Bristol-Myers prescribes sales solution

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Hoping to give its sales force a booster shot, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. is about to open an Internet marketing platform for its 5,000 reps.

According to the prime vendor on the project, the Fortune 100 drug company will give its salespeople access to marketing materials and the ability to log customer interactions via a Web site, scheduled to launch this fall. Bristol-Myers, which sold $18 billion worth of pharmaceuticals in 2000, today uses a non-Web, legacy sales platform.

New York-based Bristol-Myers declined to comment last week.

"It manages the life of the salesperson, including information generated by a sales call and what drugs were sampled," said Christopher French, senior VP-product innovation at Morristown, N.J.-based Dendrite International Inc., which is helping the drugmaker develop the new system.

Bristol-Myers move comes as rivals Eli Lily & Co., Pfizer Inc. and Merck & Co. Inc. also look to the Internet as a marketing medium
and a way to enable sales reps. Meanwhile, another big player, DuPont, whose drug business Bristol-Myers is acquiring, began rolling out a Web sales platform for its 900 reps last March.

Real-time decisions

The Webs immediacy could help Bristol-Myers reps make decisions in real-time, allowing the company to change marketing pitches on the fly, said Elizabeth Boehm, Forrester Research Inc.s health care analyst. "Its a lot more efficient to capture this information in real-time to adjust information to doctors based on their preferences and experiences."

Like its competitors, Bristol-Myers is seeking better ways to market to doctors, a vital but elusive segment. The ability of its reps to tailor and share sales and marketing information will be useful in calling on doctors, a group that expects custom, personalized information.

"Pharmaceuticals has always been a relationship sell," said Patrick Blair, director of marketing at The Delour Group, a pharmaceutical marketing consultancy.

To accommodate their constant mobility, reps will be able to access the platform from laptops and personal digital assistants.

The amount Bristol-Myers is spending on the new Web platform has not been disclosed. Similar initiatives have cost in the low seven figures, according to experts.

But the drug companys long-range marketing savings could be much greater than that. "My guess in the long run is that it could be tremendous cost savings," Blair said.

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