Alternative Media: The Site That Could - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Alternative Media: The Site That Could
How VaccineShoppe integrated sales, marketing, and technology.


Pharmaceutical Executive


Benjamin White
In the spring of 1999, John Alexander, vice president of North American information solutions at Sanofi Pasteur, surveyed the operating model of his vaccine company. He knew there were opportunities to expand the company's relationship with its physician customers. After all, unlike traditional pharma, doctors are far more than prescribers in the vaccine industry. They are the actual customers who do all of the purchasing, storing, and administering of vaccine biologicals.

Back then, all orders at Sanofi Pasteur were processed through one of five channels—sales force, fax, electronic data interchange, inbound call center or outbound call center. Yet Alexander saw how consumer companies were able to enhance relationships with consumers using e-solutions, and wanted to apply the concept within a pharma environment. He envisioned an e-solution targeted to healthcare professionals that would not only transform the company's order-fulfillment process, but evolve the very nature of the company's relationship with its customers.

Six years later, VaccineShoppe.com has become the number-one customer channel for all Sanofi Pasteur sales, processing more than 60 percent of all orders. The Web site offers full ordering capability for all company vaccines, historical account reporting, invoice payment, and order tracking. Its comprehensive resource library, with webinars and useful links, has also helped establish the site as a portal for vaccine-conscious professionals and a one-stop shop for doctors' vaccine-related needs.

Whose Tool Are You?

With more than $1 billion in historical sales and 30,000 registered users, VaccineShoppe.com has proven more successful than all other Sanofi Pasteur channels at achieving promotional and sales goals. And yet, the Web site's evolution was marked by several significant challenges.


Continuing Education
Fluidity From the start, the portal's promise was jeopardized by confusion over its core objective. The site traversed the traditional functional boundaries of marketing, sales, and information solutions (IS). From both ownership and accountability perspectives, the traditional pharma organizational structure seemed too rigid to foster the site's ambition.

Sales and marketing buy-in In its first year, VaccineShoppe.com was led and owned by the IS division. Although technically sound, sales and marketing functions paid little attention to the site—causing customer penetration and revenue generation to fall below initial expectations.

Leadership In its second year, the initiative was moved to the customer services unit, which was part of the sales function. It was led by Grace D'Amico, executive director of customer services, who had a record of championing technology to transform business. Guided by senior management commitment and a reaffirmation to the entire sales and marketing organization, D'Amico forged a vision of the site.

Cross-functional support D'Amico divided site leadership between a customer services project leader who focused on channel optimization, and a product manager with a product marketing skill set focused on site promotion and message delivery. These two team members share daily responsibility and personal objectives for the site's operation, and a collaborative cross-functional team of marketing, sales, and IS now bypasses the wires and boxes of the company's organization chart.

"People talk of matrixes," D'Amico notes, "but it's really a web of connections throughout the organization."

The site's cross-functional support reflects the hybrid objective of the initiative as both sales and marketing tool.

Integrating Old and New When VaccineShoppe.com launched, sales reps and call center operators feared the site would make their role obsolete. But it didn't because, when establishing VaccineShoppe.com Sanofi Pasteur also pursued a parallel transformation initiative in the sales force and call centers to optimize sales.

"VaccineShoppe was not designed to be the all-encompassing customer relationship channel," D'Amico reflects. "It was meant to be another capability in our toolbox—a channel to better optimize our entire sales function."

The company worked to evolve the traditional vaccine sales role, which centered on product detailing and order-taking, into a pure product-advocate role. As sales reps realized the value-added services and medical-related content VaccineShoppe.com offered, it was no longer viewed as a threat but instead as a tool to help gain access to physicians and office managers. As in bound and purely transactional calls decreased due to customer channel switch to the web, call center reps focused more time on value-added activities such as expanding orders and enhancing service to customers.

Shaping Customer Behavior VaccineShoppe.com has also reshaped activities within the medical practices of the company's customers.

"From the onset, we recognized that we needed to make VaccineShoppe an ingrained habit with our customer base," D'Amico says.

In the site's early days, Sanofi Pasteur launched a registration drive to get customers to switch from traditional sales channels to the Web site for their ordering needs. It was conducted with the help of the sales force—and encouraged through a contest that rewarded penetration rates and repeat usage—which used office visits to promote the site and walk healthcare professionals through the registration and ordering processes.

Later, to ensure the site's ease of use and value, the company created the e-Council—a national "beta" group of customers willing to serve as advisors. The e-Council continues to teleconference once per month to provide feedback to the development team on the site's newest innovations.

Finally, to help customers overcome potential technological hurdles or to help first-time users navigate the site, the company launched Personal ShoppeService, which offers customers a service rep's assistance within two minutes of receiving a help request.

Success VaccineShoppe.com enhanced Sanofi Pasteur's approach to its business. Before the launch, for example, company call centers were inundated with flu vaccine pre-book and confirmation calls on the eve of each flu season. This periodic stress entailed hundreds of incremental man hours while leaving customers stranded on hold lines. But after the launch—even when the company's call center was flooded with 70,000 phone calls a day during the recent flu vaccine crisis that left Sanofi Pasteur the only injectable vaccine producer in the market—the site was able to act as a spillover channel that could also provide customers with CDC news flashes and inventory updates.

The site has evolved from a mere project to a component of every sales and communications strategy at Sanofi Pasteur. Tailored versions of VaccineShoppe have been rolled out to several international markets, and the company is investigating the business model for implementation in South American and Asia-Pacific markets.


Jamie Picone
Launches Duravest Inc. launched a new Web site, which includes an Internet presence for its subsidiary, Estracure Inc. Mental Health Connections selected Genelex Corp. as the exclusive distributor of its GeneMedRx software program. Interlink Healthcare Communications created a multimedia department.

Awards Health Data Management, a publication of SourceMedia, was awarded the 2005 Gold Award for Best Online News Section by the American Society of Healthcare Publication Editors Medi-Span, an online publication of Wolters Kluwer Health, was recognized in the World Wide Web Health Awards, organized by the Health Information Resource Center.


Stephen Pearson
People Compass Healthcare Communications welcomed Stephen Pearson as account manager and Jamie Picone as project manager. Pearson previously worked for an Internet advertising agency specializing in pharma and OTC. Picone formerly worked in marketing at Novartis Pharmaceuticals.

Announcements The Web Marketing Association is calling for submissions for the 9th annual WebAward Competition. June 1 is the entry deadline. The winners will be announced in the fall.

Benjamin White is a manager in Capgemini’s life sciences practice. He can be reached at
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