HOW CEPHALON REACHED OUT TO PRIMARY CARE PHYSICIANS
Objective: Global biopharmaceutical company with roots in the specialist market wanted to promote a skeletal muscle relaxant to primary care physicians.
Strategy: Rather than grow its internal sales force, the company contracted a service provider that already had reach in the target market.
Results: The company bolstered its internal sales force in a marketing push that has seen steady growth of both prescriptions and prescribers of the drug. In February, weekly sales of the drug reached approximately $2 million.
Drug manufacturer Cephalon reached into a new market segment with its 2007 acquisition of Amrix, a skeletal muscle relaxant with applications that extend beyond the specialty niches at the core of the company's business model.
The Frazer, Pa.-based biopharmaceutical company traditionally has focused on marketing its roster of oncology, pain and central nervous system drugs to medical specialists.
But Amrix demanded the attention not only of the specialist market but also of the primary care physicians who write about 60% of the prescriptions for the drug, said Michael Mulholland, senior VP-U.S. pharmaceutical operations at Cephalon. The company needed to build name recognition with a new audience.
That meant quickly growing its sales force to deliver drug information and education to an expanded market.
Cephalon partnered with Ventiv, the sales and marketing team at inVentiv Health, a group that provides contract pharmaceutical sales services and that brought with it an understanding of the primary care market.
The partnership yielded a hybrid sales force headed by Cephalon's VP-sales and regional directors and composed of both internal and contract sales staff. Contract staff targeted primary care physicians, while in-house staff marketed the drug to specialists.
The initial roll out saw about 120 contract representatives join 500 in-house salespersons in marketing the drug.
“It's a nice way of partnering with a third party, but making sure we have the appropriate leadership and control over what that organization is doing,” Mulholland said.
While the industry overall may be cutting the volume of its sales team, Mulholland said, face-to-face interaction remains a key piece of the marketing mix.
“A lot of physicians depend on sales representatives for information and education,” he said. “They provide a clinical presentation on the product which reviews the indications, and data and safety profile. They leave samples with the physician.”
The company has rolled out non-personal promotions, including direct mail, but most marketing efforts center around face-to-face interaction with the doctors, he said. Speaker programs featuring a medical expert serve as the most common marketing interaction, he said. The company invites about 10 physicians to come to a presentation, hosted by a sales representative.
“The sales representative is the core, and a lot of the other things we do are built around the sales rep to support and make the rep more effective,” Mulholland said.
The partnership gave Cephalon an established route to a new market, because inVentiv and its contract workers had a history of working with primary care physicians, he said.
Contract sales services allow pharmaceutical clients to increase the size of their sales force without incurring some of the expense associated with building a larger in-house staff, said Rich Levy, exec VP-client solutions at inVentiv Health.
“The smaller and medium companies coming to us are saving 30% to 40% in [selling general and administrative] costs, so that allows them to be more nimble,” Levy said.
Sales of the drug saw steady growth and in the first quarter of 2009, Cephalon executives increased the number of contracted sales representatives to 340.
In February 2009, weekly average sales of Amrix reached approximately $2 million, according to the company. M