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Mazen Zahlan is the managing principal of global sales and marketing firm ZS’s Singapore office. He has worked extensively on primary care and specialty product launches in Asia-Pacific from prelaunch planning through marketing tactics development and implementation. He has also helped clients expand their operations and maximize commercial opportunities in the region.
Companies that want to tap into the full potential of Asia-Pac must boost the role of their regional headquarters.
As pharmaceutical companies scour the globe for growth, the Asia-Pacific region offers significant potential. But it is also a fiercely competitive market with numerous local and global players and rising costs. As a result, companies must leverage data and advanced customer insights to do more with less and take advantage of opportunities.
One of the best ways pharmaceutical companies can do this and fully tap into the potential of the region is to boost the role of their regional headquarters. While some regional headquarters work closely with country-level affiliates on key initiatives -- from product launches to infrastructure building -- others limit their involvement to simply monitoring activity and reporting to the larger company headquarters.
As a result, many affiliates find themselves on islands, generating reports and insights based on the most readily available data and activities that require the least amount of resources. This lack of sophistication means that regional headquarters often cannot rely on quantifiable evidence to either detect and diagnose problems or capitalize on local market opportunities.
Gain insights and improve commercial operations
Pharmaceutical companies’ regional headquarters can offer significant value to local affiliates by building the necessary infrastructure and know-how to efficiently and effectively collect and mine data, generate insightful reports, and perform advanced analytics for multiple markets.
Armed with this analytics-driven knowledge of different markets (including how customers behave in those markets and which products and campaigns have the greatest probability for success), regional headquarters can then work to optimize promotion strategy and allocation of sales and marketing resources to maximize return on investment. It can also help affiliates perform activities that they are unable to accomplish on their own.
Another critical role for regional headquarters can be to help the company fill the talent gap in the region. With strong competition for talent, local market affiliates often struggle to hire top employees. The lack of a career progression path within affiliates for specialized roles also limits retention. By leveraging scale and creating core capabilities in regional headquarters, a pharmaco can build critical mass and gain better insights with fewer overall resources.
Further, a company’s regional headquarters can help improve product launches, campaign management and overall sales and marketing operations by leveraging its knowledge and experience and proactively sharing best practices with its affiliates across the region.
We have seen the benefits of increased collaboration between regional headquarters and affiliates firsthand with our work in the Asia-Pacific region. One major pharmaceutical company we worked with pooled its resources across markets, integrated its databases and leveraged commonalities in business performance measures to boost its reporting performance. Rather than operate in separate silos in Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam, it capitalized on the similarities across markets while also accounting for local nuances. This helped the company achieve an 80 percent reduction in time of delivery while significantly boosting quality and consistency across markets.
In another situation, an affiliate was able to restructure its selling approach around distribution channels as opposed to product groupings. By utilizing regional headquarters’ centralized resources and its knowledge of affiliates’ practices, the affiliate benefited from the experiences of other markets and implemented the transformation blueprint quickly. Overall, it increased total customer reach at a lower cost relative to the traditional go-to-market model that was in place.
Three ways to boost the role of regional headquarters
At the outset, regional headquarters should work on a single initiative in a subset of the markets (e.g., work to optimize the deployment of alternative marketing channels in Taiwan and South Korea) instead of engaging with local affiliates in many markets on several initiatives. It is crucial to begin with markets that have leaders who recognize the need for change, are looking for help and welcome a bigger role for regional headquarters.
This approach will help regional headquarters demonstrate early wins to make the case for why it should play a larger role in other areas, effectively tackle problems when they arise and develop a robust process for future initiatives. To ensure success, pharmacos should follow three key steps.
1. Build the right team within regional headquarters
Regional headquarters needs to recruit and train the right personnel to effectively implement solutions with affiliates. The goal should be to centralize specialized resources that can service multiple markets simultaneously. With this team in place, headquarters can train and work jointly with affiliates to carry out the necessary steps.
2. Create playbooks
Regional headquarters should work jointly with its local market affiliates to create playbooks that outline the steps required to successfully deploy a capability. This can include everything from an initial effectiveness audit to identify weaknesses, strengths and opportunities to an analysis framework supplemented by toolkits to determine optimal outcomes. This collaborative approach allows the company to account for local nuances and critical differences across markets in the region. Ultimately, the result is increased ownership by the individual markets and higher rates of adoption.
3. Monitor and scale up
After building and implementing a capability with affiliates, regional headquarters must measure results to assess whether the investment has paid off or if it needs to do more. Measurement will be an integral part of headquarters’ ongoing efforts to determine whether or not to scale up a particular capability or to add new emerging capabilities. For example, if digital promotion channels is an effective growing market trend, regional headquarters will need to invest in building its digital analytics capability.
Finally, robust measurement of the return on investment is critical to demonstrate the value of the higher level of support from regional headquarters. This is a necessary step to ensure the appropriate level of investment continues to flow to regional headquarters to further fund valuable local market initiatives.
By following these three steps, pharmacos can put the full capabilities of regional headquarters to work in the Asia-Pacific region. This will result in stronger analytics and a more efficient deployment of resources and help companies uncover the right opportunities in the region to boost their bottom line.
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