Pharma, market access, and the need for network intelligence
Jan Stojaspal investigates how network intelligence can improve sales productivity and smooth market accessBy Apr 11, 2012 on
A couple of years ago, Pfizer decided to review the effectiveness of its sales network in Germany. It teamed up with Ni3, a Zurich-based software developer specializing in visual analysis of complex network environments, and went to work on its sales and marketing data.The effort produced a number of interesting insights but one stood out in particular, says Robert Mark, CEO of Ni3. “They had, like, seven different reps for seven different products visiting the same doctors,” he says.
Not only was this a tremendous waste of Pfizer’s resources, it also meant that each sales representative received no more than two minutes of a doctor’s time, hardly enough to develop the sort of relationship that would facilitate future calls.And so Pfizer decided to try something new. It assigned just one sales representative to each doctor to act as a kind of relationship manager. And it brought in product specialists only when special expertise was called for.
The result? Face-to-face time per visit with doctors for one visit increased to more than 30 minutes and customer satisfaction went up dramatically.
“They turned the dialogue from being one of, ‘Let me educate you about my product’ to ‘I want to learn about your practice,’” Mark says. “They collected a lot of new information that had never been collected before, which then enabled them to do a far more sophisticated segmentation and targeting and really continue to evolve the sophistication of the engagement.”
Turning to technology
More and more pharma companies are turning to technology upstarts like Ni3 to better understand the various stakeholders that approve, prescribe, and pay for their products. Pfizer along with a number of other leading pharma companies are using Ni3’s analytical tools to map out everything from sales force deployment to the often hidden relationships and power structures that have a great deal of impact on how well products are received in the market place.
Eight out of the world’s top ten pharma companies subscribe to market segmentation solutions from Mederi, a leading provider of in-depth information on how complex professional networks in the life sciences industry work and how they influence each other over time.And more than 70 firms signed up last year for cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) solutions from California-based Veeva Systems that can distill big-picture data from companies like Mederi into information that can be used by sales forces to prioritize calls and engage doctors. (For more on market segmentation, see Pharma marketing: Successful approaches to market segmentation, Pharma marketing: The upside of segmentation, and Pharma marketing: Strategic approaches to market segmentation; for more on CRM, see What tablets can do for pharma CRM and Get ready for CRM 2.0.)
The growing demand for these types of insights, or network intelligence as the industry calls it, is in no small part driven by necessity. As profit margins shrink across the industry, pharma companies are learning to do more with less, and network intelligence is one way to improve productivity.Also, companies are increasingly using their growing knowledge of stakeholder activities and professional opinions to ensure smoother market access for their products.
Our clients “are increasingly considering network intelligence to solve their market access problems,” says Francesca Boggio, engagement manager at Executive Insight, a management consultancy for pharmaceutical companies in Europe. She says that the information can be used to anticipate questions regulators might have about a new product, and it can have considerable impact on how companies segment their markets.
Dogs, cash cows, stars, and question marks
According Ni3’s Mark, pharma companies would often rely on the classic Boston Matrix and divide doctors into dogs, cash cows, stars, and question marks based on how many patients they were seeing and how many prescriptions for what products they were writing.
Now they can do a lot more. “If you have sales data or prescription data, you can overlay them over your doctors or hospitals and you can do cool maps that show you what departments in what hospitals are treating the most patients for certain types of disease,” Mark says.
Network intelligence also comes in handy when trying to pinpoint key opinion leaders (KOLs). Need to identify top neurology specialists in Bavaria? Ni3 can find them by sifting Germany’s referral data for neurology specialists who get the most referrals, and it can refine the search further by looking at which specialists are so trusted as to receive referrals from other neurology specialists.Wondering who the top influencers in Canadian oncology are and who they are connected to? An analysis of specialists behind oncology clinical trials for the last year should do the trick.(For more on KOLs, see Special report: KOLs and pharma.)
“What you can find is there might be 1,500 prescribers in London for a certain drug, but there is one guy at, like, the University of London medical school and he gives a talk twice a year and all 1,500 of those guys go to that talk and they basically do what he tells them to do,” says Matt Wallach, chief strategy officer at Veeva Systems.
Knowing who is friends with whom is also useful, particularly when trying to win new people over. “I may not have a good relationship with this person, but I can figure how I can get a relationship going by understanding what their social network, this community, this ecosystem they work in is," Ni3’s Mark says. "And that’s what these guys [in pharma] are starting to do.’”
Unlike Ni3, which is primarily a software company, Mederi specializes in information gathering. Trawling the online and offline space for insights into the working of health care systems around the world, Mederi compiles detailed profiles of everyone from doctors of local importance to payers with an international impact. And it maps out the many formal and informal relationships that tie the various stakeholders together and influence their decision-making.
Advances in cloud-computing make it possible for Mederi to work with ever vaster amounts of data. In one project for a small specialty brand, Mederi covered more than 100,000 stakeholders and 22 million statements in more than 50 languages, from global key opinion leaders to a local hospital account in China.
"As a pharma company, you don’t only want to know, ‘Oh, this guy knows this guy’,” says Kilian Weiss, CEO of Mederi. “What you really want to understand is: ‘This is where the idea started, and this is how it diffuses through the network … so that [you] can initiate information with specific people and make sure it moves to the right people that will then take a decision, for example, a regulatory body or a payer.”
Some of Mederi’s insights appear to follow common sense. One is the conventional wisdom that new ideas are typically initiated by small, hardly visible expert groups and only later are adopted by big key opinion leaders.
Others are less intuitive. Mederi says, for example, that physicians who are connected to people who like a particular product are up to three times more likely to respond to sales calls of the product’s manufacturer. Another of its insights is that opinions in professional clusters tend to unify around a single opinion as time passes, and that trust is the basis for this process of evaluation and adoption.
“These things are extremely powerful because they help you make sure that you communicate the value of the drug to the right people, and that will be more and more important [in an environment] where there is budget pressure and less differentiated products,” Weiss says. “We say that segmenting people [based] on who they are friends with and finding these local groups is much more powerful than selecting people who are tall or have blond hair or wear glasses.”
Such big-picture conclusions are valuable on their own. But they can also add value to CRM solutions like Veeva’s by providing details that helps sales representatives make better decisions about how to prioritize their sales calls and how to better target their messaging.
“Should I talk to this guy, this doctor, about a head-to-head study that talked about the effectiveness of the drug or should I talk to him about the side effects of my competitor’s drug?” asks Wallach of Veeva Systems. In other words, “Is he an efficacy guy or is he a side-effect guy? Or is it all about the money? Should I go in and talk about the size of the co-pay that the patient has to pay from two different drugs on the formulary?”
The more complicated the stakeholder environment or the more opaque their nature, the more useful network intelligence can be, Boggio of Executive Insight says. In Europe, Germany, France, Italy and Spain are known for their high complexity.
But companies need to be careful so as not to overstep personal privacy regulations. For example, it is OK to collect publicly available information like participation in drug trials or academic collaborations, but it is a violation of privacy to cover personal information like who plays tennis with whom, Boggio adds.
Although a relatively new thing for the industry, network intelligence is already starting to reshape how companies approach market access.
A growing number of companies are segmenting markets by clusters of similar-minded individuals and targeting them with tailor-made messages. According to Mederi, a typical national market will have between five and 10 key national clusters and failure to address each with a personalized message can result in loss of impact of between 25% and 50%.
Sales forces are getting smaller but more sophisticated. “They are moving from sales robots who get indoctrinated with a certain set of messages about their product and are then sent out to repeat these messages to physicians to people who are much more sophisticated, more relationship-oriented,” says Ni3’s Mark. And marketing and sales at pharma companies now are working closely together. “Five years ago you would be shocked if you really understood how separated sales and marketing were at pharma companies,” Wallas says.
Barbara Jaszewski, head of market access region Europe/Canada for Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceutical, says that responding to the stakeholder/customer has become “a daily topic of conversation” at her company and “the most important opportunity for our future.” “It is getting into the DNA now of everything that we are doing,” she says.
In January 2010, Bayer reorganized its market access division to improve stakeholder engagement by bringing the division's health economists, health outcomes researchers and people responsible for pricing decisions into close cooperation. And it has since set up a team to work out a process that would elicit payer input much earlier in the product development process.
“We are constantly evolving," she says. "In fact, in a recent conference we were reminded of that very famous Darwin quote, ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.’ You have to have some structures in place but now we are this next stage of ‘Can we adapt?’ Do we have an adaptable organization that can understand this complex care environment?”
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