Implement customer-centric sales strategies to overcome physician access challenges

In our sales effectiveness focus month, Victoria Cavicchi shares her opinion on how implementing customer-centric sales strategies can help pharma to overcome physician access challenges. Find out more, here…

Innovative sales organizations across all industries are embracing customer-centric sales models. Understanding the customer and their needs is now a key component of sales force excellence.

Representatives’ on-going rapport and long-term relationships with their targets contribute to continuing commercial growth. As pharma’s commercial space becomes increasingly complex — with growing numbers of available products and regulations — sales teams are incorporating more of these customer-focused approaches.

Pharmaceutical sales organizations have traditionally implemented a product-centric strategy that readily supports the blockbuster drug ideal. However, as the commercial landscape changes, pharma companies may benefit from a stronger customer focus. Many drugmakers have already experienced major portfolio changes as some of their highest-revenue brands have come off patent, and others are preparing for these shifts in the near future. As these blockbuster products reach the end of their lifecycles, more generics and biosimilar competitors are entering the market. Physician access is also a growing challenge as doctors and institutions react to the Physician Payment Sunshine Act. Many practices have already begun restricting pharma representatives to doctor interactions. While the market’s challenges have grown in the past few years, pharma sales forces have contracted. Now, fewer sales representatives must work even harder to maintain their company’s hold on the market.

“….pharma companies may benefit from a stronger customer focus.”

Life sciences companies are ready to adapt their commercial strategies. The life sciences commercial space has already begun to transition, and there are only more changes on the horizon. Many of these shifts — including the growth of generics and biosimilar products and the upcoming 2015 patent cliff — will impact sales organizations dramatically. In fact, US Pharmacist suggests that pharmaceutical companies can look forward to a projected $250 billion combined loss of annual sales from drugs going off-patent between 2012 and 2015. Physician access limitations only compound these losses. Many reps find it more difficult to meet with and detail physicians today compared with three years ago. To maintain and improve sales force effectiveness in this increasingly competitive environment, teams must adapt their commercial strategies.

Recent research highlights pharmas’ growing interest in these commercial approaches. Among US life sciences sales teams surveyed, 58% currently leverage customer-centric strategies. This percentage is significantly higher than previous customer-centric benchmarks. A 2009 study from Iris Concise Ltd. showed that, of Top 10 pharmaceutical firms surveyed, 21% had begun testing customer-centric sales strategies and another 13% had fully implemented these strategies.

Customer-centric sales models focus on physician and patient needs. The traditional pharmaceutical sales model emphasizes the product and its clinical benefits across the broadest possible audience. This product-centric approach plays to the pharma industry’s long-held emphasis on blockbuster drugs, but it may not be well-adapted to changing portfolios and physician access restrictions. Customer-centric sales forces maximize their impact on physicians through targeted information and best-fit product solutions. These customer-focused teams emphasize target education and value-adding initiatives — such as education or support-based websites — in addition to product benefits.

All customer-centric sales approaches are not identical, however. Some organizations embrace a physician-oriented commercial approach. Physician-centric sales forces work to overcome access challenges by meeting doctors’ education and treatment needs. Teams leverage field data to segment physicians and to determine discussion topics and promotional material’s content. One pharmaceutical sales executive told our analysts that physician education is key in driving proper treatment: “It’s all about making sure the science is there and the physicians all know who is an appropriate patient and who is not an appropriate patient for this product.

“Customer-centric sales forces maximize their impact on physicians through targeted information and best-fit product solutions.”

Patient-centric sales forces focus their promotional efforts on the ultimate end user. These teams use real-time claims data to identify sales opportunities within a physician’s patient group. Often, sales reps target physician education to specific case studies and draw attention to products’ supplemental initiatives — including websites or tracking applications. Another pharma sales executive said, “At the end of the day, our customer-centric approach is all about the patient. The physicians understand and they can relate better to that idea.

Sales teams leverage customer data to better engage their targets. Customer-centric strategies rely on acquiring engaged customer bases and retaining them through targeted messages. To meet these goals, sales teams create detailed customer profiles. Sales forces use a number of tools to better understand their targets’ needs. Among surveyed customer-centric sales teams, 100% use physician feedback to shape their commercial strategies. This feedback allows representatives to assess what detailing techniques are working and adapt future efforts to increase effectiveness.

Customer-centric sales teams leverage a number of other data to enhance their physician engagement as well. Among surveyed companies, 80% consider local market forces when determining their commercial strategies. Another 60% of surveyed sales teams consider physicians’ patient bases as well as prominent payers and insurance providers. When determining their strategies, 40% of surveyed sales teams each consider physicians’ communication preferences and their status as early adopters as well as patient income levels.

Figure: Information shaping sales teams’ customer centric approach (US)

For many customer- centric teams, customer profiles influence representatives’ promotional materials. We found that 83% of customer-centric sales forces surveyed use target profiles to guide discussion topics. Based on physicians’ interests, sales reps may engage them in disease state topics rather than product information, or they may offer CME opportunities more regularly. Two-thirds of surveyed sales teams also use this information to determine promotional material messages and mediums — digital versus print. By considering physicians’ preferences, sales reps are able to craft a highly engaging and valuable experience for each doctor.

“Cultivating long-lasting physician relationships is a key component of customer-centric strategies.”

Nurture physician-sales rep relationships to earn more time with valuable customers. Cultivating long-lasting physician relationships is a key component of customer-centric strategies. As reps are able to gauge and meet customer needs, doctors reap the benefit of pharmaceutical promotions. Representatives more easily call on physicians with whom they have established a strong rapport. This solid foundation allows reps to alleviate some doctors’ concerns about the Sunshine Act.

Customer-focused commercial strategies are structured to combat the expanding complexities of pharma’s commercial space. These sales approaches give representatives the tools they need to cultivate relationships with engaged doctors. Sales forces that understand their physicians’ and patients’ needs as well as their company’s products are able to overcome shifting portfolios and access challenges to drive growth and excellence.




About the author:

Research Analyst Victoria Cavicchi joined the Cutting Edge Information team in early 2012. Her work includes pharmaceutical consulting and research studies focused on KOL fair market value, sales force management, big data, HEOR, managed markets account managers, and more. Victoria has a Masters in English from Virginia Tech.

How else can pharma overcome physician access challenges?