I hope you had read my two previous blog posts: Launching a new medicine without a field force – Part 1 & Part 2. If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to have a look at them, but after having read this one.

The last part of this trilogy is about how I would solve this problem. The case study method is a powerful tool to discuss, collaborate and learn from peers. Therefore, I shall be more than pleased were you willing to make any comment, dear reader.

If I were Mr Khadri, I would not launch Darkia® using only digital channels and leaving completely aside a field force. I’ll further elaborate on the following aspects:

  1. In the digital space, it is not possible to do everything yet that a sales rep can do
  2. Global and local collaboration is vital
  3. People are the most crucial asset in a company
  4. Profit and ROI


If we take into consideration the well-known “adoption ladder or brand adoption stages”: awareness – interest – evaluation – trial – adoption, I reckon we agree that Sales Reps play a critical role at the end of this journey.

My colleague and co-author of PharmaDigression wrote a blog post a few months ago that struck a chord with many people. After having worked in sales, I’m totally aware that the moment of truth comes at the latest stages. 

There’s no doubt that digital marketing is very relevant to create brand awareness and to raise prescribers’ interest. However, techniques to move this imaginary leader up are not so straight-forward.

Once reached the evaluation stage (prescribers assess the benefits of the product in their minds), a sales rep should find out what is preventing them from trying it out. I can still remember all the techniques I learnt when working in sales to probe what was in customers’ minds.

The next and vital stage is what’s called in sales “closing the deal”. After having provided all the required information to clear up any prescriber’s doubts, it’s time to come to an agreement. “Doctor X, I think we could agree that this product will be very beneficial for this specific group of patients. Will you try it out with your next patient? “

The best sales professionals are good listeners, read people’s inner concerns, and build long-lasting relationships. Therefore, it’s crucial in a digital environment to track as many interactions with our company/brand as possible (listen), to model data gathered and to turn it into insights (read people’s minds) and finally to provide engaging and customised services, information, etc. (build lasting relationships).

This knowledge, processes and capabilities are still to be built in most companies; therefore, I wouldn’t assume that our fictional pharmaceutical company could do it faster enough to launch Darkia® successfully.


There’s an African proverb that says, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. However, if I want to go quickly and far, what should you do? This is the conundrum.

Commercialwise, there’s always a competition, and to be the first is probably the most distinctive advantage. Thus, it doesn’t look sensible to pursue a long-term goal at the expense of losing short-term “battles”.

According to my experience, quickly designed and implemented programmes/activities can be beneficial not only for a local affiliate or business unit but also, they may provide a valuable experience to the whole organisation.

I’m a big fan of encouraging close collaboration between headquarters and local affiliates. A global approach enables higher resources to move forward and trailblaze, while freedom of movement when implementing fosters innovation and quick learning. Innovation goes before optimization.

The organisation proposed to launch Darkia® would be brand new and fully centralised. In my opinion, it would be an option to explore because in the digital space everybody is one click away. However, I wouldn’t recommend this type of organisation were the strategy multichannel.


Few people could argue that people are the most crucial asset in a company. They execute on the strategies and plans, and they may rethink strategy and tactics if outcomes are not as good as expected.

Would it be challenging to hire people with the skills required to bring to light this digital plan? Before answering this question, let me share something with you.

Last summer, I read a book by Marcos de Quinto (former Executive Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer at The Coca-Cola Company). Two assertions draw my attention, and I share entirely:

  1. Two skills are vital to be an exceptional marketing professional: creativity and strategic thinking. Obviously, we cannot forget project management, communication and some other skills, but a great marketer should score 10 out of 10 in creativity and strategic thinking.
  2. Marketing is artificially becoming over-sophisticated. Since no hard skills are needed to be a marketing executive, many marketers feel they have to give relevance to their profession. For that reason, jargon is commonly used, especially in digital marketing, and creativity and strategic mindset is moved by allegedly “science”. (2)

To my mind, there’re three dimensions to look at in order to hire an exceptional digital marketing professional:

  • Soft skills. As described above. I agree with Mr De Quintos.
  • Hard skills. Once again, I agree with Mr De Quintos, yet there’re a few techniques and tools to be known, especially managing digital communication. In any case, it’s not rocket science and curiosity and willingness to be continually learning is more than enough.
  • Market and customer knowledge. Not much explanation needed. Nevertheless, let me emphasise that the Pharma business model is B2B(3) and not B2C. Surprisingly, it’s generally accepted that professionals coming from FMCG could be catalysers for digitalisation in Pharma.

All things considered, I think it’s fair to assert that it would take 2-3 years to have a competitive team up and running. Thus, they wouldn’t be able ready to launch Darkia® successfully.


Finally, let’s have a look at some figures to understand the size of the opportunity. I have had to make some assumptions, and they could be challenged, but I guess they are pretty realistic.

Peak sales for Darkia® with a traditional go-to-market model and with another brand around could be 2 billions, 20% of them coming from Europe. Subsequently, an imaginary P&L for this product, according to the average numbers in this industry, would be as per below:

Pharma digitalisation

Should we go for a fully-digitalised go-to-market model, I estimate there would be some savings in S&M expenses because fewer resources would be needed. My hypotheses are:

  • 35% of total S&M expenses are FTE’s cost. Fewer people would be required, and we could halve this cost.
  • 65% of total S&M expenses are to finance different activities to market this product. I assume that 30% of this cost could be reduced.

Taking into consideration that I estimated that a fully-digitalised go-to-market would bring 35% of revenues compared to a traditional go-to-market model, let’s have a peek at the new P&L with the reduction in S&M but keeping the same costs in R&D and G&A:

Pharma digitalisation

Maybe my assumptions may be challenged, but it’s enlightening to know that if we cut down marketing and selling expenses by 25%, we should lose no more than 6% of total revenues to get the same profit.

This is a simplified calculation. It could be more relevant to calculate the contribution margin of this other brand (Darkia®) because fix costs wouldn’t change, but we would reach the same conclusion: any change in the go-to-market model could never come at the expense of cutting revenue down.


There’s no discussion that Pharma is embracing digital slowly. However, it’s generally accepted that digitalisation is a fact, and it could mean both risks and opportunities along the value chain. It could have a considerable impact on the process of R&D, marketing & sales, and services “beyond-the-pill” provided to patients.

In terms of maximising revenues, some things have changed, and many more could change in the future. Change means to conquer uncharted territory.

I see there’re excellent opportunities for companies embracing a multichannel strategy. I would go even further, and I’d say that a multichannel approach is a must for three reasons:

  • Digital channels allow us to provide additional services that might be very relevant for our customers. Tip: Information is nowadays a commodity, and it’s taken for granted. It’s time to be innovative and think outside-the-box.
  • We could increase the number of interactions with healthcare professionals. Quantity doesn’t mean quality, it’s, thus, our duty to make every interaction relevant, impactful and efficient.

Customer-centricity or customer experience are terms that many companies are adopting. They aim at connecting with HCPs and not just providing products.

In brief, to launch a new medicine with no field force support would be like to put an autonomous car to compete in F1 against L.Hamilton – Mercedes or S.Vettel – Ferrari for that matter. Not any chance to win nowadays but in the future…

x x x x x x x x

(1) Heading after the infamous “It’s the economy, stupid” attributed to a campaign strategist of Bill Clinton’s successful presidential campaign against George H. W. Bush.

(2) Let me share a personal experience. I worked for some years to launch a new OTC business line. My company had decided to explore this path, signing a joint venture with a well-known FMCG company. There was a global packaging design, but I thought I would need to make some adjustment because it didn’t meet two essential requirements: (a) it wasn’t patient-friendly, because the company branding identity has been over-emphasised at the expense of making hardly possible to differentiate two different medicines, and (b) it wasn’t appealing to the eye because all elements were rectangular-shaped and it conveyed an old-fashioned image. I still remember a “scientist-marketeer” telling that my design wasn’t valid because I combined round-shaped elements with the company logo, that it happened to be rectangular-shaped. An example of this type of scientific marketing anti-customer centric. By the way, a couple of years later, the corporate global branding team started a process of rebranding, and they changed the company logo, packaging design and many other visual elements.

(3) People usually get puzzled when I assert that the relationship between Pharma companies and prescribers can be described as a B2B business model. Many people don’t agree with me because there’s no commercial transaction, and for that reason, Pharma is different from any other industry. I reply there’re many nuances, but it could be described as a B2B model because Pharma companies do not promote their medicines to the end-user, but to prescribers who use them to provide health to their patients (customers). At the end of the day, Pharma and other B2B industries share many business dynamics, challenges and opportunities. However, many Pharma professionals look for inspiration in B2C industries to face the process of digitalisation. I guess because all of us are consumers and are more familiarised with B2C businesses.