Changing the segmentation and targeting paradigm to fit the changing prescriber world

Maie Gall looks at the changing world of prescriber segmentation in the oncology space in our oncology themed month.

Today’s world of Oncology is characterized with many new and exciting changes. Multiple new target and compound options are arising causing significant levels of interest and confusion simultaneously. For the prescriber, this is a time of excitement combined with a sense of being overwhelmed–not knowing how best to keep up to date with so many new interesting compounds, new treatment options for many new indications as well as new and interesting targeting models..

Intense competition has forced the industry to become even more concerned with a higher level of success during the pre and launch phase or when defending your indication when new and exciting new options are coming. Segmentation is a very essential part of the mix making the right target and the right segment identification even more critical than in the past where each “innovation” had some time alone in an indication without too much competitive pressure simultaneously or shortly afterwards.

The main question is how have we segmented our target audience or stakeholders in the past and is there really a need for change?

To date, segmentation was often based on what I refer to as “surrogate” prescribers. This means that various characteristics of prescribers such as innovators or early adopters all the way to more tailor-made segment names with their corresponding characteristics were created. This was usually based on limited data collected through interviews or focus groups where the participants exhibited certain thinking / behavioral characteristics. These were then collated and extrapolated to the total prescriber group, which was then divided into group categories. Thus the individual segments were created. The field force then was given these segments to work with and selling models and detail materials were created with the various segments’ estimated needs covered.

The problem with this model is that many of the extrapolated segments were either too general and thus included basically everyone, too specific and thus one prescriber could easily belong to more than one segment or too theoretical because it assumed that what the prescribers fed back during the market research or what they hinted to was what they would do always and in every situation, for as many patients as possible.

These thoughts although logical rarely reflect what actually happens in the field and most field forces including MSLs would tell you that during their first sales calls or visits, the prescribers need to be calibrated and categorized to specific segment definitions. This can be challenging if some of the issues above appear. As a result they realize that it doesn’t really work and do their own segmentation based on their own level of experience. This then leads to question asking and subsequent categorization to try to best fit the different prescribers to the segments that were previously defined.

What if there was a different and easier way to do this? What if instead of creating a segment based on the few interviews and hoping that a larger number fits within it, one could create segments based on actual prescribing habits of each prescriber in your country and region?

“For the industry it has become even more important to ensure a higher level of success during the launch phase.”

Just imagine a world where we could look into the past of every prescriber, data protection laws permitting, and make intelligent extrapolation. Where data protection laws are limiting make intelligent estimates and extrapolations based on actual prescribers and prescribing institutions, whether hospital based or private practice. This would allow us to figure out not how we would like that specific prescriber to be but what he or she actually is?

Many psychologists will tell you that the past is not always an indicator of the future but it provides an excellent educated guess at behavioural patterns and hints as to the decision making process of any human. So by looking at what they did in the past we can determine with some level of accuracy how they will respond in the future and most importantly any specific patterns or limitations within their institutions including budgetary, buying and reimbursement cycles potentially. How do we do this is the next question?

Imagine being able to map out every prescriber and every hospital in your target market, using various data sources, their prescribing patterns. Categorizing them into specific targeting buckets and then adding additional variables, which can then be collated into different segments. These segments can then be based on the best conditions for your product to the worst with varying levels of grey in between.

This information is very useful not only for sales but for many other applications. It allows the internal and external teams to categorize and better manage their target prescribers for everything from field force visits to advisory boards to other scientific and promotional activities even indirect selling tools.

The main advantages of this way of segmenting and targeting your market is that it is not based on surrogates or would be descriptions of your target prescribers but on their actual individual patterns of behaviour among other very critical assessment criteria.

There is also additional psychological advantages to such information being given to the field force or all who interact with prescribers. Having so much information can help the field force by giving them a significant advantage in knowledge so they can realign the direction of the call if the prescriber says something that they know is not always what he or she has done in the past. A litmus test if you will for helping the direction and thus the effectiveness of each call. This then evens out the power between the prescriber and the field force potentially enhancing the effectiveness of each interaction with each prescriber.

“…how have we segmented our target audience or stakeholders in the past and does there really need to be a change?”

It is also a useful methodology for internal marketing teams as they can monitor activities of certain regions or countries depending on their role. They can decide on who is of more importance for access, uptake…etc and thus use this information to facilitate strategic and commercial decisions.

Lastly the medical / scientific teams can also use this tool to determined regional and local prescribers that may normally be under the radar of the larger opinion leaders when thinking of studies or advisory boards.

As our prescriber world changes due to intense market changes so must our approach to reaching them. This is when our creativity and resourcefulness as oncology commercial teams comes into play and become essential for our success both financially and in ensuring that the best treatment possibilities reach and are available to each patient.


About the author:

Maie Gall is a commercial strategist at Matems Consulting, The oncology strategy company, is a specialized consulting company focusing on haematology and oncology exclusively. With offices in Europe and India, they offer a commercial and tactical strategy services for any indication regardless of the status of the product from Phase I to post patent expiry strategy as well as tactical implementation tools. Combined, they have more than 50 years of industry experience at large pharmaceutical companies in local, regional and global functions. For more information including the CVs, please visit their website at or contact Maie at, telephone +41 79 788 6523.

How have we segmented our oncology stakeholders in the past and does there really need to be a change?