What is The Best Path to Customers’ Hearts and Minds?

There are over 60,000 medical representatives (MRs) in Japan’s pharmaceutical industry. They make over 90 million visits to doctors per year to provide details of products those with the authority to prescribe them. Through detailing, doctors learn from MRs, but can the relationship also go the other way? Is measuring the activities of their MRs the best way for pharma companies to learn about what their customers truly need?

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Focusing on detailing is taking the wrong measure of the customer experience, according to an executive from a European pharma company. “What gets measured gets managed,” he says. If the focus is simply on the number of details, then the focus is on the MR’s activity, not the needs of the customer. “Of course,” he says, “all managers will say, ‘we are focused on the customer,’” through market access and multi-channel marketing, but the company’s resources are still heavily tied to the MR, who doesn’t always provide the company with the most useful feedback. “Fifty percent of the time,” the MRs’ “report in the customer relationship management (CRM) database is left blank.”

When asked about different sales and marketing strategies, a marketing director quoted Warren Buffet: “Don’t just satisfy your customers, delight them.” However, the director also said, “We don’t know what the customer wants.” Perhaps the industry needs to more deeply examine what its customers want. What are their interests, needs and motivations?

Digital marketing is a channel that should enable the meeting of customers’ needs, but right now, the technology is not adequately making predictions, based on customers’ past behavior and interests, to determine the probability of a certain response. Customer experience design, product franchise strategy, the true voice of customer: are companies’ efforts being productive enough when it comes to fully understanding the real needs of their customers?

The pharma industry has what can be called a productivity paradox. We have access to more technology than ever before and it should be making companies more productive. However, industry insiders are saying that when you look at the numbers for the industry as a whole, the technology does not seem to be making the impact that you would imagine.

Using a different approach, some companies are doing a deep dive into the relationships of Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) and physicians’. Who really influences whom, and why? What are the bases of those relationships? Who are the main KOLs and who trusts them enough to form communities around them? Companies are not only mapping the KOLs, also but looking at the relationships between doctors; when seeking medical information, physicians turn to other physicians because of easy access and high levels of trust. “Sales forces channels are gradually losing their impact. They used to be very effective. There are more effective channels to disseminate promotional messages and improve brand adoption. We need to know the influence map and relationship between physicians when developing the brand strategy to accelerate business performance…” said John Tan (formerly of MSD Japan) who leads the Asia-focused consulting firm LNS. Using the traditional approach of relying on sales force channel alone will be unproductive at times when facing steep competition.

Technology can allow companies to more effectively capture the right data for their marketing messages to speak the customers’ language and know what their interests are. However, the fastest way to influence a person is to simply understand the customer perspectives and who influence his/ her decision making process.

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