Reliant Gets Fast Sales Data with Interactive Voice Response System

Ronald J. Calderone, CIO at Reliant Pharmaceuticals LLC, discovered that when it comes to building a sales force automation system, the human voice makes for a very good interface—at a very good price.

Reliant, a privately held company in Liberty Corner, N.J., that sells hypertension beta-blockers and cardiac drugs, needed timely data from its salespeople, who call on physicians who prescribe such medications. But Calderone quickly determined that it would cost $4 million to $6 million to equip Reliant's sales force, which is projected to grow to 900, with handheld computers and link them into a sales force automation system like those used by major drug companies. He simply didn't have that money in his budget.

That's when Calderone decided to tap an asset the salespeople already had—their voices—and couple that with an interactive voice-response (IVR) system called Victor, which stands for Voice Interactive Tracking & Operations Repository. The system provides the company with detailed and timely data on sales calls accessible from a SQL database.

While Calderone declines to provide specific financial details, he says Reliant developed Victor using a combination of commercial speech-recognition technologies for "a couple of hundred thousand dollars." He says the system, which the company started building in early 2002 and rolled out to its entire sales force about a year later, "had a payback of much less than a year."

Dan Miller, an analyst at Zelos Group Inc. in San Francisco, says IVR systems offer a low-cost alternative to mobile hardware and sales force automation software.

"[IVR] systems are not expensive, and they're not rocket science," Miller says.

Ronald J. Calderone
Ronald J. Calderone, CIO, Reliant Pharmaceuticals LLC

"The true payback is timeliness," says Calderone, who notes that before Victor, the Reliant sales force used paper forms for call reports. That information took eight weeks to trickle in from an outside data entry contractor. Now, Reliant gets the results of those sales calls overnight, he says.

Using voice prompts, Victor guides sales personnel through a series of questions analogous to data fields, such as doctors called, location, practice and other information. Responses are stored in a SQL database. Victor is so easy to use, Calderone says, that user training takes about an hour.

Robin McWilliams, Reliant's manager for telecommunications, says it wasn't any more difficult to integrate data from Victor into the company's systems than it would be to integrate any other type of data. Thanks to Victor, "voice is just another form of data," he says.

Though Reliant built Victor with existing IVR software and hardware, including Dialogic voice-processing boards from Intel Corp. and speech software from Nuance Communications Inc. and the Sony Pictures division of Sony Corp., Calderone says the company has 32 patents pending on Victor. He adds that Reliant is now looking for a marketing partner to sell the system—which could further add to this project's payback.

Reliant Pharmaceuticals LLC

Business: Markets pharmaceutical products to U.S.-based physicians. Reliant has more than 190 corporate employees and 750 sales reps.

Project champion: Ronald J. Calderone

IT department:19

Project payback: IVR system was installed at a fraction of the cost of handheld computers. Results of sales calls are now received overnight, instead of the previous turnaround of eight weeks.

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