Achieving Field Force Effectiveness Digitally

By Navin Singhania, Director Business Technology India at Pfizer Ltd

Achieving Field Force Effectiveness DigitallyIn 2004, HUL embarked on the prestigious RSNet project, where in Palm Zire devices were used as Hand Held Terminals (HHT) to enable its sales force to optimize orders and inventory. RS Net was one of the largest B2B e-commerce initiatives ever under taken in India. The objective was to catalyze HUL’s growth by ensuring that the right product is available at the right place in right quantities, on a continuous replenishment basis, thereby making the entire supply chain efficient. At that time, data over mobile was unheard of.RS Net enabled the field force to capture orders and inventory details on their HHTs and SYNC it back to the company’s ERP system, thus making the entire integration seamless.

Many cynics would have thought that this will not work and that the field force would need to manage the supply chain using traditional methods. However, the naysayers were proved wrong and HUL proudly demonstrated that the best way to sell is to enable the field force with cutting edge technology.

"Field Force is the moment of truth for any pharma company, while the IT team is the backbone that supports this moment of truth"

Telecom in India was quick to adopt this process for their field force as they had the advantage of using SMS and USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) as data carriers from field back to company’s ERP and CRM systems. Telecom revolutionized what was started by FMCG and brought technology to the forefront of FFE (Field Force Effectiveness). Once GPRS data became cheaper and widely available, the task of the field became much easier due to continuous connectivity coupled with system notifications, empowering the field employee to sell more efficiently with targeted sales, optimized beat planning and effective retailer segmentation. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then. Field personnel across sectors and services use latest gadgets and mobile  apps over smartphones and iPads at 4G speed to perform their jobs much more efficiently and seamlessly.

Pfizer India started providing iPads to the field force in 2014 so that they could perform their scientific product detailing and demonstrations effectively in the doctor’s chamber and also capture the HCP’s feedback real time. This was a pioneering move in the Indian pharma industry, way ahead of industry peers. This initiative allowed Pfizer field colleagues to truly partner with the HCPs to share relevant scientific information in an engaging and interactive way. Additionally, there is a large base of field force that manages sales made by distributors to retail chemists or hospitals. This is called secondary sales. The impact of digital tools in secondary sales is even more, with the usage of app based ordering mechanism, that allows the secondary sales team to sync the orders directly to their billing systems and manage the cash collection and schemes over these apps.

Field Force is the moment of truth for any pharma company, while the IT team is the backbone that supports this moment of truth.

Field Force Effectiveness – The pharma story

The pharmaceutical Industry has a long standing tradition of investing in sales, not just in increasing sales force numbers but also in processes, HR interventions and IT enabled tools for FFE. Sales force is a significant investment for pharma companies. Yet study after study shows that there is enough head room for sales force optimization, improvement and effectiveness. Pharma companies worldwide are deploying highly sophisticated CRM systems in areas like product detailing, route planning, predictive analysis for prescribing trends and competition bench marking.

At the end of the day IT systems are not of primary importance but the process and ease of doing things which gives desired results to the organization plays a vital role in success of the field force in the overtly crowded market place. Face to face selling may be a thing of the past in developed markets where e-detailing is replacing the classic physically driven visual aid based format. As more and more doctors are pressed for time owing to their demanding schedules, the need of the hour is to up the game by providing knowledge driven, scientifically relevant information to them, that too in an “on demand” model.

There are cases where HCPs want to use their commute time by reading medical journals or updating themselves about a new drug in the market. Pharma companies thus need to consider other evolved engagement models rather than just adding more strength to their existing field force. There are markets which are experimenting with Alexa and Google Assistant for detailing to HCPs and that is very exciting to note as HCPs can ask any question and get the answer immediately.

It is estimated that 200K reps are using iPads in India across companies. India FF is growing at 9% where as developed markets are degrowing by 2%. So, the need of the hour is to have novel interventions in digital space to connect with HCPs in a more webinars, virtual classrooms, CHATBOTS and Whatsapp are now increasingly being used in developed markets.

Indian pharma industry as a whole can also benefit from adopting these progressive digital engagement methods. However, some current regulatory frameworks would require a public private dialogue for these interventions to be implemented here. We need to work with the Government in a true spirit of partnership to see how we can go digital and still be compliant . Field Force coaching is also very essential and companies are increasingly investing in their employees so that they can win in the market place.

Conclusion

The pharma industry is a more mature industry in terms of FFE as compared to other sectors in India. However, given that the margins are declining due to several reasons ranging from an over cluttered and competitive marketplace to pricing of essential medicines; the industry as a whole is not able to invest as much as they would like. Companies are thus implementing global CRM tools and going digital to increase the reach to the HCP and the future looks exciting. Hopefully the pharma industry will be able to reap rich benefits from digital and CRM initiatives. We are waiting with bated breath for the future to unfold.

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