Pharmaceuticals & Biotech

5 strategies for designing more customer-centric pharma marketing organizations

By Carolyn Morrow, Jordan Less, and Taylor DeVoe

Feb. 27, 2023 | Article | 7-minute read

5 strategies for designing more customer-centric pharma marketing organizations

Across the pharmaceutical industry, marketing teams are following through on plans to shift their organizations away from a product-centric orientation to one that’s customer centric. This change comes at a time when pharma companies are facing more nuanced product differentiation, increased competition and more digital engagements accelerated by the pandemic.


Consumers in the U.S. have demonstrated a willingness to spend 17% more on products from a company with a reputation for great customer experience. As a result, companies with a customer experience mindset reportedly drive revenue 4% to 8% higher than their industry peers. Unfortunately, however, pharma is still seen as below average on delivering superior customer experience—and it’s well behind other industries in sophistication of experiential design. When global healthcare professionals (HCPs) were asked to rate 22 of the largest pharmaceutical companies, they rated 50% of the companies as poor or fair on customer experience. None of the companies were rated as excellent. 

For pharma marketing teams to evolve in a customer-centric direction, it’s important that they understand why customer centricity matters, how it’s defined and how it can deliver value. For pharma marketing organizations that are intent on evolving their model, we suggest five key strategies. 

The current pharma marketing model is broken

Pharma marketing organizations are typically organized by product or indication, not through a customer lens. For teams that do have a franchise structure, which can be more attuned to customer centricity, the profit and loss and decision-making power rests primarily with the brands. This leads to a tug of war between brands and uncoordinated outreach to the same doctor. For organizations interested in a more customer-centric model, the existing model is challenging for several reasons:

  1. Performance metrics are skewed toward brand success rather than customer success. Success is measured in dollars and scripts rather than satisfaction and customer enablement. 
  2. There is no clear owner of the customer experience. The customer relationship is spread across many brands without a single owner having oversight across customer needs. This makes it difficult to understand customer objectives more holistically.
  3. Even if a company wants to collaborate, most pharma companies lack a comprehensive customer engagement platform or process to coordinate marketing and sales touchpoints across multiple brands going to the same physician.

There’s also disagreement around how customer centricity is defined. In discussing this issue with our clients, we’ve determined that truly customer-centric companies should do three things:

  1. Redefine the customer. Consider who “customers” are more holistically. They include health systems, payers, HCPs, patients and others.
  2. Design a customer-centric environment. Invest in talent and staff who can anticipate customer needs and preferences to create meaningful experiences and establish lasting relationships.
  3. Build a customer-centric culture. Coach employees on learning how to balance customer needs with company needs and empower them to make data-driven decisions that carefully consider the customer experience.

5 pharma trends affecting customer-centric marketing

Despite all the challenges pharma marketing organizations are facing, we feel that there is an exciting opportunity for marketing leaders to evolve their operating model and structure to better align with their customer- experience-focused strategy. As we look toward the future, we anticipate these five trends will have the largest positive impact on leadership decisions. 

  1. The emergence of new customer experience (CX) design and delivery roles

    We’re starting to see the development of dedicated CX roles—which can be deployed locally by customer type—that bridge strategic and delivery responsibilities from a customer perspective. In the past, marketing teams focused primarily on execution delivery, given the simplicity of channel options. With the growth of new channels and touchpoints, a more thoughtful approach is required to advance the process of translating strategy into experience design and tailored content development. Companies will need to focus on bolstering capabilities and skills at the experience design stage. The people in these roles will need to be fluent in Agile test-and-learn methodologies to stay abreast of evolving customer needs.

    What to expect: We will begin to see dedicated CX designer roles responsible for using human-centered design and data analytics to deliver a holistic, impactful customer experience, based on deep understanding of customer needs.
  2. Proliferation of structures designed to enable cross-functional collaboration

    Companies must also take a more holistic view of the customer to create a consistent, flexible customer experience across touchpoints. This requires cross-functional collaboration and means companies will need to make structural changes to support it. As a result, we expect to see more mirrored functional teams. Under this arrangement, marketing and medical teams would have select roles that are “mirrored” across both teams to drive compliant collaboration, as well as strategic roles that span across functions.

    What to expect: We will see early product development and strategist roles span across functions to help deliver a seamless customer experience, and mirrored roles across functions to improve collaboration.
  3. The rise of portfolio and franchise-level teams

    To ensure there is a unified customer experience across all brands within a portfolio or franchise, we expect to see the emergence of powerful senior portfolio and franchise marketing roles that take ownership of the above-brand customer experience. These structural shifts will be supported by franchise-level KPIs that will help portfolio and franchise teams make trade-offs and hold brand teams accountable for delivering a holistic customer experience.

    What to expect: We’ll see the elevation of team lead roles through a portfolio- or franchise-level CX lens, and cross-functional strategist roles will begin to focus on portfolio-level CX KPIs.
  4. Specialization of skills to understand the customer more deeply

    Curating a personalized experience for each group of customers will require companies to source talent with a unique skill set. People in these roles must have a deep understanding of the customer and be able translate that into delivery. These skills will need to include things like behavioral science, customer-specific expertise and content or channel expertise. We also anticipate a shift from an outside agency model to the development of in-house content development centers of excellence (COE).

    What to expect: We will begin to see dedicated content planner and channel expert roles that may or may not sit on the marketing teams responsible for defining, shaping and executing personalized customer engagement. We expect that behavioral science will become a critical capability that’s either centralized or embedded in dedicated roles.
  5. In smaller markets, use local teams as customer experience-focused execution engines

    Because local teams are closest to the customer and more attuned to their needs, we anticipate that smaller countries may be able to deploy leaner local teams focused on customer experience and execution. We believe global teams should focus on strategy development, including defining the product value, building the brand and co-creating the customer experience strategy with the local teams. Local teams should focus on designing and curating the local customer experience and delivering that experience. They could do this while providing a feedback loop to the global team and refining the local experience as needed, based on customer feedback.

    What to expect: We will begin to see roles such as early product developer and cross-functional strategists emerge at the global level, with roles such as CX designer, content planner and channel expert showing up at the local level. The CX role will likely replace the local marketing strategist role.

Leading companies through a customer-centric transformation

Moving an entire organization toward customer centricity is a large-scale, long-term transformation. However, marketing leaders can make decisions on structure and talent investments right now to lay the foundation to support this movement. They include:

  • Planning and hiring for CX design capabilities that can sit within the marketing organization. 
  • Identifying cross-functional teams needed to deliver a seamless customer experience. Leaders can look at how to better align the marketing department to make collaboration as easy as possible.
  • Highlighting any cases where multiple brands are focused on calling the same customer and empowering a portfolio- or franchise-level team to make necessary trade-offs from both an organizational priority and customer experience lens.
  • Investing in specialized skills to support the customer experience. Add behavioral science, content planners and channel experts to target talent planning.
  • Using the customer experience to clearly delineate roles and responsibilities between global and local teams. Empower local teams to focus on CX delivery and feedback from the customer.

We believe that taking these steps can help create a competitive advantage and customer experience that will nurture customer loyalty.

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