As pharma companies begin to think about reorganizing and deploying their commercial resources to better align with changing customers and an evolving healthcare landscape, their strategy for transforming commercial resource planning can’t be piecemeal, but their approach to implementing the change likely should be. It’s going to take time to develop the right customized approach to suit your company’s specific needs and challenges, and to get buy-in. Data and technology will carry some of the weight, as will coordinating internal processes and roles, and adopting an on-demand, customer-specific mindset.


I recently talked to my colleague Jude Konzelmann, a ZS managing principal and leader of the firm’s resource planning and deployment practice, about how companies can tackle this undertaking and maintain their sanity. Jude has some ideas about how commercial resource planning teams can keep the transformation headed in the right direction while keeping the organization’s expectations and goals in check.


Q: How can pharma companies that are looking to revamp their commercial resource planning approach manage expectations without it becoming overwhelming? And is there a way to help individual people feel comfortable during the transition without a lapse in productivity?


A: Each organization is going to have a different comfort level with different parts of the change, right? Is your weakest link, or your biggest barrier, worrying about having the right skillset in the field to have people make these local, go-to-market decisions? If that’s a concern, there are ways that you can begin to affect some of that change. With key guardrails, you start to understand how people are making the change. Maybe you start with only a couple of different roles or resources that could be changed, and you add more over time.


For those worried about the local variations and the choices becoming overwhelming, it’s best to start with simpler archetypes. Maybe you don’t have to worry about customizing everywhere. You at least find your three biggest variations and see if there’s a way that you can begin to do something different. Live in that structure for a period of time and see if it creates positive change, and then eventually add more. I would say that this will be a journey where people will start to change bits of the planning process over time as opposed to all at once.


Q: How long will this transformation take? Are we looking at a three-year or five-year journey, or longer?


A: To accomplish all of the changes that we’re describing, I think that it’s a multi-year journey. Even if you’re layering major changes on one at a time, I can see your organization getting there in a period of three to five years. There are certain elements of this that will, of course, involve people, and that’s usually one of the stickiest areas of change. “I have talent in the organization and they’ve got particular skillsets.” That’s a slower part of the change.


We could see companies making use of some of the natural churn that already occurs. Companies fill vacancies all the time, and it’s a great time to slowly begin to transform the organization. Inevitably, some upcoming portfolio events will still occur and be important one-time events to think through the go-to-market model and structure. Those might be the right trigger points to make one more capability live for the organization moving forward so that they can kind of step into the change.


There are organizations that will ask, “Do I have to do this now?” and, “When’s the right time for me to change?” Some therapy areas, like ones with specialty drugs, already see more of these pressures than other areas. Organizations need to recognize the need earlier and start building this capability before it has become absolutely mission critical to the point where they’re losing business. By that point, now you’re five years behind. I don’t think that it’s a capability that you can easily buy off the shelf. There’s quite a bit of organizational change that you need to endorse, so it’s good to find those areas where you can make a positive impact and start as soon as possible.


Q: So it doesn’t feel like we have to do a big bang, right?


A: No, I don’t think that we have to do a big bang at all. We’ve been asked to validate some of these local market dynamics, and we’re seeing that some of these drop-off rates really do vary by a local area. We’re seeing a variance there due to a number of different factors. Our hope is that a company can start to understand that and say: “Wow, here is at least one bit of variance in the customer set that we were not properly accounting for. What if we did? What if we took this one element around drop-off and maybe thought through how we would reorganize our reimbursement support services a little bit differently? Could we do that as a part of the new process, and then, if we like it, begin to add more and more things to it?”


Q: What’s the payoff for the company, or the industry if they accomplish everything we’ve talked about? Is it financial? Is it reputational?


A: I can see financial, reputational and operational benefits to all. Operationally, in general, organizations need to be more nimble because the customer set has become more nimble. At a very high level, dealing with the rate of change in customers and what they need is going to require an organization that can pivot a lot faster. Putting all these capabilities in place is going to help you to get to that kind of a nimble operating environment where you’re self-diagnosing and able to change rapidly.


There can hopefully be a reputational benefit in that, really, at the end of the day, all of this is done in the service of patients. Orchestrating the way that these different roles and resources come together hopefully will create positive patient outcomes. I think that there are opportunities for manufacturers and providers to come to the table and say, “Where are there stages in this patient funnel that would benefit both of us if we could fix this, if we could improve the drop-off that’s happening here?” Those mutual opportunities certainly exist—and, ultimately, patients can benefit if those stages of the funnel are addressed, too.


For decades, resources and the placement of those resources have driven business success. I think that we got very, very good at one part of that, which was the classic sales rep (e.g., the “detail” rep). Now, as other types of resources have come up, I think that we have been a little less sophisticated at some of these, and part of the problem is in the framing.


As many of my clients have put some of these supporting resources in place, they’ve thought through the cost side of the equation and not necessarily the benefits side of the equation. They’ve made decisions around whether it’s worth putting one patient case navigator in each region. Would that pay for itself? It would, so they’d go ahead and do it without really evaluating the benefits. But what if they had been more sophisticated about how to allocate resources and, instead of one patient case navigator, they placed two or three and customized the plan according to the needs of each region? Such an approach might create considerably more top-line impact because it would correct the lower-hanging fruit sitting in local markets and provide patient benefits.


Q: Does the senior leadership in pharma today have the right mindset and legacy to successfully change the commercial resource planning model?


A: A lot of senior leadership in the industry rose through sales and marketing roles, and lived through a wonderfully productive time with all of the retail, sort of, blockbuster drugs. They lived through the reach and frequency model, which many of us have come to dislike but also recognize that it did work very, very well for 20 years. I think that senior leadership does need to take a look at just how quickly the model is evolving, both in terms of the physicians themselves getting younger and changing their own preferences on how they want to consume information, and the provision of care just being different with very different goals and moving far away from the fee-for-service kind of environment that we had. I think that the leaders who can understand and react to that, and who will be more amenable to make changes like what we’ve been talking about, ultimately will be more successful than those who go back to a tried-and-true methodology, which is waning in its effectiveness.


While the ideal commercial resource planning model may look different from one company to the next, a few common elements will be essential to success. Creating a capability for on-demand planning and analytics will enable companies to react faster to market changes and make decisions that reflect the customer situation. Just like in any major transformation, senior leaders need to be supportive while providing necessary guidance. And companies with coordinated internal and external teams are as prepared to follow through on a long-term vision as they are to adjust the plan on the fly when needed. Most importantly, the commercial resource plan of tomorrow must strike the right balance between customer- and patient-centric imperatives, ensuring that pharma companies can optimize their resources in a way that aligns with the evolving healthcare landscape.