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The conversation thread that binds this month's Pharm Exec is building communities-when the harsh economics of market change suddenly discounts the familiar, then the best way to move up is to reach out.
THE CONVERSATION THREAD THAT BINDS THIS MONTH'S PHARM EXEC is building communities—when the harsh economics of market change suddenly discounts the familiar, then the best way to move up is to reach out. Our industry is adjusting to a dramatic democratization of the customer base. The physician is today just one of many drivers in product access, while that staid intermediary, the wholesaler, is giving way to a mad dash by drug makers to connect directly to the end user, the patient: each a community of one, more unpredictable, diverse, and demanding than ever.
The most prized professional skill in Big Pharma today is the capacity to act on insights about the new customer. It's all about thinking across disciplines and drawing the uncommon inference from unexpected sources. In its 2013 "hottest jobs" survey in the life sciences, CTPartners, a board-level executive recruiting consultancy, cites positions like chief operations and integration officer and market access coordinator as of prime interest to pharma employers. More generally, there is an acute need for clinically trained MDs with business smarts, who can straddle regulatory, medical, and economic challenges and link them all to enhanced sales force effectiveness. If the industry's future lies in that fecund space beyond the pill, success means being able to foster connections, combining the science of discovery, development, and formulation with the instinctive human art of serving a living, breathing customer.
The personal qualities embedded in this capability score sheet is captured in our cover feature on the Healthcare Businesswoman's Association (HBA) Woman of the Year, Bridgette Heller of Merck. As president of Merck's consumer care division, Heller is an expert in community-based marketing, with a mandate to expand Merck's stake in high growth, geographically diverse, and price-flexible businesses that complement the traditional focus on prescription pharmaceuticals. She comes from a large, extended family that is itself the embodiment of community: where individual identity is forged from a rich, complex web of relationships that serve as both a source of comfort—and the competition that builds character.
With the old customer map in the prescription business fraying to a disaggregated mess, Heller's background in personal care and packaged goods can define what a "total health solutions" approach really means to the new health consumer. The OTC world has always been a brutal, Darwinian struggle for market share, fought around the purchaser's freedom to choose. Yet such battle scars can provide insights applicable to prescription customers too, who are being asked to shoulder more of the cost of their own care. Suitable to a woman who made her first mark by turning the humble frozen egg roll into a marquee business, this new world of healthcare is built around menus, not mandates. And if you want to be featured on that menu, it starts with making sure you are a familiar food group—again, a part of the community.
The advantages that stem from being connected also rings loud in our second feature, Pharm Exec's Roundtable on the 2013 deal making environment. Industry experts in licensing and M&A were joined by a representative of academia, which a decade ago was not even on the industry's radar screen as a seed partner in commercializing an asset. Companies that took the long view and strove to understand the academic world's special culture and institutional biases are now poised for promising breakthroughs in commercializing new science, advances that neither party can achieve in solitude. What is exciting about industry-academic partnerships is the pace in which this mutual dependency can connect theory to process; where understandings about genetics and pure science can be structured into the DNA strands and cell proteins that are the building blocks for entirely new classes of medicines. AstraZeneca, one of our roundtable participants, is doing precisely that, right now. Power from the ivory tower is knowledge force multiplied.
Our third feature, written by editorial advisory board member Bill Drummy, founder and CEO of Heartbeat Ideas, is a useful corrective about assuming too much and knowing too little about your own target communities. Evidence about the ROI from early stage digital promotion strategies inexplicably failed to drive the allocation of marketing spend. Entrenched, insular internal decision-making cultures meant the blinders stayed on until the metrics documenting changes in the way consumers find, digest, and use information became too obvious to ignore.
Simply put, the data don't help if you don't lard it by reaching out. It's a message that works for all.
Follow Bill on Twitter: @BillPharmExec