My colleague in this blog, Javier Télez, wrote an interesting post about the role of medical sales reps. He described their job accurately and emphasised their relevance. Honestly, I can´t disagree with him but, on the other hand, I think sales teams have been covering for a long time some inefficiencies in the commercial model in Pharma. This situation could and should be changed to enhance the so-called engagement.

Many people support the idea of moving from product orientation to customer orientation, as many other industries have done. Once again, I can´t totally be at odds with this statement, though I don´t entirely agree either. As I posted before, in Pharma, the product is king, and we shouldn´t forget that fact.

The long-discussed digitalisation

The internet and disruption are two words going hand-in-hand. Unmet needs have been covered with the advent of the world wide web. Additionally, digitising some businesses have brought efficiencies and, thus, benefits for users. But, looking at this disruption from a holistic viewpoint, the revolution has been on how people get connected nowadays.

The internet has brought an ample spectrum of alternatives to connect people. WhatsApp has allowed being continually attached to family and friends, online dating platforms have changed the way to look for your soulmate, and Facebook displays how your former university colleagues are making out.

Arguably, we have become an overconnected and overcommunicated society, and a new concept has gained relevance: engagement. Click To Tweet

From product management to customer management: the battle for engaging customers

The concept of customer engagement seems to have replaced the idea of product management. It’s attributed to P&G to have created the figure of product managers at the beginning of the last century, with the purpose of being totally focused on every product launched to market. Basically, having a good and innovative product that met any customer need was more than half of the recipe to succeed. Product managers had to understand customers’ needs and fulfil them using the famous 4 P’s.

However, the saturation of many markets, along with the broad adoption of multiple communication channels, made it crucial to switch from product to customer centricity. Companies started to prioritise the customer relationship. They aimed to create strong customer connections in order to increase customer lifetime value.

The concept of customer relationship marketing is quite common nowadays, and it’s a reality due to three facts:

1.    Digital channels have enabled two-way communication with customers.

2.    Digital channels gather relevant information of customers (behaviours, interests, etc.) to improve personalisation and, thus, build individual relationships.

3.    Digital channels have opened up the possibility to complement product benefits with additional information and service.

Is this relevant for Pharma?

To my mind, it could and should. However, we can’t forget that Pharma is very different to FMCG: consumers/patients don´t have a real say (this is slightly changing because of the increasing sophistication and power of patients’ associations, though). Prescribers/physicians are the real customers, but they’re not the only decision-makers anymore.

Additionally, I have repeated a number of times that product innovation is critical in Pharma and, therefore, the priority for most companies is to have a healthy pipeline of products ready to launch. Strategic marketing plays a crucial role in the success of a new product: what unmet need is the latest product covering? Why is it different from their competitors? What sort of patients will likely be benefited from this new medicine? How many patients? How is it going to be positioned? Etc. In brief, the role of the product manager is still very relevant in pharma as a brand steward, aligning teams and advocating for the brand.

Nevertheless, this is not enough anymore because, without losing any relevance to the concept of product management, we have to welcome the ideas of customer relationship management and customer relationship marketing.

Embracing digital channels is only a means to an end: build an honest and long-lasting relationship with customers beyond the traditional face-to-face touchpoint. Click To Tweet

It’s still crucial:

  • Transform the product’s benefits in a positioning
  • Get endorsement by KOLs
  • Coordinate best-in-class trainings (on/off-line)
  • Raise brand awareness (on/off-line)
  • Provide sales collaterals (paper/iPad-based)
  • Manage product life cycle

But, in addition, it’s becoming increasingly important to manage customer relationships to engage physicians holistically because, traditionally, customers at the individual level have been entirely managed by sale teams.

Don´t get me wrong! I don´t advocate replacing medical sales reps with digital channels, but I do think that the interface between a pharma company and a customer shouldn’t be restricted to a single channel, and, definitely, sales team shouldn’t be fully and solely accountable for creating the relationship with them.

Customer Relationship Marketing & Customer Engagement in Pharma

There are some companies, to my mind, doing a great job, while most of them are struggling to move forward in this field. The key challenge is not to adopt digital channels, but to get more meaningful information from customers and to tailor communications and services.

Ideally, there would be multiple touchpoints with customers, and they would be used according to customers’ preferences and efficiency metrics. Every interaction would be tracked, and the aggregation of data would allow us to get insights at the individual level.

Part of my experience has been working with non-highly differentiated products. We didn’t focus on setting our products apart from the competitors, but on building a unique positioning for our brands and making a difference in our relationship with every customer. The process of moving from product orientation to brand & customer orientation was quite a journey, and I’ll share my experience driving that change on the following posts.

The success will rely on the ability to create a load of content (information, services, tools, etc.), the ability to generate insights and, finally, building meaningful customer journeys.

A successful implementation will definitely raise customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and, finally a key metric for shareholders: profit. Click To Tweet
Product management is not dead but, let’s welcome customer management!!