Nine Steps to Better (and More Useful) Rep Apps

I'll skip the numbers about how many reps are using iPads and tablets, and how pharma brands are getting more and more excited by their use. Tablets are a fantastic resource and studies show that used properly, they increase HCP engagement and interest in the brand. However, most brands aren't using them properly.

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So here's a list of things you should think about when you start to talk about an app for your reps:

1. It's going to have to be an iPad app. The numbers describing the iPad's market penetration are staggering, so great that their very audience size is a powerful argument for iPad's use. So don't try and be clever and pick something else. That will be money well-wasted.

2. An iPad is a magazine, TV, video game, encyclopedia, music player, and software platform. The key to that sentence is the word “and.” It isn't one of those things, it's all of those things at the same time. Converting your Powerpoint sales aid into an iPad app is like buying a sports car and never taking it out of first gear. You don't have to use all these tools, but consider how all these tools can amaze, delight, and engage your target. That's where you need to spend the money.

3. It's going to have to tell a non-linear story, not just show some slides. If your rep is really good at delivering a script, they aren't going to get the sale. A good rep listens and tailors his or her pitch to the audience. This means skipping over content to get to what the rep wants, thus a non-linear narrative. Build that idea in from the ground floor so your 45-second rep visit isn't wasted with 30 seconds of scrambling to get to the next right slide.

4. If you can get the HCP to interact with it, you win. The first time you saw an iPad, you wanted to touch it. And despite the fact that your HCP target has seen a hundred of them, they want to touch your app, too. Interacting with the app increases the likelihood of conversion because now the target is actively playing, not passively listening. Bonus points if you design that app so that the HCP and rep are not on opposite sides of the iPad like opponents, but on the same side like colleagues to create a shared pperspective. It builds the relationship between the HCP and rep, which leads to longer visits and eventually more prescriptions.

5. A closed loop is a dog chasing it's tail. The coolest app in the world stays on the rep's iPad as he or she walks out the door. The app needs to be able to connect to the HCP's world, and the easiest way (but not the only way) is to have the rep email material from the app. Have the HCP put together a library of interesting research and materials in ront of the rep and email a custom link to the HCP. You can even track when the target clicks the link and how much they read when they did. Suggest new materials based on what they read. The app is just the key to a larger world of deeper engagement, not the destination itself.

6. You've got almost infinite space, so use it. Look, the smallest and cheapest iPad has enough space to hold all my music files, photos, blog posts, tax returns, emails, messages, and other documents. If you started today, it would take you the better part of a lifetime to create enough content to fill it. So stop acting like there's a reason not to install every research paper, slide deck, eLearning, rep communication onto your iPad. Nine times out of ten, they won't get used, but that tenth time will be a lifesaver.

7. You want the HCP to use it, but the rep have to live with it. Build in the communication tools you want the reps to use that keep them up to date. Include a way for reps to become better reps (rep-to-rep communication and socializing, for example), tracked education materials, polls, sales contests, and two-way communication tools means that the rep won't have to lug around anything besides an iPad, and ensures that you have constant connection with your team.

8. Yes, the technology matters (in the long run). Yes, it's cheaper today to build in iOS. But when you have to build it again, or update the content, or add new material, that sort of thing gets expensive. And why does this content have to be trapped in the iPad? Couldn't you find some use for all these things on your web site? Seriously evaluate cross-platform technologies like HTML 5 and responsive design to get the most out of your app.

9. Paying for an iPad app today means paying for it again tomorrow. I don't know if you've noticed, but Apple is more than happy to launch new versions of the iPad every 350 days. Some new versions are just a little speedier, but some involve entirely new specifications, meaning your sexy app today will look weird and broken tomorrow. Plan on updates and upgrades, dependent on Apple's launch schedule.

James Ellis, Digital Strategist, Closer Look, Inc

Bio: at closerlook, inc has been hip-deep in web analytics since 2001. He blogs at digital-pharma.tumblr.com and pretty much lives on Twitter (@digital_pharma) if you'd like to reach out.

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