The good folks over at Pixels and Pills have been having a debate as to whether technology can replace the rep (catch up with part one and part two).

I was both a witness and a warrior to to great internet takeover, those days when every and any bricks-and-mortar business seemed ripe for digital conversion and the money freely (I once worked for a company that got $3 million in start-up capital because the person who proposed it said she wanted to build “The of Gardening.” Please bear in mind that this person had never run a business, never built a web page, and knew nothing about distributions, operations or marketing. She just picked “gardening” and paired it with Amazon and got a check. Yes, I am jealous. That company lasted less than 18 months, even with another infusion of cash and two changes of business models. THOSE were the days). Name an industry and someone thought they had a way to internet it (yeah, using the internet as a verb sounds weird). They did it because we were in a weird situation where there was too much money chasing too few ideas. Any idea could get funded, even if it was laughable.

So what? Here’s what. Those businesses (almost) all failed because they thought the problem was that there wasn’t money funding the solution. Wrong. Any profitable solution will find funding eventually. The real problem is showing how the solution helps the end user. Why would anyone buy a rake online from that dot-bomb when shipping costs far out-weighed the 15% discount they got buying the rake and the 5-day wait for delivery? Or if that person was crazy enough, why wouldn’t they just buy it from Amazon, who probably figured out a way to offer it at 16% off and gives discounted shipping and already has your credit card number on file? The problem isn’t that there wasn’t a solution, the problem was that there wasn’t really a problem.

No one thought anyone would buy shoes online once, remember? Shoes NEED to be tried on and tested before purchase. Anyone building an online shoe store was throwing out their money. Until some smart guy figured out that the problem of “needing to try them on” can be mitigated with free shipping if (and this is a BIG if) you can give them a reason to bother. The reason? Unbelievable selection. Shoes, are an object of some fetish among so many of us (I love my brogues and Pumas, so I count myself among your numbers). I’ll wait two weeks or three week and try on a few shipped pair if I can get a pair of shoes that are unusual, have personality, and look great. You can’t say the same about gardening implements.

So what does all this mean? Simply that we are in a stage of trying to define the solution and throw money at it BEFORE we’ve figured out the value of the solution, or even what the problem is. Saving 7% of costs because you can start firing reps isn’t a compelling reason to move into the digital realm. Offering a cool/sexy/neat/whizbang doodad to your HCPs is not a compelling reason to switch.

What’s a compelling reason? Offering the HCP the opportunity to learn about your drug in the form/channel/time/format/size/place they choose. Using technology to make 20 minutes of slide show understandable in 4 minutes (who wouldn’t want that! You just gave the HCP 16 minutes). Using technology to deliver just-in-time content. 

At no point did I say “iPad” or “tablet” or “internet” or “email.” Focusing on the channel (iPads are cool, yes, but until they actually cure cancer, they are just a tool) is the fastest way be left by the wayside when the iPad/tablet/iPhone bubble bursts.

So bring the fight! Comment and call me out on Twitter. That’s always fun!