Particle Marketing in Pharmaceutical Sales

More often than not, marketing strategy focuses on two broad areas: (i) raising willingness to pay (ii) lowering costs to create a sustainable purchase proposition. Both these areas focus on strengthening the customers’ concept of value for money when [s]he rationalizes the purchase. In pharmaceutical selling, where the person who chooses the brand [doctor/pharmacist] is not the one who finally consumes it [patient], marketers must help to improve the current expertise (effectiveness) and/or require the development of new knowledge and skills (efficiency) of the sales force. The product information and relevant service that the sales force provides, in the very limited time that the doctor/pharmacist allows for, determines the brand which is finally prescribed. This is a variable that slightly complicates the equation, and solving for this variable is the most important part which decides if the strategy is the right solution that fits market and customer requirement.

There is one more important area that needs to be factored in and that is the execution capability of the sales force. For this to happen effectively sales managers must ensure that the sales force has the right market orientation. This allows them to combine the two broad strategic areas discussed above and distill out effective selling strategies from the broad marketing strategy. By providing a unifying frame of reference focused on customer [and sales] goals, sales managers facilitate market information flow to ‘sanitize’ the strategy process. The sales force thus integrates the two activities by serving as a dynamic market-to-company linking interface.

The sales force is undeniably one of the largest costs for a pharmaceutical company. However, in tough economic times, for many large pharma companies, efficiency and effectiveness is clearly not delivering return on investment. How do I know this? Just take a look at the number of sales jobs being cut by companies around the world! While cuts may be justified based on the 80:20 rule (i.e. 20% of the sales force give companies 80% of results), it is important that sales leaders focus on the basics, not just to deliver optimum results, but to adapt selling techniques to the evolving market place.

Segmentation and Targeting

Lets start at the very beginning. Be it a marketing campaign that is about to be rolled out or a new product about to be launched. The first thing that a marketer would like to know is if the sales force knows which doctors to target. One common practice I noticed in every company I have worked with, so far, is that almost all doctor lists seem the same for all brands! Another practice is that we assume that all high-prescribing/potential doctors in the targeted therapy area should be our targets. They are all our “KOLs” or Key Opinion Leaders, pharma jargon for doctors with influence to advocate pharma products to other doctors or people who can influence the purchase of a pharma product.

One reason could be that most reps target doctors on presumption and there’s no real data to substantiate those presumptions. Maybe headquarters doesn’t think that its important to buy targeting data since there’s no way of ensuring reliability. So it’s no surprise it’s all the same. But does it make sense to assume that because physicians prescribe a lot of drugs in our targeted therapy area, they will be a perfect target for our sales force and respond as we wish (i.e. increase their prescribing of our brands)?

Delivering key messages

In so many marketing programs and new product launches, we see that the message delivery is out of focus. Yes, it differentiates the product, but often it is not based on what is driving prescribing. Differentiation is required, but if it’s not driving prescribing then it’s the wrong focus. For example, you might focus on the fact that your brand has a novel drug delivery system that offers better bioequivalence and therapeutic efficacy. That’s definitely differentiating! However, is it driving prescribing? Also, every brand [in a generics dominated market like India] may not have such novel differentiators. The marketer must equip the sales force to segment non-prescribers and high prescribers of a product, and ensure that they both equally get key product message … prescribers or otherwise. Ensuring the right message to the right customer in the right frequency and through the right channel is the most cost-effective way of moving the non-prescribers to prescribers. Sales managers must focus their teams energy and effort to deliver key prescription driver messages to the customers at the right frequency.

Multiple product detailing

Sales managers often argue that sales effectiveness diminishes when reps are required to detail on more than two or three products. But is this actually true? In many complex sales industries (e.g. high tech, etc.), professional salespeople sell a wide range of highly specialized products and services. Why do we assume that pharma sales reps are unable to do so? In fact, if we restrict the number of products the rep can detail, they may not be able to offer physicians the product mix that best suits their individual needs. Also, marketers must calculate the cost advantage of multiple products and one rep.

Customers respond differently to different kinds of sales and marketing based on a host of psychographic and demographic factors. Clearly, volume-based targeting and segmentation does not take into account other types of key differences in physicians that can often make a large difference to our results. To improve targeting, rather than target the same doctors as competitors, pharma marketers must get smarter. Therefore, “particle marketing”. The market is no longer one big homogenous group of people but smaller and smaller “particles” or individual customers. Pharma marketing is moving towards mass customization – an ability to create customized solutions for a large number of customers. There is an opportunity to use analytics to look at different groups of physicians segmented on a host of key variables and understand drivers based on sub-groups of physicians? This will show what the levers are within each sub-group that would convince them to change their prescribing behavior and help develop customized messaging.

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