Everything A Product Manager Needs To Know But Might Not Know To Ask

March 3, 2008
Marylyn Donahue
Successful Product Manager's Handbook

A look at what Allergan is doing to take on spotty product manager training

When Jim Trunick got together with Allergan's marketing directors, they told him they were making presentations to senior management. They said: "Some of our marketing presentations are good, and some of our marketing presentations need more work. We aren't always sure what are the best practices, or what the best requirements are for business plan development and for marketing communications."

To Trunick, who is Allergan's senior director of corporate training, this meant product management was all over the board.

"Basically, it was development by on-the-job training," he says.

Allergan had just undergone a tremendous growth spurt, expanding from three divisions to five in three years. "We are a urology division; we are a neuroscience division; we are a dermatology company; we are an eye-care company. We are also Allergan Medical, which includes what we call our aesthetics business—the lap band, the breast implant, and the Botox cosmetic business," says Trunick.

And now, all five divisions are growing.

Allergan At a Glance

"The opportunity was there to provide some education, some training, and some development for the marketing directors. But equally important was the development of the product managers," says Trunick. "That's where Kathy Osvath and her team came in."

Osvath, president of the Wellington Group, had been developing product- and disease-state-related training programs for Allergan and other healthcare companies for more than 15 years. Getting together with Trunick to talk about product-management training was fortuitous. A former product manager herself, she'd dreamed of developing such a program (see "The Birth Of A Product Manager's Training Program").

"Kathy became involved with some of our marketing directors, and she started shepherding some ideas around about how to gain a more consistent, best-in-class, center-of-excellence type of program for product-management development," says Trunick. "Culturally, Allergan was changing not just because of our growth, the acquisition of other companies, and other joint ventures with the groups. It was also because of government regulations, managed care shifts, and changes in the way we were conducting business.

"All of this required us to have a profile for a marketing manager who was an expert in everything. And it became very difficult to clarify what the requirements were for a product manager who would come on board and who then would have to do very different things within six months with managed care, or with other kinds of things on pricing or even inventory."

On-the-Job Learning

Product-management training is not new in the industry. What is new, however, is the slow realization of the need to expand existing training to optimize brand-team performance.

Also new is the move to shift training out of the classroom and onto the PC. And newer still is the concept of a custom-made program, the likes of which was developed by Allergan.

Coproduced by Allergan, the Wellington Group, and of one of their medical education and training consultants, the Product Manager Resource Center (PMRC) was launched in April 2007. It is expected to be fully completed by the end of 2008.

Osvath, Trunick, and Alexandra Barton, who is senior manager of human resources at Allergan, codeveloped the program with extensive input from the company's marketing divisions, which shared in both the process as well as the allocation of associated costs.

Historically, the position of pharma product manager has tremendous turnover. Ancedotal evidence shows pharma PMs stay on the job for an average of 18 months. At the same time, the job's responsibilities have expanded and become increasingly complex.

Allergan's product managers come from a variety of backgrounds.

"People are jumping into the area with either a strong sales or a strong advertising perspective, but they do not necessarily have marketing backgrounds—at least not the kind required of a pharmaceutical marketing position," says Trunick.

The goal of Allergan's PMRC program is to standardize the elements critical to a product manager's job across all of Allergan's divisions, so that both new and experienced product managers hired from the outside can learn at the outset the "Allergan way" of doing business.

"One of the problems we've seen," says Trunick, "is that as a director of marketing tries to develop his or her product managers, he or she sends them off to curriculums, and to course work, and to different consultants thought to be worthwhile. But it is not lined up around other marketing managers necessarily, or other directors. So the PMRC program is intended to be very specific about what we think the important issues are around, for instance, forecasting. There are books written that would fill a library. But we've got to be specific about what it is we expect in terms of forecasting or budgeting or lifestyle management in managing an Allergan product—not necessarily a Pfizer, Merck, or Novartis product."

What It Entails

Allergan's PMRC program is a multi-faceted Web site that accesses a variety of different resources (reading assignments, presentations, worksheets, hands-on exercises, and an evaluation tool). Secondary training is also included twice a year by internal finance, market research, advertising, and professional-education experts to reinforce different key areas.

The program is structured around a series of e-learning modules on the key topics Allergan wants its product managers to master within their first 30 days with the company. They include: business/marketing planning, understanding primary and secondary market research, medical education, budgeting, forecasting, strategic planning, KOL management, and SWOT analysis.

Meet Pete Moss

The program, says Kathy Osvath, is designed to be engaging and quick. It includes mini-movies featuring Pete Moss, the program's fictitious product manager, and his equally fictitious product—Ocutan (an ophthalmic iris-protection agent). Using the kind of case-based approach favored by MBA programs, the program guides product managers through the key marketing cycles and activities, such as business planning.

"The advantage of Pete Moss is that he creates a level playing field," says Trunick. "We're saying: 'Let's learn, let's test, and let's evaluate your abilities as a fictitious product manager around a fictitious product with real issues.' It has been a powerful tool. We have different divisions with different products and different customers and different lifecycles, and even different sales cycles. The requirements of a marketing person can be very different. But if you use a generic case study around a particular product, then you get away from all the biases and all the problem solving. We want to stop the comments that say, 'That won't work for this division.' People will find all kinds of reasons not to do stuff if it isn't exactly what they want."


And so what has been the reaction thus far? Too early to tell, says Alexandra Barton. She has, however, received comments from product managers in the process of taking the course who say it has already given them a common framework and language for Allergan Business Planning.

Trunick stresses that the program, at this point is, being seen as more of a development tool than an assessment tool.

"Nonetheless," says Barton, "responses from 83 percent of the project mangers who have participated in training in marketing research said it would have significant impact on increasing the quality of their work. Fifty percent of the group said they thought it would increase productivity. And another 50 percent said that it would increase customer satisfaction. So that's significant."