Shift of Marketing in Pharma Industry

Pharmaceutical companies are right at the centre of everything that’s happening around us – drugs, vaccines, preventive immunity boosting medicines, and many other OTC products – all of them to either keep us safe, or to help cure. Almost every major pharma company has seen a robust increase in share price over the last 1 year, ranging from 40% to as much as 100% increase. Many of them have seen their revenues skyrocket, either due to the sudden approvals of select molecules for Covid-19 treatment or because of customers’ panic buying giving short term boost.

However, most of the revenue and share price increase is directly or indirectly linked to Covid-19, and the leaders across the pharmaceutical companies are working towards solving other more fundamental challenges in parallel to ensure a sustainable growth trajectory. 

Among several other challenges such as production, supply, distribution, counterfeit, one of the big challenges that the industry is now going through is sales and marketing. Pharma marketers had always been dependent on the large field-force to engage with doctors and implement the marketing strategies – however, the pandemic has disrupted all on-ground physical activities. And even though pharma sales representatives have been visiting doctor clinics and chambers, the productivity is suboptimal – typically 20-60% lower than ideal – given the doctors either avoid meeting the sales representatives, or ask the sales teams to show marketing materials from 6-10 feet away.

Most pharmaceutical companies do not have robust CRM systems with clean data, and therefore doctor engagements, as well as pharmacist / distributor relationships, have been largely dependent on the field force. In the current times, when engagements are mandatorily moving digital, pharma marketers are realizing the gaps in their customers data, and the gap in digital focus in their marketing strategies. Larger companies that may have clean customer data lack established credible digital channels of their own, and in most cases, get extremely low view rates and click rates on all the digital engagements and campaigns. As a result, most pharma companies over 2020 primarily focused on webinars, a relatively simple-to-execute and standalone initiative.

Given the current state of pharma marketing, digital adoption to implementing marketing strategies is now inevitable. Infact, digital is now an integral part of the overall sales and marketing blueprint of pharmaceutical companies, and most of the larger organisations have appointed dedicated digital heads and leads.

Here are the 5 mega trends that are disrupting pharma marketing and will be major future drivers of growth for pharmaceutical companies:

Integrated sales and marketing strategy – Digital + Physical. It is clear that pharma marketers will have to adopt digital channels to implement a significant number of their marketing initiatives. This is not only required in context of diminishing in-person meetings, but also in the context of increasing comfort and preference of doctors to engage through digital channels. What started off as compulsion, is now evolving towards convenience.

Digital-first Customer Relationship Management Systems (CRMs). Many of the large pharmaceutical companies in India continue to use the legacy close loop marketing systems where the sales representatives plan their call routes, mark their geo coordinates and file their expenses and remarks. However, going forward, majority of the conversations and customer engagements will be digital and/or remote, and therefore enabling and monitoring engagements through calls, video, text messages, emails, WhatsApp, is now taking prime importance

New productivity benchmarks. The industry has historically worked on a productivity level of 8-10 doctor meetings (also popularly known as doctor calls) per day. However, with these engagements now becoming more hybrid – physical + telephone + WhatsApp – the average productivity benchmarks are shifting to 20+ doctor engagements per day. This means that the existing field force can now cover 2X the doctors, or penetrate 2X more doctors within the existing coverage. If executed well, we are talking about improving profitability by 3-5%, given sales costs are often in the range of 10%

Unified Data Layer. With adoption of technology and digital, quantum of datasets are rapidly rising. This means that there is now more data available to understand doctor preferences on disease areas, engagement timing, and channels, and more importantly, to understand aggregate nuances by specialty and location. This means that the salesforce allocation and deployment plans will now be more thoughtful to maximize returns basis physical and digital preferences of the doctors. However, to draw intelligence, datasets need to be organized and unified such that it can enable meaningful use.

Non-linear growth. The hybrid strategy – physical + digital – also means that the boundaries between large companies (often defined by large field force) and smaller companies (with smaller field force) is now becoming hazy. Smaller companies can now reach doctors in locations with limited or no field force, thereby making a way for the smaller companies to compete as effectively with the larger ones.

Overall, pharma marketers have more work than ever – they now have to educate themselves on the newer channels and tools to implement their marketing strategies, and more importantly, draw intelligence from the data generated to continue to sharpen the marketing strategies and implementation.

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