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e-Detailing in 2006 and beyond

e-Detailing in 2006 and beyond


Colin Williams, e-Marketing Director at PharmiWeb Solutions takes a look at the current e-detailing landscape and suggests what the future could hold for this much talked about tool for pharmaceutical sales and marketing departments.
Last Updated: 27-Aug-2010

Introduction - e-detailing, eDetailing, e-detail, eDetail, v-Detail, online detail….

Whatever you call it, there has been no escaping it over the past few years and with more people than ever who are connected with the pharmaceutical industry talking about it, this is only set to get worse…or better in my opinion!

I’ve been involved in e-detailing since the heady dotcom days of 2000 and have been providing solutions for the pharmaceutical industry since then. While my frustrations with how long it has taken the industry to take full advantage of e-detailing have been clear to all those who have lent me their ear over the years, I still today remain incredibly positive about e-detailing and its potential for the pharmaceutical industry…and I believe this optimism is well grounded as this article will show.

Learning’s to date

The growth of the internet coincided with well publicised pressures on the pharmaceutical industry - in terms of sales and marketing effectiveness. This led to the birth of e-detailing, and subsequently wider e-sales & e-marketing solutions, new ways of reaching and engaging with a target customer population that was becoming less responsive to traditional forms of sales and marketing communication.

The early days for e-detailing were all about experimentation and provided real challenges for all involved. Initial pilot campaigns often lacked support and understanding from the internal organisation in relation to the channel, the tool and the services, which invariably led to disappointment (or even disillusionment) in actual results versus return on investment (ROI) expectations.

Fortunately, the industry learnt from these initial pilots and rather than dismiss e-detailing out of hand as a bad idea it began to evolve at a more realistic pace than the ‘big internet bang’ had predicted back in the year 2000. Indeed, e-details began to take the requirements of their target population into account by offering a greatly improved user experience with access to more information and services. The healthcare professional audience has subsequently responded enthusiastically, with many e-details receiving thousands of visitors engaging with e-details for two or three times longer than the traditional face-to-face detail (and much longer in some cases). At last both soft and hard ROI expectations are being met.

e-Detailing in 2006

Today the impact of the internet and related technologies on every aspect of life is inescapable. So, we should not be surprised that this impact also extends to healthcare professional, patient and other stakeholder populations, in the context of disease and product research and information search and retrieval.

Healthcare professionals now place the internet top of the list of sources of professional information, and pharmaceutical company executives are now realising that the traditional sales & marketing mix must evolve rapidly to include the online channel.
In December 2005, research and conference specialists’ eyeforpharma commissioned market research with 722 pharmaceutical industry sales and marketing executives across Europe to gauge their views on online marketing and e-detailing. The results showed that the vast majority see these becoming a significant part of their mix. They highlighted a strong requirement for third party assistance as they embark on what is of course a steep learning curve and significant departure to the sales and marketing ‘du jour’. ROI remained the principal uncertainty amongst this group, a topic discussed later in this article

To download the full eyeforpharma e-detailing report, click here

There are now certain companies (or even certain cells within certain companies) which are really beginning to understand e-detailing and the place of wider e-marketing initiatives in their marketing strategy. ROI is now being proved more and more as e-detailing solutions begin to deliver campaigns that are ‘on message’ and hitting the right notes with the healthcare professional customer base.

These solutions are starting to win pharmaceutical company and industry awards (not just for innovation but also when pitched against traditional activities), and they are running iteratively over multiple campaign waves (i.e. learning from activity, refining the message and re-deploying)…for example May 2006 represents the 18-month anniversary for a successful e-detailing campaign that PharmiWeb Solutions is currently running for a Top Five pharmaceutical corporation.

ROI…the holy grail?

Traditional sales and marketing campaigns often lack any meaningful or accurate form of ROI results. There is of course sales, attitude and behavioural data available to the industry but it has never been able to provide a complete ROI answer to offline activity due to the difficulty in measuring the total cost involved and direct impact (sales, behavioural change etc) of a specific activity.

Everything online can be tracked and reported upon as long as the back end metrics are set up correctly at the inception of any activity, and for this reason the pharmaceutical industry has become somewhat obsessed about measuring ROI for online projects. This is a strange phenomenon considering the seemingly accepted premise of not being able to do so in the past yet offline spend continues to rise unabated!

Despite the fact that online activity can be tracked so closely, the complex nature of projects such as e-detailing still often means that true ROI (e.g. increasing product sales / market share) is difficult to measure as there are invariably additional factors that need to be taken into the equation such as other sales & marketing activities taking place (e.g. sales force, mailings, journal advertisements).

However, with the help of longitudinal sales data pharmaceutical companies have been targeting ‘control’ customer groups with e-detailing where it is known that no other sales & marketing activity exists in order to measure the impact on sales and market share more accurately.

By mapping this activity to sales data such as RSA / Xponent from IMS, pharmaceutical companies are at last seeing clear ROI metrics showing clear increases in prescribing and market share as a direct result of e-detailing activities.

In addition, ‘soft’ ROI has been analysed by many pharmaceutical companies when looking at their e-detailing activity through the collection of activity data within the e-detail and post activity tools such as e-detail follow up studies (e-DFU). For example, PharmiWeb Solutions has been able to show clients that their e-detailing investment has resulted in;

  • High numbers of visitors to the e-detail exceeding initial project objectives
  • Average e-detail visit lengths in excess of 10 minutes
  • High likelihood to re-visit e-detail
  • Extremely high prompted and unprompted recall of key product messages
  • Stated intention to increase prescribing of the product as a result of viewing the e-detail

Return on Investment is therefore out there, but perhaps its just not being shouted about enough by pharmaceutical companies who are reluctant to share their results with others, and by vendors who are often restricted by how much success they can shout about!

We believe that pharmaceutical companies investing in e-detailing need to run more sustained campaigns to benefit from increased ROI (this cannot be achieved via a single wave 3-month campaign) and invest in detailed metrics such as IMS Xponent and the intelligent use of other data sources to gauge the true bottom-line impact of their investment.

Only once this is been done by the industry to a greater extent will it truly begin to embrace e-detailing as a major part of the sales & marketing mix.

How will e-detailing evolve?

Its amazing to me that people already talk about ‘traditional e-detailing’ and the fact that by sending out large numbers of emails on a regular basis inviting target healthcare professional communities to view an online product sales resource (albeit often with deeper clinical content also on offer) the industry is faced with a promotional tool that has limited potential and shelf life.

Any such limitations only exist if the industry lacks the creative thinking and long term commitment required to make any sales and marketing initiative a success. This has not been lacking elsewhere in sales and marketing, so why should it be with e-detailing?

Learning’s and results to date suggest that e-detailing can become an integral part of the traditional sales & marketing mix only if it is allowed to truly evolve by the industry that stands to benefit from it.

A whole host of opportunities exist to extend the potential for e-detailing that include the following;

  • Deeper integration with CRM and sales force activity for closed loop promotion and the personalised sell that will provide products with competitive advantage (e.g. multiple path preference-led e-detailing, patient focused selling, rep-delivered access items)
  • Deployment of mobile devices such as tablet PCs, PDAs and mobile phone in order to deliver e-detailing on the move, capture data and amend messages presented in real time
  • Creation of e-detailing modules with additional online tools to form a wider e-marketing product strategy (e.g. educational modules, therapy area websites, KOL / conference webcasts, patient resources) aimed at providing a holistic online service for the target market over a sustained period of time
  • Use of advanced tele-marketing to generate high interest in, understanding of and opt-in permissions for e-detailing
  • Advanced geographical / demographic customer targeting and reporting metrics

Gartner’s ‘Hype Cycle’

Since 1995, Gartner has used Hype Cycles to characterise the over-enthusiasm or "hype" and subsequent disappointment that typically happens with the introduction of new technologies, and it provides an interesting insight as to what may well lay ahead for e-detailing.

There are five distinct categories that occur in the emergence of any new technology:

  1. Technology trigger. A breakthrough, public demonstration, product launch or other event that generates significant press and industry interest.
  2. Peak of inflated expectations. a phase of overenthusiasm and unrealistic projections during which a flurry of publicized activity by technology leaders results in some successes but more failures as the technology is pushed to its limits. The only enterprises making money at this stage are conference organizers and magazine publishers.
  3. Trough of disillusionment. The point at which the technology becomes unfashionable and the press abandons the topic, because the technology did not live up to its overinflated expectations.
  4. Slope of enlightenment. Focused experimentation and solid hard work by an increasingly diverse range of organizations lead to a true understanding of the technology's applicability, risks and benefits. Commercial off-the-shelf methodologies and tools become available to ease the development process.
  5. Plateau of productivity. The real-world benefits of the technology are demonstrated and accepted. Tools and methodologies are increasingly stable as they enter their second and third generation. The final height of the plateau varies according to whether the technology is broadly applicable or only benefits a niche market.

As a new technology, e-detailing has certainly now been through stages 1-3. It is now very much immersed in stage 4 and there are clear signs that stage 5 will be a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.

Final word

The internet and related technologies have become a core element of today’s digital age, an age that the pharmaceutical industry is slowly beginning to embrace, and an evolving e-detailing solution forms a significant part of the opportunity that this provides to the industry in thinking more smartly and getting greater ROI from their sales and marketing investment.

Finally for those that still ask if e-detailing signals the death of the sales rep, my answer is categorically NO! As e-detailing evolves it will only serve to improve the pharmaceutical sales force function and provide greater ROI from it. 

About PharmiWeb Solutions

PharmiWeb Solutions delivers connectivity in healthcare through collaborative portals, e-sales/marketing solutions and mobile applications, providing strategic advantage to healthcare, pharmaceutical, and biotech organisations.

  • The industry experts in creating successful communities online through innovative portal solutions, such as, and
  • Specific solutions that address your sales and marketing issues and produce real business benefits. These include e-detailing, online market research, transactional e-commerce, and customer web presence
  • Powerful mobile applications for people, not places in the healthcare segment

Further information:

About the author

Colin Williams has over 10 years experience in pharmaceutical marketing, market research and e-business gained from companies such as Boehringer Ingelheim, IMS, Taylor-Nelson Sofres and PharmiWeb Solutions. He has managed a number of successful e-detailing and wider e-marketing projects for clients such as Amgen, AstraZeneca, MSD, Napp, Novo Nordisk and P&G. He can be contacted at or +44 (0)1344 667430.