Sales Management: Get Committed

By better managing relationships with physicians, pharma companies can develop a base of dedicated prescribers.
Mar 01, 2007


Jeffrey Zornitsky
Pharma companies today are focused on driving prescriptions. But just because physicians are prescribing a brand doesn't mean that they are committed to it. Who's to say a doctor won't jump ship the moment a flashier new drug comes on the scene?

To strengthen the tie between pharma and physicians, companies must add new metrics and insights to their sales management and decision-support systems—metrics that look at the company's relationships with prescribers. A key metric is commitment, a measure of the underlying bond between doctors and the brands that they prescribe.

Commitment drives near-term performance gains and ensures long-term stability. Research shows that committed physicians deliver more than double the patient share of their uncommitted colleagues (see chart, right). In addition, committed doctors are more resistant to competitive efforts and less sensitive to drug pricing, which translates to more prescriptions over time.


Stronger Commitment Means Higher Patient Share
Conversely, high prescribers can also be uncommitted—and could easily be persuaded to switch to another brand. Even companies that think their sales numbers are safe may be facing unforeseen challenges. Commitment is a critical component of traditional prescription metrics—and a weak physician–sales relationship could prove to be an Achilles heel for even the strongest brands.

The effort to manage commitment depends in large part on how well the company understands what physicians need and where the fulfillment of those needs is falling short. This insight is key in developing a physician-centric sales approach.

What Physicians Really Want

What does it take to build commitment? TNS Healthcare recently interviewed nearly 400 doctors (including PCPs, cardiologists, pulmonologists, and oncologists) in the United States and asked them to identify the pharma-related services they value (see chart).

PCPs and specialists alike agreed that industry is not meeting their changing requirements. They cited gaps in several key areas, such as patient-management programs, education and information services, and detail quality. Clearly, physicians are not finding value in the experiences pharma is delivering.


Qualities and Services Physicians Value Most from Pharma Companies
With few exceptions, physicians gave pharma low ratings in almost all sales and service areas. Only about a quarter of physicians gave the industry good marks for Internet services, business management support, or DTC programs. Only about half said they were satisfied with detail quality and brand experience—and even fewer gave the industry high ratings for either patient or physician education.

Despite these low average ratings, some companies are doing better than others at meeting physicians' needs. Pfizer comes out at the top of the list, across all sales and service categories. GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis tie for second, with relatively high scores in most areas.

Getting Physician-Centric

One way to improve these scores is for pharma companies to adopt a physician-centric approach to managing physician relationships. By moving from just selling products to becoming educators, knowledge providers, and business partners, companies can improve relationships with doctors. This approach requires customizing the total sales experience to physicians' expressed preferences—and in the process, ensuring that the required investments will yield positive ROI. Achieving this requires a new set of decision-support metrics, tools, and delivery mechanisms.