You may have heard this old adage: Three frogs are sitting on a log. One of them decides to leap off. How many frogs are left on the log? The answer is still three frogs. There’s a difference between deciding to do something and actually doing it—and that difference is execution.
In today’s oncology landscape, the pace of innovation is astounding, physicians often are specialized hyper-experts, and the number and type of customer stakeholders driving decision-making within a local ecosystem is vast. Given this inherent complexity, all signs point to the importance of a positive customer experience, which oncology field teams are uniquely positioned to influence, as long as they are properly enabled to execute.
With increasing competition across virtually all tumor types, it’s critically important that we understand how companies can differentiate themselves as more and more industry personnel compete for access to a concentrated oncology customer base. Here are five practical tips to help improve competitive execution in oncology and ultimately improve the customer experience:
- Get up close and personal with your customers. Oftentimes, we find that those who are the most responsible for setting the strategy in oncology companies are the furthest removed from the customer. With thousands of customer interactions occurring on a daily basis, a wealth of data exists within these companies, but it is rarely fully leveraged. In order to address this gap, companies should proactively seek leadership with relevant field experience or, at a minimum, ensure that the voice of the customer is represented in strategy sessions by including sales management. Other companies have gone a step further by creating customer experience roles that are enterprise-focused, spanning across multiple brands or tumor types to ensure a holistic view of the company’s interface with the customer rather than allowing internal, brand-centric thinking to persist.
- Share objectives, but execute functionally. To create a strong customer experience, oncology companies require seamless coordination across all roles. A significant opportunity exists for many oncology companies to focus on creating shared objectives across functions. Too often we see cross-functional teams (sales, field medical, market access, etc.) operate in siloes with their own strategic imperatives, which can lead to a disjointed customer experience. Creating shared objectives needs to start at the top with leadership alignment, and we have seen some oncology companies go so far as to “lock” cross-functional leaders in a room until they align on a meaningful portion of their objectives. Certainly, we recognize the regulated environment in which these companies operate, but aligned thinking around strategic priorities should be separated and pursued further upstream from development of tactics at the individual function level.
- Aim to “win the week.” We’ve seen time and again an embarrassment of initiatives hitting the field at once, with minimal guidance or prioritization. When these initiatives hit, sales managers are left scrambling to prioritize and localize with their individual teams, commonly resulting in missed opportunities. To navigate the complexity, some companies are trying a program called “win the week,” in which sales managers focus their teams on a common weekly challenge to address, in order to bridge the gap between strategy and execution. As an example, early in a selling process, managers may focus their teams’ weekly wins around identifying a certain number of new and appropriate patients for their product. Later in the selling process, managers could focus their weekly wins around getting a certain number of doctors to try the product with an appropriate patient. Through district meetings and coaching sessions, teams are able to focus on what happened, why it happened, how they will improve, and how to share their learnings. This focus on small weekly wins has allowed companies to systematically instill a culture of disciplined execution.
- Know your customers and your competition. For oncology sales organizations to succeed, it’s important for them to understand the position from which their competitors are approaching customers. Oncology companies can be defined along two key dimensions: level of commercial sophistication and level of prior success in oncology.It’s becoming increasingly important for oncology companies to implement “war games” to better understand their own strengths and opportunities as well as those of the competition. For instance, in planning for a future market entrant, scenarios could be “war gamed” to determine competitive response depending on different potential outcomes (such as approval of broad indication, approval in later line of therapy, approval denied, etc.). Our oncology company segmentation can be helpful to determine how best to leverage one’s own strengths while being insightful about how to defend against competitors’ strengths and strategize around their weaknesses.
- Infuse new blood and bring in the strengths that you lack. Based on an enhanced understanding of the competitive landscape, oncology companies also can seek to proactively absorb strengths from others. Bringing in sales and marketing expertise from other organizations that have approached the market from a different historical angle may help with addressing potential weaknesses and push the organization to explore new ways of thinking.
We know that customer experience truly matters in oncology. With hyper-competition in this market as the new norm, those companies focused on execution in this new paradigm will set themselves up to leapfrog the competition.