Importance of Relation Building

Sales/marketing in pharmaceuticals is a wee bit more complex than in other sectors because the sales rep is in direct contact with doctors/clinicians who are not the end consumers but the decision makers. The law of the land does not allow pharmaceutical companies to explain the features & benefits of their products to the end consumer, the lay man. This is, of course, to discourage self-medication. Hence the pharma sales force has a difficult job of convincing highly educated doctors about their products and helping the doctor to decide what’s best for his patients, the end consumers – lay people.

In a highly genericized market such as India, every product is a commodity and price and services are highly prized differentiators. Being the industry that it is, regulators keep a close watch on pharmacos and discourage unfair trade practices. It is in such an environment that the importance of relation building emerges. A study conducted by INSEAD Professor of Organisational Behaviour Tom D’Aunno has found that relationship building is key to bringing in repeat business which accounts for up to 70 per cent of a firm’s revenues each year.

Consumers evince interest in repeat engagements with a person/firm, either because they want the magic of a product/service, in other parts of their business, or because they feel that they can still see value in associating with the person/firm. In pharma parlance this can be read as doctors would love to meet/work/reward a sales rep/company only because they value that individual and therefore the company that he/she represents. D’Aunno says that the major factor for clients deciding to re-hire the firm he studied because of what he calls, Closework, the ‘same side of the desk working’ approach. For the company, this means no barriers between its employees and its clients.

This is very interesting! To put it simply, it’s about relationship building. Do pharma sales rep take time to educate their most valued customers? Do they help their customers to build their business through more efficient servicing of their patients? Do they also try to understand what was motivating these doctors the most? Do they spend time understanding how their doctors service their patients? And do they feed this intelligence back to their companies to develop programs that help doctors reach their full potential of patient management?It’s both under these conditions, and as a result of the strong relationships built, that doctors may choose to associate with a particular pharma company again.

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