The Salesforce Software Shift

Sep 01, 2008
By Pharmaceutical Executive


Matt Wallach
You can't teach an old dog new tricks. But when the dog in question is your customer relationship management (CRM) system, you've got a serious problem.

In the past year or two, pharma has come under immense pressure from balky pipelines, slowed approvals, safety concerns, and pushback from doctors. One thing has become clear: To remain competitive, pharmaceutical companies need a more cost-efficient, consumer-type sales and marketing model that includes multiple avenues for customer interaction. Like so many other highly competitive US industries, pharma needs to provide customers—all of them—with more ways to get critical information.

This sort of change is possible, of course. The insurance industry, which faced similarly unsettling climate changes, has responded with a new model, new technology, and new ways to get information. Aon Corporation, Fidelity National, Phoenix Companies, Delta Dental, and many others have implemented systems that give customers the ability to call, click, or visit. Geiko customers and others can call customer service, click to the Web site, or visit an office for a quote or claims support. The same phenomenon is happening in retail, high tech, financial services, and many other industries.

Some pharmaceutical executives have, in fact, started implementing new strategies, tapping into the revenue-generating potential of previously ancillary commercial sales "subgroups" such as hospital sales teams, managed markets, and key opinion leader managers. Many are testing new tactics such as video- and e-detailing, closed-loop marketing, call center–based detailing, account-based selling, and alternative sampling. It's a start, but it's nowhere near enough.


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These companies face a huge obstacle. The sales-force automation systems they implemented a decade ago are not flexible enough to handle modern-day demands. These systems were built on legacy client/server technology that is now widely recognized as clunky, expensive, and grossly inflexible. They are simply not adaptable enough to allow pharmaceutical companies to adequately test new initiatives, nor are they flexible enough to give customers the ability to choose how they get information. Client/server systems do not allow for change—at least not without spending thousands of dollars to reprogram the servers, which may take many weeks, if not months, to accomplish.

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Why so long? In most cases, it's less about the difficulties of changing the software (though these are sometimes considerable) and more about deployment.

Let's say you want to make a simple change to your CRM system, for example, adding a field to record the doctor's favorite hobby. To accomplish that in an older CRM system, you'd need to go through a number of steps: extend the database, define the field, position it, add it to the interface, set who has rights to update it, and so forth. In some systems it's easy, in others not so easy—but you can get it done in anywhere from a few hours to a few months.

Where you lose time is in deployment. Remember, we're talking about client/server software. Think of something like Outlook for e-mail, which requires each user to have a program installed on his or her computer, as opposed to something like Gmail, which is totally Web-based. Installing updated software on 5,000 laptops for a large sales force can take 12 to 18 months. It's a process that companies want to avoid for good reason.