Pharma Sales - Time to Include Your Customers!

With the advent of CLM comes an opportunity for change, from Pharma Sales to Pharma Services, however the key lies in client engagement.

When last I left you, we were talking about CLM.  Well, actually, we were talking about the future of pharma sales, but since I think CLM is in many respects the future of pharma sales, it's not surprising that we were talking about it.

I have the distinct impression that CLM is being considered by many as the next fad in systems, to be relegated largely to IT, or at best, SFE teams.  In the face of decreasing access to physicians, many pharma execs hope that CLM will bring them more time in front of their customers, the better to get their messages across.  They take their existing detail aids and digitize them, hoping that physicians will pay more attention and they can therefore get more out of the traditional sales model.

If this is your approach to CLM, then you have it wrong.

Other pharma execs realize that CLM is not defined by digital detailing, that there is a whole system behind this that allows you to promote interactivity with customers.  They try to think beyond a simple translation of their existing materials into a digital environment, creating truly interactive content.  They gather information about what seems to work best and feed this back to marketing... hoping that physicians will pay more attention and they can therefore get more out of the traditional sales model.

If this is your approach to CLM, then you still have it wrong, but a little less so.

There are two major things missing here.  First, you're still shouting a canned message to customers, you're not really allowing them to express what they want to hear, and beyond giving them some toys to play with and buttons to click, you're not looking for real engagement.  Second, you're not really analyzing the data in order to tailor messages even in the absence of customer feedback.

What do I mean by engagement?  In order really to grasp this, you'll have to consider why physicians see reps.  Reps provide information, and physicians find that information useful.  From the customer's perspective, the pharma sales force is an information service provider, and many of the concepts of services management come to the fore.  Excuse me if you've heard this from me in the past, I've been proselytizing this in articles and conferences for years, but now there are good ways of putting these ideas into play.

The first thing to understand about services management is the concept of the "customer in the factory".  The service (in our case, an information service) is created with every interaction between the customer and the service provider.

The customer takes part in the creation of the service.  You participate in the activity of going to a restaurant, getting your hair cut, managing your bank accounts, or in a professional setting, of using a consultant... you don't participate in the manufacturing of your car. 

The service is always perceived as higher quality if the customer feels engaged in its creation.  Now, if the physician, for example, is made to feel an active participant in the exchange of information, in the crafting of the service itself, then he or she will be more satisfied with the service and more engaged with the service provider as a whole.

Good reps know this instinctively.  They have always done their best to create an active working relationship with their customers.  However, in many cases, this has been a very personal relationship, between the rep and the customer.  The pharma company is a distant manufacturer of products and purveyor of detail aids and gadgets.  CLM changes this dramatically... now the company can customize the approach to the customer.

For example, I fly Air France a lot.  I have a super-duper frequent flyer status that is supposed to make me feel a deep-seated loyalty to the company.  When I interact with Air France personnel, sometimes I do indeed feel that they are treating me differently, but the company as a whole most definitely does not give me that impression.  They give me special offers, but never ask for my input, never make me feel engaged.  I might create a good relationship with some of the staff, but my loyalty to the company as a whole is minimal.  How dumb is that?  It wouldn't take much for them to get me engaged, they'd only need to seek my opinion on things, create customized offers according to my preferences (they know everyplace I go, for example), tailor their communications to me.

That's what CLM can do, if you realize that you need to use it to create engagement, not just as an extension of your centralized, shouted message.

Next comes the question of analysis.  Once you have engaged customers, you can start analyzing how they engage in order to tailor your approach to them. 

You want to see an example of customized CLM?  Check out US patent number 7,113,917 B2, filed September 26, 2006.  This outlines Amazon's recommendation engine.  I'm convinced that it doesn't cover all the algorithms (patents are public, after all) but it does show how a company can use fully automated CLM to customize a user experience in detail, without any human intervention at all.  Jeff Bezos once said "If Amazon has 6.1 million customers; there should be 6.1 million highly customized stores".

In other words, each customer has his or her own value proposition.  Examine the patent and you'll see that the more the customer is engaged, the more customized and pertinent that value proposition is, creating a positive feedback loop.

Amazon does this without the intervention of human beings (for the most part).  It would be far easier for pharma, with its high personal contact rate, to be much, much better at it than Amazon, and yet pharma is miles behind.

Why?  I hear so many execs say "it's too complicated."  That's silly.  Too complicated for whom?  Certainly not for the rep.  Today you ask them to remember their two or even three dimensional segmentation schemes, what they mean, what they imply; you ask them to consider where the customer is on the buying cycle / adaption ladder / whatever you want to call it.  You might ask them to present different materials to different customers at different times (and some of you think they all actually do what you've asked!).

CLM means that in the long run, they don't really need to remember any of this, the system will analyze each customer and provide his or her own environment.  The rep is there to guide them through it and provide personalized interaction.  That's easier, not more difficult.

Of course, it's more difficult for the support staff, since they have to come up with the analysis and manage the system; it's more difficult for marketing, because they can't sit back and come out with their one campaign per quarter, they have to react dynamically; it's more difficult for legislative affairs since they have to review new materials for compliance on an ongoing basis, but these are just different ways of working.  For the rep it's easier and allows him or her to concentrate on communications and engagement.

But of course it's easy for me to say this, sitting here in my ivory tower.  Next month I'll go out and ask some real pharma executives as well as some CLM providers what they think.

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