Thursday 18 June 2020

Under Siege: Commercial Pharma

Under Siege: Commercial Pharma

Why a make-over for Pharma’s customer approach is long overdue


Now, maybe more than ever, we see the role of pharmaceutical businesses scrutinized in reports, articles and the political arena. While society relies heavily on Pharma’s capabilities for finding treatments and vaccines for the coronavirus, conflicting (financial) business responsibilities are magnified in the public eye. Today’s controversies seem nothing but an extra argument in a debate that has been going on for over thirty years. A debate that has radically changed the way that Pharma and the healthcare market interact, leaving a gap between relational supply and demand. But what lies at its foundation? And how can we bridge this gap?

Traditional pharmaceutical sales

It would be unfair to blame it on the role of the pharmaceutical sales rep, though it is exemplary of the first cracks in the foundation. Traditionally, Pharma sales were an interplay between sales rep and doctor. Blockbuster medicines came to market, the rep promoted it to the doctor, an incentive here and there, and that was how the world worked. When it became obvious that this interplay undermined the prescribers’ treatment objectivity, resulting in patient harm, alarm bells went off. And they haven’t stopped ringing. Decades of media coverage and political attention later, the healthcare market has changed dramatically. The call for transparency and containment of ever-increasing costs have resulted in laws, regulations and a host of new stakeholders entering the scene. Both within and outside hospitals the complexity of the stakeholder network has increased tremendously, with an intricate interplay between prescriber, procurement, pharmacy, policy makers and insurers.

Changed healthcare landscape

Although the sales rep is nowadays often rebranded to “account manager”, so to acknowledge that a prescriber is just one of the players in an account, many companies still adhere to a “rep-meets-doc” approach. While historically, the reps were the face of the company, modern Pharma has created many roles to represent the company to their customers. Common roles include medical science liaisons, field market access and contract managers. All fulfill distinct tasks, catering to the needs of the customer. So why is there still so much to be gained?

Team-to-team engagement

The first point of order is the fact that a customer is now defined as a collection of stakeholders in a certain account. Even better would be to define an account by its eco-system: stakeholders and influencers within and outside customer walls. Decision-makers in an account have to deal with many influences on and influencers of their decisions, which vary from “straightforward” volume buying agreements to long-term strategic alliances with pharmaceutical companies. These influence(r)s often create complex needs, which are not easily captured in simple decisions or solutions. True team-to-team engagement is required for pharmaceutical businesses to be(come) relevant for their customers. While many roles have been developed in Pharma, to address different needs of different stakeholders, there’s room for better alignment between functions. Whether it’s reporting lines, key performance indicators or other threats for fruitful collaboration, a holistic overview of an account is not easily obtained. Let alone a cross-divisional, multi-disciplinary execution of a collaborative strategy. For team-to-team engagement to work, dedicated roles to orchestrate efforts are crucial. While for some account segments a simpler approach would suffice, collaborations in multifaceted accounts demand a modernized role for the (strategic) account manager.


Another point of order is the importance of customer-centricity. It has become a buzzword in many organizations and the implied intentions recognize the demands of their customers to be catered to their specific needs. The current change in way of work, forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, will serve as a catalyst for new ways of meaningful supplier-customer interaction. The foundation of meaningful interaction is customer-centricity through dialogue. We often assist companies to (re)connect with their customers by creating understanding of each other’s environments and the trends that guide current and future needs. COVID-19 has been exemplary in what such connection entails. As both pharmaceutical and hospital businesses were severely disrupted, conversations between both would naturally concern the impact of environmental drivers on their operations, and how to work together to deal with said circumstances. These are examples of valuable interactions, which result is a deeper mutual understanding, sense of recognition and, ultimately, the so desperately needed regain of trust. Understanding the customer’s environment and collaboratively finding ways forward elevates a business’ (perceived) value, which many companies are so urgently looking for.

Key to success

Successful pharmaceutical organizations have been able to adapt, at least in part, to the changing healthcare landscape. The next challenge would be to create a flexible, customer-centric organization that is able to adjust their way of work anticipating a market in constant flux. Together with our customers, and their customers, we, at Motion5, challenge the status quo and shape organizations for excellence.

Care to challenge your status quo? Let’s talk.