17th annual eyeforpharma Philadelphia (Commercial, Digital and Patients)

Apr 16, 2019 - Apr 17, 2019, Philadelphia

800+ pharma leaders join together to discuss how to revolutionize the patient experience – and, accordingly, their commercial performance.

Why Patient-Centric Sales Reps Are A Win-Win

Adopting a patient-focused mindset benefits patients, employee engagement and the company

What do Coca-Cola and the patient-centricity movement have in common?

According to Jill Donahue, author, speaker and cofounder of The Aurora Project, both create an emotional connection and a sense of purpose. This comparison may seem unsavoury — one has the effect of causing obesity and ill-health while the other improves and saves lives— but Donahue is on to something.

"People everywhere know that Coca-Cola teaches the world to sing in perfect harmony. Coca-Cola figured out how to bottle happiness. We, in pharma, who actually bottle miracles have done a very poor job of communicating that. Most think of pharma companies as bottling pills instead of bottling the life changing miracles that we bring to the world," says Donahue. 

This might be chalked up to the fact that pharma has naturally focused on the medical sciences but not the behavioral sciences in its value creation. But the behavioral sciences are the final mile to impact change. "Without understanding what drives behavior, we can’t have the impact we need," she says.

In the last 5 years there has been an explosion of research in the behavioral sciences on purpose and an abundance of evidence that proves being driven by purpose is key to exceptional performance.

"Building a deep and authentic sense of purpose could be a company’s ultimate competitive advantage," says Rick Wartzman, author of The End of Loyalty.

Patient centricity has proven to be that galvanizing force; connecting people to a deeper, more meaningful purpose, and it is now inspiring sales teams.

Moving past theory
In Alive at Work, acclaimed social psychologist Daniel Cable outlines the two key ingredients that help people become purpose-driven. You must help people:

1) see the difference they are making

2) develop their own story about the why of their work.

Most life science companies are onto item #1. Efforts to understand and design solutions around the patient experience across pharma are helping associates see the difference they can make in the world. When they understand more deeply the patient journey it helps them connect with their sense of purpose. Whether it’s sharing patient stories, pictures on the walls, immersive opportunities, volunteer work with patient organizations or virtual patient simulations.

For many people, item #2 remains elusive. What does patient centricity mean to me? How does my purpose connect to my organization’s purpose? Why am I here in a life science company?

Donahue runs a workshop called The Power of Purpose to help people make this connection. She helps each person unpack their story and empowers them to share that story whether it’s with a doctor or colleague they’ve known for years or someone new to them.

"Instead of thinking of themselves as a pharma rep, or an MSL, or their specific role, they start connecting with the impact they can have. They share their story and why they're here. It’s important to note though, being patient focused is more than words. It’s about how you behave. Your words and deeds must align."

Once they see the connection, Donahue helps them take it to the next level by working through what they need to start, stop and continue to do to move from a product-centric approach to a patient-centric one.

Purpose-driven employees are more engaged employees who:

  • stay in their jobs longer
  • are more collaborative
  • take fewer sick days
  • are more innovative
  • have more grit and energy
  • are more productive
  • Can help more patients
  • are happier!

The forty organizations that receive Gallups 'Great Workplace Award' "understand that employee engagement is a force that drives real business outcomes and are rewarded with higher employee engagement, greater efficiency, higher quality and increased productivity," explains Freed Kofman in The Meaning Revolution.

The benefits are for all – patient, HCP, organization and employee. The financial benefit is one of the outcomes not the goal.

It’s little wonder that the program has resonated with sales people. As Donahue rightly points out, one of the biggest barriers to serving more patients (previously known as increasing sales) in pharma is the distrust felt among the HCP community toward pharma. This has greatly reduced time and access to HCPs.

"A patient-focused purpose creates the connection between our people and the partners they work with to bring our solutions to patients," says Donahue.

"People are engaged or influenced by those they trust, admire and believe care for them. Building this trust is a key factor in the importance of this movement. Until we are on the same team, the patient’s team, we will not have the engagement we need to have a seat at the healthcare table and make the incredible contributions to healthcare that the world needs."

When a rep shares his or her authentic purpose story, or 'why', it opens the door to greater access and engagement, she says. "By connecting to and living your purpose, you become the trusted partner."

"You gain trust and access with HCPs because they are more likely to realize you are a member of the patient care team."

This mindset has produced success stories. Bryan Selby, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Retrophin, a biopharma company that specializes in rare disease areas, has worked with Donahue to embed these principles within his organization. He is not short of anecdotes.

He recounts the time one of his reps was sitting in a meeting with a physician, who was giving off all the signals that she was disengaged. The rep decided to be vulnerable and share the real reason he was there, the real reason that he cares. He shared his why story about one of his family members and how he wants to help other patients that have a similar plight.

The physician suddenly perked up, struck by the realization that this in fact was a compassionate human being sitting in front of her who actually cared about the patients she treats. The physician ended up more engaged in the conversation, thanked him for the education on a truly rare disease, and recommended the rep also go educate another physician in the hospital – who was her sister. She was so engaged and trusting in this rep that she recommended a ‘salesperson’ go and speak to a member of her family. 

Donahue recounts the story of a rep approaching the hospital formulary committee. The rep described the typical mundane process of presenting to a room full of disengaged committee members, with their arms crossed, then you leave. This time the rep decided to switch it up and share her story, and then asked the others on her team and the committee why they do what they do. The upshot? They ended up spending hours with them. She knew things had changed when the head of the committee said, "You folks are just like us," as they listed their product on the hospital formulary – improving outcomes for thousands of patients.

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Of course, the onus is not just on the boots on the ground. Leadership needs to be singing from the same song sheet. "If you do this just at the field level, it's not sustainable. While people love it, they get discouraged when they go to a meeting and find their actions are inconsistent with the strategic vision. Often this can appear as subtly as the choice of language in presentations that talk just about market share and sales percentage and quotas," says Donahue.

"A simple way to clear up this discrepancy is to change the way information is presented in meetings. For example, a patient-centric company thinks in terms of patients served, not just sales. The change in emphasis to focus on the patient can be completely inspiring," says Donahue.

Retrophin has not encountered this resistance. Being a small company focused on rare disease has its advantages, says Selby. As opposed to big pharma companies with old habits, Retrophin has had the opportunity to actively shape its culture and not the other way around.

The company has focused on aligning all associates with the corporate objective. The why philosophy has permeated throughout the organization, he says. “We talk about our purpose/our why constantly, from the CEO to the receptionist who sits next to a wall of patient photos and videos. We have these conversations every day. It’s very present, and it's intentional because we believe it creates better outcomes for all; patients, HCPs, our people, and our organization. The exceptionally high positivity rate in our employee engagement survey suggests it creates a very engaged employee population.”

Selby is sympathetic to big pharma, however. The breadth of disease areas and sheer size of pharma companies can make cultural shifts harder. “That's not to say they can't be just as successful. There are two ways to get the culture that you want; talk about the culture you want and act like the culture you want,” he says.

Donahue agrees, emphasizing the importance of empowering everyone in the company, in all departments, to connect with their purpose.  

"Patient-centricity is not something that can be assigned to one department. We can’t 'tell' people to be patient focused either. Rather, we should light the fire inside each person with their own purpose and let it spread like a forest fire. With this mindset, they will make the right decisions that will dictate the right actions. And this is what will create the elusive greater outcomes everyone is seeking."


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17th annual eyeforpharma Philadelphia (Commercial, Digital and Patients)

Apr 16, 2019 - Apr 17, 2019, Philadelphia

800+ pharma leaders join together to discuss how to revolutionize the patient experience – and, accordingly, their commercial performance.