Sales Management: A Sample Plan - Pharmaceutical Executive


Sales Management: A Sample Plan
One of the industry's most important promotional tools is also one of its least understood. Patrick Burns, of BW Analytics, discusses new approaches to measuring the impact of sampling—and giving reps the tools they need to use samples better.

Pharmaceutical Executive

There's no reason to believe that one can't come up with a mass customization model that focuses on unique marketing mixes for each physician. Now, it's not going to be an economically viable proposition to have one particular mix for every physician, but if you can take one large mix of 100,000 physicians down to eight or 10 unique marketing mixes, that can yield tremendous results. Physicians are going to respond more favorably when they're presented with opportunities that they feel are catered to them.

A physician who's prescribing in cardiology may have different prescribing behaviors and attitudes than a doctor who works in another disease area. Marketing mix strategies that are focused on a per physician level can also be focused on a per disease market level. If a pharma company has a women's health franchise as well as a cardiovascular franchise, for example, and it has multiple field sales forces, messages can be tailored based on the disease market that the doctor being called on treats.

How can pharma companies actually get the data required to tailor messages?

In this industry, the data is there. It's not perfect, but it's there. It's a matter of having the analytical methodology that allows companies to use the data to understand the nuances of different physicians and disease markets. There are pharma companies that are doing good work in this area. They clearly have the experience in the industry, they have the analytical talent, and their approach and methodology can be considered valid.

But when it comes to solution providers, we've seen a lot of catering to standard marketing strategies and tactics. Rather than giving Big Pharma what it wants, we want to give it what it needs. There's often a period of discomfort and disruption when we do that, because we put ourselves in the position of saying things that go against intuitive thinking. But when you can explain things in a rational fashion, and tie it all back to rational economic theory, most companies are willing to consider it—and many are actually willing to try.

Can you give an example of a company that's tried it?

One of our clients had been a first-in-market leader for six or seven years. In the last 20 months or so, the company took its sampling down to almost a negligible level. But then a competitor came into the marketplace. And as many companies do, in the early stages of the product life cycle, this competitor was going to be investing heavily in multiple promotional areas, including sampling.

Our client said, "Uh-oh. We haven't been sampling much, and now we have a competitor who's going to come in and sample heavily. We'd better think about how to adjust our strategy." The problem, though, was that they had no rational strategy in place for deciding how much to invest, because they didn't understand the impact of sampling.

We built a model designed to help this client understand the impact of sampling—apart from detailing and other promotional media. With that calculation in mind, it became possible to go out and look at the impact their samples were having on a per physician basis. Through that analysis, we were able to help the client answer several questions, such as, "What's the optimal way to allocate the samples associated with a fixed budget?"

We encouraged them to focus on physicians who were high prescribers, and those who showed potential because of their sensitivity to samples—doctors that sales reps otherwise might not have chosen to see because they didn't see the potential.

Patrick Burns, managing principal for BW Analytics, a consulting firm that focuses on pharmaceutical brand performance, has more than 20 years of experience as an executive and consultant in the public and private sectors. He specializes in physician-level promotional mix planning for pharmaceutical brands. Recently, Burns successfully directed the optimization of a brand sampling strategy for a top 10 global pharmaceutical company. The analysis identified an opportunity to increase annual revenues for a blockbuster drug by more than $70 million.


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