Digital pharma: CRM is a strategy, not a solution

Ashish Rishi


As our digital focus month begins, Ash Rishi shares his belief that CRM is not a solution, but in fact a strategy in pharma marketing. He also shares his top five reasons as to why a dedicated CRM team is beneficial to any company.

Recently, I was tasked with finding a suitable eCRM solution for a client. So I called in a reputable provider of eCRMs and they treated me to a 3 hour “presentation” where we discussed features, detailed analytics and data handling capabilities. However, while sitting there, my mind began to wonder and then something occurred to me, eCRM is a strategy, it is not a solution. The fundamental reason for integrating eCRM solutions into the marketing mix is currently being missed.


“…eCRM is a strategy, it is not a solution.”


Let’s delve a little deeper into why I am making this statement.

Years ago, a medical rep would go on a field visit to meet with doctors. The motivation of the medical rep is well understood, but the motivation of the doctor was to improve their knowledge, so their diagnostic skills were honed and ultimately patient outcomes would be improved. However, over time this has changed as more and more pharma companies started entering the industry as a business opportunity. Pharma are now investing heavily in their marketing spend, but whether they have understood the meaning of real CRM is yet to be truly established.

With the advent of businesses moving into the industry and sniffing out opportunities, there seems to be two factors that are now increasingly lacking:

1. Relationship building with HCPs

2. Pharma marketers are no longer spending enough time researching to understand their customer

So in this article, I am going to assert that it is time to orient thinking in a manner that is strategic and focuses on building relationships to ensure financial targets for pharma are met.


“Pharma marketers are no longer spending enough time researching to understand their customer.”


Customer centric approach has been talked about in pharma marketing for years, however a quick discussion with a lot of pharma companies showed that it is actually product centricity that is still dominating marketing strategies. Customer centricity appears to be limited to the support of their needs during sales and through customer facing channels such as marketing, sales and service departments that are isolated. However, nowadays HCPs have different requirements, they are probably in the middle of a process of treating a patient. So in this environment, the HCPs need a variety of products and services. If we consider that the ten biggest pharmaceutical companies cover only 35 percent of the market volume1, then we highlight that there is a need to move from the fragmented marketing approach, to an integrated or a multichannel approach. This is a vital shift and this is where CRM as a strategy, is the solution.

CRM is not a separate program, but a central pillar of the entire marketing department and therefore is a strategy, not a solution for data management or direct mailing campaigns. Customer relationship management is the central tenet for building any marketing strategy upon. By avoiding the fragmented approach pharma marketing is currently plagued with, all customer management would sit under the broader umbrella of CRM. The CRM ladder in pharma has a standard approach, but an approach that is often missed. The ladder starts with the patients and the HCPs begin with a process of education and awareness of the product. Individuals then move through the customer acquisition route through to adherence and finally advocacy. These steps are not new, but pharma needs to start seeing their customers holistically by understanding their standing on the CRM ladder.

Pharma must start moving to developing CRM teams, which report to the brand team and fill in the gaps of the brand manager’s knowledge. The model is akin to pharma marketing agencies that have planners / analysts sitting with the account management and scientific team. Brand managers tend to be very strong in terms of advertising and branding in a specific disease areas rather than a holistic knowledge of the market place.


“…pharma needs to start seeing their customers holistically by understanding their standing on the CRM ladder.”


The new CRM team would be responsible for any kind of direct response marketing i.e., direct or e-marketing. This approach would complement the brand manager’s role of having the knowledge and direction that the brand is taking.

The benefits of having a dedicated CRM team include:

1. Increase of profit from a strong customer relationship

2. Lower operational costs, but better workforce productivity

3. Better customer service, by faster responses to enquiries

4. Better customer retention rates, by having deeper knowledge about the customers

5. Better process flow to aide integrated marketing campaigns

CRM is all about building lasting customer relationships. It is not about choosing the eCRM solution first: to start, a strategy must be in place and then the solution can be found.


1. Interpharma, Pharma Information Press Release September 22nd 1999,


About the author:

Ashish Rishi is the CEO of Couch Integrated Marketing, a start up agency based in London. Ashish has over 8 years experience in Pharma Marketing. Ashish has experience working on pharma marketing activities across UK, Europe, US and Latin America. His area of expertise include, branding, communications, stakeholder development and digital marketing. Ashish is also the founder of a new pharmaceutical marketing community on Google +. You can reach Ash at or follow him on Twitter @We_Are_Couch.

Do you think CRM is a strategy, not a solution?