In my previous post, I shared why pharma sales organizations need to adapt to today’s evolving healthcare marketplace: Advances in technology and other market trends—such as the proliferation of artificial intelligence, the ongoing debate over the Affordable Care Act in the U.S. and decreased access to physicians—are shaking up the industry.


This type of disruptive evolution isn’t a new phenomenon outside of pharma. Take the photography industry, for example: When an engineer at Kodak invented digital photography in the 1970s, executives at the company quickly discovered the potential for this new technology to destroy the business that generated the bulk of its profits: consumable film. So Kodak chose to bury the innovation, a decision that erased its 100-year history as a market and innovation leader and ultimately led to the company’s downfall. Like photography so many decades ago, the pharma industry must respond with disruptive change or face Kodak’s fate.


Like Kodak, many pharmaceutical companies struggle with layers of their own infrastructure that make it challenging to respond to change with speed or agility. There’s something dangerous about the nature of change in pharma in that it’s not immediately obvious and apparent—it’s fragmented and occurring at different rates in different places. This means that companies and people can continue functioning as they are in the short term without realizing that their capabilities and the needs of the market are drifting further apart. While Kodak was able to function reasonably well for a while, the long-term trend of digital photography resulted in the company’s ultimate decline. 


To drive value and embrace change, pharma companies must offer stakeholders a new, more customer-driven approach to customer engagement, and leaders must evolve their mindset and upgrade talent to support and enable adaptability. In his book, The Decision Loom: A Design for Interactive Decision-making in Organizations, Vincent Barabba created a framework for defining the cultural and strategic changes to make a transformation effective. Here's how each aspect of the framework applies to pharma:


  1. Having an enterprise mindset that’s open to change: The healthcare ecosystem and the future of work are transforming rapidly, and the organization must transform accordingly.
  2. Thinking and acting holistically:
  • Infrastructure for customer 360 data must be readily accessible.
  • Tools and processes will be needed to facilitate effective and efficient cross-functional coordination.
  1. Being able to adapt the business design to changing conditions:
  • The rep role must evolve into multiple roles assigned with stakeholder needs and organizational goals.
  • Measurement must shift from quantity to quantity and quality, and focus on short-term sales must be balanced with longer-term quality customer feedback (measuring what matters).
  1. Making decisions interactively using a variety of methods:
  • Leaders must introduce an integrated team approach to the customer experience.
  • Medical and commercial teams must collaborate (in a compliant way) much more tightly to drive value for customers.

We need only reflect back on Kodak’s choice to deflect disruptive changes to understand the consequences of failing to act on them. To avoid meeting Kodak’s ignominious fate, the time for pharma to act is now, before the emerging trends we have spotted in the market become the status quo, and before our organizations are supplanted by emerging companies with the agility to erode our market share.