must also stay abreast of the slightest shifts in a swiftly moving, highly competitive industry. On top of these challenges, government policies that regulate and track drug distribution are becoming more complicated each year.
Add to this the omnipresent pressure to close sales, meet financial targets and, when there’s some free time, actually bring to market products that could improve the quality of life for a generation of afflicted patients, and it’s no wonder that pharmaceutical companies everywhere are turning to mobile technology to ease these challenges.
Stiefel Laboratories, based in Coral Gables, Fla., is the largest privately held dermatological company in the world, with 2002 sales of more than $251 million. Not one to rest on success, Stiefel, which produces such popular treatments as Duac, Brevoxyl and Claripel, has revamped its entire sales process by rolling out new mobile productivity tools. Until recently, the company’s sales force of approximately 140 field reps made do with paper and ink when making calls to physicians’ offices with samples. This “system” was not only cumbersome and out-of-date, it also made it difficult to track and account for inventories of drug samples, deliveries, transfers and returns. With the introduction of the Prescription Drug Marketing Act (PDMA), which has tightened the enforcement of sample accountability, compliance has become a vitally important matter for pharmaceutical sales organizations.
“One of the things we wanted was to attain greater accountability out in the field,” says Brad Hershman, manager of sales operations for Stiefel Laboratories. “We also wanted to make it easier for the reps, who were carrying four or five binders full of information.”
While scanning the market for a sales force automation suite, Hershman met with five different vendors. One of them was Synergistix, based in Hollywood, Fla., which develops and markets software called CATS, or Call Activity Tracking System. CATS was written specifically for pharmaceutical sales; in fact, Synergistix developed the software in conjunction with pharmaceutical companies.
Hershman was seeking a solution that would enable his reps to better prepare for sales calls by giving them updated market intelligence about physicians, as well as the drugs they prescribe. “Sample accountability is a lot more accurate when the rep can enter the information and the doctor’s signature right on the spot, instead of having to use paper documents and scan them in later,” Hershman says. “Paper documents can easily get lost, and scanning them into a system is time consuming.”
Hershman was also wooed by what he deemed to be Synergistix’s more intuitive interface. According to Hershman, some of the competitive applications included unnecessary bells and whistles.
“You don’t want the sales force automation tool to be so difficult to use that it becomes the focus of the rep’s job. They need to focus on what they do best: selling,” he says.
CATS was designed to minimize the number of clicks necessary to perform any function within the system, according to Raul Wong, a VP at Synergistix, permitting sales reps to complete tasks more quickly and allow additional face-time with doctors. That’s important when a sales call might last 60 seconds in a hospital corridor or 5 minutes in a busy waiting room. The software was designed using tab functionality, akin to Microsoft Excel, that helps a rep navigate quickly to the “call” screen and complete the sales call housekeeping functions. Another time-saver: When reps define the product, strength and lot numbers that will be sampled to the doctor, CATS will intelligently skip fields that have only one selection. If a rep has only one lot number to choose from, the system will automatically select that lot number for sampling.
Hershman inked a contract in April 2002 for Synergistix to provide a hosted solution for Stiefel. In June, Stiefel Laboratories went live with a pilot. Nine Stiefel reps across the country with varying levels of tenure and technology expertise were selected to pilot the product. According to Hershman, their response was so enthusiastic that by July Stiefel decided to adopt CATS for its entire sales force. Stiefel is currently paying approximately $300 per user per month on a three-year contract.
The sales force was trained during a national sales meeting in a program that lasted all of six hours. A number of factors played into this streamlined classroom session:
•The successful pilot project produced “cheerleaders” that assisted during the training sessions by providing real-life examples.
•Stiefel’s primary focus was to explore functionality essential to the rep’s daily jobs without overloading them. The plan was to introduce additional functionality available to them, such as Microsoft Office applications, at later meetings.
•Stiefel had plenty of help desk support available after the meeting to handle initial field calls from confused sales reps.
The software was deployed on two types of mobile devices. One sales team of 97 reps is working with the CATS32 application, which runs on Microsoft Windows XP (including the Tablet PC edition), on Fujitsu P1120 Lifebook subnotebooks. The subnotebooks are touchscreen-enabled, allowing for signature capture and one-handed navigation of the software, along with all the functionality of Windows XP, including full e-mail (via Lotus Notes) and Microsoft Office. The second sales force, comprising 34 reps, is using HP Jornada 728 handheld computers running Windows CE. The Windows CE devices are fully electronic devices with no moving parts and store all data on Compact Flash cards. They run Pocket PC versions of Microsoft Office.
Both mobile hardware platforms are running concurrently against a centralized Microsoft SQLServer database that is hosted by Synergistix. The Synergistix architecture enables a mixture of different field devices to run in conjunction with each other. A Microsoft Windows 2000 server holds up the back end.
The powerful combination of hardware and software gives Stiefel field reps a wealth of information on the road. Third-party data purchased by Stiefel is loaded into the CATS server for each respective doctor, down to the level of detail provided—by product family, product class and even product strength, if available. Field reps can drill down into their territories to determine, for example, which physicians prescribe specific drugs. The data is received from the client company and is loaded into the CATS server. The reps can view up-to-date market intelligence about physicians before making that 60-second sales call and build a game plan around that data.
Prior to the Synergistix deployment, reps were doing their best to track sales calls and sample data in large binders. After each sales call, a rep would record call information by hand in one of a series of binders, which were usually kept in the rep’s trunk. Being able to quickly access information was a pipe dream. And when updates were sent to the field, reps were required to manually replace pages in their binders. Information sharing was nearly impossible between reps, and if a rep left the company with his binders, that intelligence was impossible to replicate.
Now that all this data is stored by Synergistix in a central database and synchronized to the field on a regular basis, the sales process and knowledge sharing have been streamlined. “In the past, it was common for a rep to work with old, paper-based subscription data,” Hershman says. “Now that we have the ability to get almost any kind of data out to the devices, this has also allowed the reps to be more responsive to our customers and give more targeted presentations.”
Field reps are typically required to synchronize their data with the central server once a day in order to upload their activity information to the server and download updates on market-share data and other competitive content. Stiefel sales history is always available to them on the mobile devices. Additionally, if there are other Stiefel sales teams marketing to the same list of customers, this data is downloaded to the field units, providing them with a complete picture of all contact from Stiefel for each customer.
Data synchronization is accomplished via Microsoft SQLServer Replication. Daily dial-up data transfers usually last between 3 and 5 minutes. The CATS32 application also offers transfer access via VPN through wired broadband. Although full-time wireless data sync is an option, Synergistix’s Wong reports that this tactic is still prohibitively expensive for most pharmaceutical companies.
Not only do Stiefel’s reps take advantage of more timely client and market data, they are also better equipped to ensure compliance with PDMA regulations for leaving drug samples by thoroughly documenting the type and number of drugs they leave with each physician. Accountability is simpler because the physician simply signs the rep’s mobile device and the signature is automatically captured digitally.
Hershman is also using CATS to automate Stiefel’s sample ordering system. By digesting the data entered by his sales reps, Hershman can view trends and tweak sample distribution, as well as forecast future demand for the company’s products. “What used to be a three-week process now takes three days,” Hershman says. “We can allocate amounts and adjust orders on the fly. I can even get daily inventories and view the frequency, reach and call average of our reps.”
Hershman admits that he simply hasn’t been driven to calculate the hard business benefits of Stiefel’s new system “We haven’t done any ROI studies,” he explains. “We’ve been growing so quickly and the implementation runs so well. So we’ve just implemented and moved on.” But the efficiency gains made by the reps who no longer have to search through binders for information—which was probably out of date anyway—are significant, Hershman says. More importantly, now that they are loaded with timely, accurate information, Stiefel reps are more than ready to face their clients and their everyday challenges. •