Promotion as a service in pharma

We have been helping a few biotech and pharma companies to deploy new types of commercial roles: they look like sales people, they travel like sales people, but they are not really sales people. They think like marketing people, they act like marketing people, but they are not really marketing people. They are in the field, they interact daily with healthcare professionals (so far, nothing revolutionary…). So why are they different?

Contrary to their colleagues, they are not allowed to talk about products – and sometimes just mentioning a brand name is crossing the red line. We are not talking here about medical roles of course, but commercial ones.

Their titles? Account Project Lead, Partnership Local Manager, Patient Access Specialist, etc. They report either to Sales or to Marketing or more rarely to another department (such as Customer Excellence or Customer Care) and they are reinventing the way drug promotion works.

That’s what we call “promotion as a service”. You don’t promote a product but you deliver a service with the hope that:

  • The benefits perceived by the customer will favor your product(s), create differentiation and eventually increase sales
  • And/or the result will help shape the market in a positive direction, create additional opportunities and best position your product(s) to capture additional business

Promotion as a service in pharma

For commercial people – who are primarily paid to “sell” things – focusing only on “Pre-sales/Beyond sales” does not come without a few challenges.

When beating around the bush can be the best way to beat… the competition

Our recent examples of “promotion as a service” models in healthcare include:

  • A team dedicated to locally improve the treatment flow in oncology (screening and testing)
  • A team mapping regional needs and scouting for co-creation projects and partnerships for improving disease diagnosis
  • A team developing initiatives to optimize treatment duration, compliance, adherence… for the entire class (“their” product being the market share leader)

The brand maturity, the competitive environment, the team size (small or large), the investment at stake, the customer type (patients, prescribers, pharmacists, hospital buyers, etc.), the targeted levers, etc. … Each situation is always very specific but we see a few common points, each of them requiring specific attention.

1. Driving change: more haste, less speed

Innovative customer engagement models are usually implemented in reaction or in anticipation to a crisis, when the sales & marketing organization needs to find new ways to (re)make the difference:

  • When your market is commoditized: all the products have features that are so similar that “traditional” sales & marketing activities are inefficient to drive a clear product preference
  • When your customer stops responding to your messages and channels: either in terms of impact (you talk but nothing happens) or in terms of accessibility (the door is closed)
  • When your organization needs a bit of fresh air to rethink the business (the world has changed, let’s change too)
  • When you anticipate a risk of severe competitive disruption (“your” Uber is coming soon)
  • When significant market needs are unmet with the current operating models (you cannot continue to accept the status quo – for instance, misdiagnosed or mistreated patients)

In this context, having a sense of urgency is important but there is a risk of moving too fast and not enough prepared and equipped.

For instance, the messages and presentation supports to be used within this promotion-as-a-service approach need careful preparation to make sure they best fit to the value proposition and resonate well with the corporate culture and the brand image. The tool equipment is critical too: reporting activities, profiling customers, mapping local needs, etc. everything has to be potentially reinvented or at least adjusted, including CRM, dashboards, processes.

We strongly advise to step back a bit: a few more weeks of preparation can save you a lot of money, time, troubles and energy later on… and avoid confusion/interferences at customer level and internally.

2. Deploying resources: if you do the same, you get the same

Usually, such innovative teams are staffed by ex- “traditional” sales and marketing people. That’s good, because they are customer and market experts so they hit the ground running. However, we should not underestimate the magnitude of change for the day-to-day activities as well as the shift required in terms of the mindset. Moving from a “push” to a “pull” role, and from a product-based to a service-driven approach is a big change.

There is a 180-degree turn compared to how sales and marketing are usually operating:

  • In “traditional” models, the value offering is first designed nationally and then rolled out locally. It is the classical “top-down” approach, from marketing (designing the offer) to sales (generating the demand)
  • It is very different with innovative “promotion-as-a-service” models: the design is first done locally (as close as possible to the actual customer’s needs) and then developed nationally

If you really want to create differentiation with a “promotion as a service” approach, then the service offering needs to be highly customized to match where the customer is, what the customer wants and how the customer is working with you, your products… and your competitors.

Targeting, segmentation, incentive compensation, not to mention competency assessment… many operational aspects have to be revisited. People may hit the ground running… but they will clearly have to run differently – just because the race is not the same.

3. Adding Value: measure it, or forget it!

Here is where we usually see the weakest element: the value equation. We know the investment, what about the return? Measuring the value added by such a “promotion as a service” model is critical but not always prioritized by management.

We have already seen a few instances where everybody (Global HQ, Regional leadership, etc.) are excited about the idea at the beginning… but very demanding a few months after when the first bill comes. “Can you summarize all the activities and projects delivered?” (it is sometimes a bit challenging, but doable), “Can you give us a return-on-investment (ROI) analysis?” (it can be a nightmare if you are not prepared).

We think that devising the right indicators of value creation and performance is one of the most critical success factors for such teams. It has to be done proactively (see our first point, regarding preparation). Lord Kelvin says: “If you cannot measure, then you cannot improve it”. Neither can you show it, nor can you communicate about it. It’s true in physics, it’s particularly true in business.

When the first bill comes, you need to have high level analyses ready to demonstrate the added value or at least to justify that it is reasonable to think that the ROI is acceptable.

If data is missing, it has to be bought, collected or generated (potentially by the team itself). If the ROI modeling is not available, it has to be developed (back-of-the-envelope calculations may be good enough provided they are structured and documented).

Checklist – the key success factors

When we look at our latest experiences in helping pharmaceutical and biotech companies deploy a “promotion as a service” approach, here are the few key success factors we have identified:

1. Take the time to adjust or develop the tools and processes required during the planning phase (at launch, you want to focus on your services and customers, not on your processes or on your organization)

2. Prepare change, and prepare people to change (it is not “traditional” selling, it is not exactly “consultative selling” neither… you will have to reinvent the way you position your teams in front of your customers vs. the other selling roles, vs. the support roles and vs. competition too!)

3. Proactively define the key indicators you will use for measuring performance and results (collect the data and develop the ROI analysis you need before receiving the first requests from Finance, Global HQ, etc.)

4. Fully leverage technology and data to wow both your clients and the rest of the organization – and create value for driving differentiation

  • Technology: providing the team or the customers with practical technologies (application, website, connected devices, etc.) can be of great help on a day to day basis
  • Data: interconnecting facts and figures (for instance in terms of the local needs or customer mapping) can create a lasting impact on the market place and help you customize services

5. Last but not least, be ready to identify success stories, communicate them and amplify them

  • You have to be highly sensitive to any weak signals coming from the field and suggesting that the new model is working and appreciated by customers.

In this matter, success stories are definitely the fuel for innovation!

Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter to be sure not to miss our latest news! To know more about Karetis’ practices and how we can help you (re)think about your customer engagement models from strategy to operations, feel free to contact us, we will be happy to meet you and discuss your specific situation.