Technology: a help or hindrance?

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 Despite rapid advancements in field-based mobile devices, why is it that a handful of employees still fail to see technology as the great enabler? Pf’s Iain Bate reports.

There can be little argument that technology now plays a major part in our lives. From the moment we wake up to the alarm on our ‘smart’ phone, to the time we switch off our digital set-top box, our days, whether spent at work or at home, are dominated in one way or another by technology. The evolution of mobile devices has been a significant one. Twenty-five years ago it was only ‘yuppies’ who strolled around with a brick-sized mobile phone strapped to their ear. Nowadays, it seems everyone is upwardly mobile. And if you’re not, well there’s probably an app for that.

The introduction of electronic management territory systems (ETMS) for medical sales representatives back in the 1990s was regarded as a landmark change for an industry that had previously got by with paper-based systems. ETMS has, of course, evolved into Customer Relationship Management. Technology vendors have developed their offerings further and are currently promoting ‘SaaS solutions’ that host data ‘in the cloud’. And in the era of the iPad, mobile technology and the ability to share information effectively in real time just gets better and better. The development of sophisticated systems to help sales professionals better understand the customer environment has seen Sales Force Effectiveness (SFE) technology move beyond call reporting and activity monitoring to become an invaluable tool for the field force and sales management alike.

All of which begs the question: why is it that some people within the industry still refrain from wholeheartedly embracing mobile technology in the workplace? Pf’s annual Company Perception, Motivation and Satisfaction Survey offers an independent and accurate temperature check of the pharma sales force – including trends and behaviour in the field of sales force technologies. Data has shown that in recent years there has been little change in the way medical sales representatives use technology in the field. In some instances, it seems a selection still believe technology has been a disadvantage to the way they work.

Technology addicts

The 2010 Survey highlighted some interesting patterns to the use of technology by field based staff. Nine-out-of ten respondents said they had access to an ETMS/CRM at work but only 51% of that total said they used it on a daily basis.

For those who do use their system, more than half of the respondents questioned on their daily usage said they spent an hour or more on their mobile device each day (see Figure 1). A fifth of respondents even admitted to spending more than three hours maximising the convenience of mobile technology whilst at work. However, it still seems that a handful of staff still prefer the old methods of working with 15% spending less than an hour each day keying in information to an ETMs.

Despite pharma companies introducing new measures and quicker operating systems it seems the use of technology is still feared by some in the workplace.

The emotion of fear is one which technophobes relate to when challenged with accessing or effectively using a device as Graham Jones, a respected internet psychologist, explains.

“Usually people don’t embrace technology for one of two reasons,” he said. “Firstly, they cannot see the benefit of the technology because it appears more complex than their current working methods. Usually, the technology is surrounded by so much jargon and is often ‘over-engineered’ which means that it seems much more complicated than it need be. As a result, vast amounts of technology end up being needlessly off-putting. Another reason why people fail to take up technology is fear; people are often scared they will break it, make a mess of it or make themselves look stupid when using it. As a result, they undertake all sorts of avoidance activities in order to ‘maintain face’.”

The top five ‘avoidance activities’ in the Pf Survey included devices being awkward to carry and a lack of battery power. Hardly reasons managers would accept for not following company protocol!

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An ideal facade

Alongside the amount of staff that choose not to use their devices whilst away from the office, there are also a number of other concerns which are sure to worry pharma companies that have spent vast sums of money. A quarter of respondents admitted they were not always accurate when recording the number of products they have detailed within calls (see Figure 2). Surprisingly 4% cent said they were never accurate when processing figures.

Despite being a key component for successful CRM – which enables colleagues and sales teams access to key information about customers and accounts – 16% still do not record pre-call objectives into their systems and 7% never enter the a post-call report to pass any findings back to head office.

Is big brother watching?

The lack of engagement with their ETMS/CRM system by the minority is sure to puzzle bosses, diluting the promise technology provides to share customer insight. One of the long standing issues with remote devices for any type of field-base employee has always been the notion of being ‘watched’. Graham Jones explains why, in some cases, managers are their own worst enemy where mobile devices are concerned.

“Some people may see remote systems as a threat but generally when people are asked about this they realise that their bosses can already check up on them; they don’t need technology to do it. Most sales representatives know this and so the technology is generally seen in a positive light. However, many managers think IT will be seen negatively and this impacts on the way they deliver the technology, making people more suspicious than they need to be in the first place.”

Despite the trust which is placed in technology in the home there still remains an element of doubt in the workplace whether advancements in working practices are a help or a hindrance. Whether the numerous reports of internet scams subconsciously plays a part in the loss of trust is unclear, however if there is a worry it plays a role in whether technology is embraced or not.

“There is little doubt that online it is trust that is a key issue,” Graham continued. “If people do not trust a website or some kind of service, they are much less likely to use it. Therefore, if companies wish to get their staff to engage with technology, it is trust which is a key issue to establish.

“To build trust with employees is more about creating an environment of trust rather than anything specific. Factors such as providing employees with freedom, allowing employees to work flexibly and not constantly ‘checking up’ on them are ways in which companies can improve the trust relationship they have with their staff.”

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Silver surfing

The issue of age is always brought up where technology is involved. The stereotype of the elderly being adverse to technology or using the internet has long been dispelled. More than 35% of respondents in the Pf Survey are aged 44 or above with Graham Jones dismissing any ideas that the older generation are still computer illiterate.

“The notion that age and technology doesn’t mix is a myth,” he said. “There is no evidence that I know of which suggests that age prevents people from getting to grips with technology. However, older people do use it as an excuse to avoid using technology, but that relates to the issue of fear – fear that they will look stupid up against younger people who supposedly know it all!”

There is little doubt that technology will continue to develop to offer quicker running processes, extended customer databases and advanced features aimed at making the pharmaceutical sales representatives’ job easier whilst away from the office. Whether or not these advancements will be enough for the remaining few to embrace technology remains to be seen, but there’s little argument that technology has become a convenient and helpful assistant and the great enabler it was always expected to be.