Changing the Customer Engagement Strategy in Oncology to Improve Rep Access

Jon Roffman, Associate Principal

There’s a lot of consolidation in the marketplace. The days of the solo community oncologist practice are rapidly disappearing as they get either absorbed or affiliated or bought out by these large hospital systems and networks.

It’s no longer just a single oncologist [who’s] making the decisions about treatment. There’s a lot of protocols, [clinical pathways] and guidelines in place that are looking at the outcomes and the quality of care across the entire system. [With] 80% of oncologists, you can visit them no more than once a month.

The value that these reps are bringing—we’ve sensed that it’s diminished over time. We had a quote from an oncologist just about a year ago who said that prior to the PhRMA guidelines coming out a few years back, “sales reps really brought a lot of value; they were able to talk about a lot of things that were valuable to me. But now, they are nothing more than just walking, talking package inserts.”

We built up, over time, a lot services and offerings and roles to address customers. But what we’re seeing now is that there’s really a change in the way we think about our customers. Instead of us pushing all these rules and services and offerings on them, we need to be thinking more about the customer’s experience.

We saw one client, for example, who brought a film crew into an oncologist’s office and actually filmed the oncologist as if they were talking to their patients about that particular pharmaceutical company’s therapy.

And then, a few weeks later, they came back with a stack of DVDs. And after that, every time that oncologist prescribed that therapy to a patient, they could give them a DVD, and their patient would be seeing them in their home when they had questions, when they were trying to figure out “How do I take my meds? Should I be expecting certain side effects?” It was their own oncologist talking to them.

What a customer needs if, let’s say I’m an oncologist at Dana-Farber [Cancer Institute], it’s going to be very different from what I may need if I’m an oncologist that’s part of a practice that’s affiliated to US Oncology. As we think about engaging these customers, we really need to figure out how we adapt our model to meet these varying needs. And these needs do vary from customer to customer and from geography to geography.

You better not think about going into, let’s say, Memorial Sloan-Kettering [Cancer Center] with a traditional sales rep. Why not? Because the doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering were the ones that were the lead investigators on your clinical trials. They know the product and the information about the product much, much better than you do.

Because as we watch access decline and we watch competition increase and we watch this consolidation happen, the only way to continue to have an impact on oncologists is to differentiate yourself from what the competition is doing and to create a much more positive customer experience. You need to think about how can we get them better access to the latest science, how can we help them enroll patients on new clinical trials for some of our new products. Those are the types of needs that they have.

Companies that are doing this well with oncologists—that are creating a more positive customer experience—are going to continue to recognize strong access and ultimately be able to have that impact on how treatment decisions are made.