If you look at pharmaceutical companies' traditional sales and marketing practices, you might think that all customers are
identical. Why else would they treat all physicians nearly the same? In fact, there are many important differences between
prescribers, even within the same specialty in the same town. Some are early adopters of new drugs and technology. Others
take longer to be convinced. Many physicians are active participants in the sales process: They speak at peer-to-peer functions
and lecture about the diseases they know well. Other doctors don't even like to see sales reps.
That said, almost every physician wants a few of the same things from pharma sales and marketing departments. Samples are
almost always popular. And even practices that ban reps altogether want good, accessible product information.
So can pharma design an approach to fit all of its customers? Probably not. And based on sales practices in other industries—where
"one-size-fits-all" approaches have given way to tailored, more flexible sales and marketing models—pharmaceutical companies
probably need to step away from traditional "reach and frequency" methods. More than high-call frequency will be necessary
to succeed in an increasingly competitive sales environment.
Strong prescriber relationships will be a key source of competitive advantage in the years ahead. To build these relationships,
companies should rethink prescriber requirements to tailor their sales approach to the disparate needs and attitudes of physicians.
But first, companies need to look for ways to meet needs that otherwise different groups of prescribers have in common. These
prescriber interactions, which typically include simple transactions like providing product samples, sharing basic product
information, and e-detailing, present opportunities for standardization. Centralized, cost-effective, and consistent delivery
of these basic services should be a core function of sales and marketing—it is the "lean backbone" of a marketing strategy.
When every customer has access to these basic services, additional features can be tailored to meet more specialized needs.
These "high-touch overlays" satisfy more exacting prescriber demands and deliver tailored messages cost effectively to specific
groups of physicians.
Prescriber Interaction Model
To develop such a multi-tiered marketing strategy, pharma companies need to take certain steps:
IDENTIFY PRESCRIBER SEGMENTS Physicians need much more than information from pharmaceutical companies and their reps. Thought leaders within a therapeutic
category, for example, might want to get involved in clinical trials, speak at peer-to-peer events, and get help determining
which patients would benefit most from a product. In general we distinguish four types of primary care physicians:
Independents Nearly a quarter of prescribers see little value in interactions with pharmaceutical companies
Transactionals Nearly one-in-four physicians see pharma as a source of samples, tend to be motivated by patient preferences, and are slow
to try new drugs
Knowledge seekers About one-in-five GPs are interested in educational programs but less keen on samples or personal interactions with
Relationship seekers One in three MDs look forward to visits from reps, value educational programs and samples, and tend to be early
adopters of medication.
CREATE A STANDARDIZED, LOW-COST BACKBONE The "lean backbone" comprises the set of sales and marketing activities that a pharma company has to perform across its entire
product portfolio, which can be standardized and streamlined. This represents the bare minimum of service that the company
would provide to prescribers, primarily information and "self-serve" transactions. These might include:
- Online therapeutic category and product information for all products in a company's portfolio
- Dedicated portals designed to generate disease-state awareness and meet the specific information needs of the physician, nurse,
pharmacist, managed care company, and caregiver
- Online help, 24 hours a day, from dedicated call-center representatives
- E-details for physicians who are hard to see or for whom additional coverage is not cost-effective
- Centralized mailing of product samples, script pads, etc.
DEVELOP "HIGH-TOUCH OVERLAYS" for delivering tailored messages to prescribers who value higher levels of sales and service support, and have prescribing
potential that's high enough to cover the cost. "High-touch" services include:
- In-person field sales calls
- Group practice and patient case management
- Peer-to-peer programs, including speaker selection and training
- Trial and research collaboration
- In-depth clinical information.
None of these approaches are new or unique to pharma. Several large companies use multifunctional, multidivisional teams with
senior executive leadership to drive sales. More than salespeople, these executives seek selling solutions rather than individual
In December 2005, The Pink Sheet reported that Eli Lilly is using "portfolio specialist" reps to engage with "no-access institutions"—those that refuse to
see standard reps. John Lechleiter, Lilly's COO, said, "Portfolio specialists are single points of contact for these customers,
providing product and disease-state knowledge, samples, and referrals to outside expertise." According to Lechleiter, portfolio
specialists are helping Lilly get "back in the door."
Financial services company Charles Schwab & Co. does a superb job of segmenting and providing high-touch services. Frontline
retail staffers are trained to categorize customers by segment. The company guides them to the appropriate channels. Everyone
has access to the backbone of services, which includes easy-to-use online access to accounts. More sophisticated investors
get access to more information, while the most affluent get personal attention from independent advisors.
Similarly, Dell was among the first companies in the computer industry to recognize wide variations in what customers want
from marketing, from simple transactions to in-depth consultative services.
Our research has shown similar—and growing—variations in what physicians want from pharma sales reps, but many pharma companies
have yet to adjust their marketing "touches" accordingly.
Better Product Launches
This new physician-interaction model can help pharmaceutical companies achieve more profitable growth and provide additional
value to prescribers. A disciplined, investment-oriented approach based on prescribers' bottom-line value will allow companies
to align cost-to-serve with expected value.
The benefits of the model are likely to be magnified for growth products early in their lifecycles, when effective promotion
will have the greatest impact in shaping long-term physician perceptions and prescribing behavior. And high-touch overlays
play a crucial role in launches, primarily to help the product message reach early adopters and key opinion leaders. A high-level
blitz of touches is vital in the critical six-month period after launch, when physician perceptions are established and the
eventual peak uptake of the product is determined.
Developing a winning physician-interaction model isn't easy. Any change to the existing approach is a bold step, particularly
for companies anticipating imminent product launches or promoting recently launched growth products.