Does the Future of Pharma Sales and Marketing Stand in the Customer’s Shoes?


Pratap Khedkar, Managing Principal


Customer centricity is standing in the customer’s shoes. And what’s happening now is that the customer, the person wearing those shoes, is walking away from us.

Customer centricity, very simply put, is the notion of “Can you put yourself in the customer’s shoes and view all the things that you have been offering them from their perspective? Do you help them along in their journey, where they can use your product and your services to have a great experience?”

The traditional way of appealing to the customer, interacting with the customer, which is through the sales force, is no longer working. It’s not very effective, and depending on the specialty, 40% to 50% percent of physicians in the U.S. today are actually restricting access to the rep.

So they are no longer used to talking face to face: In fact, if you ask them, [by a margin of] two to one doctors will favor getting their information from online media, as opposed to talking to reps.

In a recent survey of doctors, 47% of the doctors said they would no longer practice next year the way they were practicing. So even their own life is changing. They’re planning to join ACOs; some are planning to retire early; some don’t feel they can make enough money; they’re going to have their practices bought by hospitals, and so on.

So when the customer themselves is radically changing not just their business model, but the way they consume information, we have to step back. We have to say, “Look, this is a permanent change.” We have to figure out how to be customer centric in this new reality, otherwise we’re going to lose our interaction, our contact with the customer.

The issue here is the pharma industry has been actually brand centric, not customer centric. Being customer centric is actually working in an orthogonal direction. It’s saying, “Let’s not start with a brand. Let’s start with a customer,” [then] figure out what adds value to the customer, and then see, are there any brands, or many brands, or services on top of brands, that we can create to fulfill what that customer wants to the best extent possible.

The old mentality is quantity, quantity, quantity--not enough focus on quality.

So I’ll give you an example. There’s a poor doctor in California. One company, one pharma company, is touching that one individual more than 150 times. Now think about it. If you’re a customer standing in their shoes, would you like to be targeted 150 times?

It’s very uncomfortable to say, you know what? Rate and frequency is no longer up to us, it’s up to the customer to decide what they’re willing to accept—how they will choose to engage with us, as opposed to us determining how we choose to engage with them.

Instead of coming up with one great dish that you can feed everyone, you now have to change your mindset and say, “I need to create a menu, a buffet.”

Sales is a very big channel for marketing, but traditionally they’ve been in two very different, powerful functions in pharma. And working together to make sure that they completely surround the customer together is hard.

What we want to do is surround the customer, not chase after them, but make sure that you still can put yourself in their place, and answer the question, “What will they hear when you surround them with all that sound?” More noise, like we used to have, or something a lot more harmonious?