A pinch of creativity and a fist full of commercial effectiveness

Salil Kallianpur

Salil Kallianpur discusses the changing nature of the pharmaceutical business model in India and how sales forces will need to adapt in this changing climate and accommodate the emergence of new technology.

Rapid change across the pharmaceutical industry in India is causing many companies to re-evaluate their sales and marketing strategies. The rampant generic nature of the market leaves it commoditized with little to no leg-room for branding and differentiation. The threat of price control and loose IP laws discourage the launch of innovative products leaving little hope of adding freshness to the portfolio. In such a scenario companies must focus on maximizing returns on revenues that accrue from existing products. Doing more with less, in an increasingly competitive market, inevitably puts pressure on the sales force.

Today, sales forces have to prepare themselves to deal with two significant shifts in disease and healthcare management that can change the way they work in the future.

As a response to disease patterns moving from acute to chronic, the first is a fundamental and significant shift in healthcare philosophy and medical research – from a world in which we “react” to disease and illness after it has happened, to one in which we will be doing far more in advance to “prevent” specific health care problems. The driver for this massive change is the emergence of extremely specialized and highly personalized medical treatments based upon one’s own particular DNA.

The second shift (which is because of the first) is that healthcare is now becoming:

a. Predictive – forewarn people of susceptibility to diseases.

b. Preventative – empower them with information and resources to take preventive measures and to keep themselves healthy.

c. Personalized – provide information that is most relevant to them and what they want to know instead of generic and unimaginative information (n=1, R=G).

d. Participative – make people a part of decisions made about their health. After all, it’s their lives. Enable them and trust them to hold themselves accountable.

The common underlying cause for these two shifts is the advent of technology.

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“Doing more with less, in an increasingly competitive market, inevitably puts pressure on the sales force.”

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Are the industry’s sales forces, with their current structure and training, capable of leveraging to their advantage the impact that the advent of technology has on the way patients seek treatment and on the way doctors treat them? The recipe for success is probably a pinch of creativity and a fist full of effectiveness.

Pharmaceutical companies have managed their business in much the same way for decades. But significant changes in government regulations, market conditions, and technology will force the industry to look for new business models and practices. With a little bit of creativity, companies can achieve a lot more and adapt quicker to the changes. Sales teams must evolve to adapt to the impact that technology will have on the pharma business model. Consider a few changes in the buyer-seller dynamic that is expected to emerge in the pharmaceutical industry causing a deep seated transformation in its fundamentals.

1. In 1–2 years we will see a hybrid salesperson emerge, and they will be technically, culturally, socially, and skillfully diverse and astute.

2. In the Western world today about 85% of buyer-seller interactions happen online through social media and video. Customers will not need a field salesperson to come on-site as regularly as they do today.

3. With the amount of information available through technology, the internet, social media, smart phones, tablets etc, the customer won’t need to engage early in the sales cycle. A total of 60% of the buying process will already be completed before connecting with a salesperson.

4. Virtual interactions will replace face-to-face field visits. Right now, Skype, web conferencing, and video are quickly catching on over face-to-face visits and traditional meetings in other industries. Tele-consulting or tele-medicine is common. If doctors prefer to see patients online, what are the chances he / she will want to see a sales rep in person?

5. With India moving towards Universal Health Coverage, doctors will no longer be the decision-makers. We will be up against non-medical decision-makers who may be tele-commuters or technologically savvy people.

6. It is only a matter of time before healthcare providers would start prescribing mHealth apps as soon as they prove to be as or more effective than prescription drugs.

“If doctors prefer to see patients online, what are the chances he / she will want to see a sales rep in person?”

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So if your most important customers today (doctors) are not going to be the most important customers tomorrow, how well are we prepared to deal with non-medical people who are more clued on to technology and seek information from the internet, intranets, online groups, social media, patient activist groups etc? If doctors choose to decrease personal interaction and seek information, diagnosis and treatment remotely, what impact will that have on the current model?

Maintaining ongoing commercial operations, as it has been managed over the last decades, is economically unsustainable. Pharmaceutical companies must adapt to a new environment, which is more demanding than ever before. They must adopt lower cost models across the whole value chain and improve productivity and efficiency in their commercial approaches. Dispassionately analyzed, almost every “innovation” that we hear about in the industry is merely a tweak of the existing business and / or model. For an industry that has made colossal investment into research, pharma is uncharacteristically risk-averse when it comes to the changes coming in health technology.

None of the changes mentioned above essentially threaten the fundamentals of the current model. The pharmaceutical business, in India, will continue to be a B-2-B model for the foreseeable future. However, customer needs and wants will evolve as technology adoption spreads. Patients who have more access to trustworthy information will seek to participate in decisions pertaining to their health while health providers will work to predict and prevent illness to contain costs. These developments create exciting opportunities for pharma marketers to differentiate and deliver value. The more creatively and effectively they do it, the better.

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About the author:

Salil Kallianpur is a health care marketing professional based in Mumbai, India. He has experience in the pharmaceutical and the medical devices industries in India. He is an avid reader and follows the health care industry, its politics, strategy and current affairs and writes on the intersection of health care and life in general at his blog “My Pharma Reviews”. The views in this article are his own and not those of his employer.

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