A Paradigm Shift Needed: From Transactional to Transformational Model of Pharma Selling

by buildingpharmabrands


Times are changing. So is the eco system of pharmaceutical marketing. And yet, the selling approaches and practices of pharmaceutical marketing are not changing. At least, not as rapidly as the times. Consider these for example: The blockbuster model is slowly vanishing. Generics prescriptions and sales are increasing to contain the ever-escalating healthcare costs. The sales forces have increased but the physician access to Pharma companies is getting increasingly restricted. Product differentiation is coming to a naught. Detailing times are dwindling. Pharma companies are losing respect that they once enjoyed with the medical profession.

When there is little or no product differentiation, financial gratification in the name of relationship-building rules the roost. Although MCI does not approve this, It cannot control it. The gratification-based marketing results in ever increasing cost escalation, does not ensure prescription or prescriber loyalty, for at the slightest increase in the financial rewards the prescribers are going to migrate from one brand to another. Such an activity cannot be called marketing. It is not only transactional but contractual, which is grossly unethical. That is probably one of the reasons why the Pharma reputation is continuously dipping. It is mutual respect for each others’ competence and contribution that builds respect in a relationship that is enduring and not gratification.

Some of the pharmaceutical companies have started restructuring their marketing operations around Key Account Management processes in the changing marketing environment to deal with Healthcare Organizations such as Hospitals, MCOs (Managed Care Organizations), PBMs (Pharmacy Benefit Managers), ACOs (Accountable Care Organizations) among others. Although they focus on pharmacoeconomics, and patient outcome analyses, the approach still remains largely transactional. Furthermore, these changes are taking place mainly in the highly regulated markets such as North America, Western Europe, Japan, Australia and branded generic and generic markets are yet to adopt these practices. What is needed is a paradigm shift. From the current transactional model of selling to a transformational model.

Everyone agrees on the need for a paradigm shift. How does one exactly achieve this? In his blog post, If I were the CEO of an Indian pharmaceutical company, Dr. Aniruddh Malpani, one of the leading IVF specialists from Mumbai, India offers valuable suggestions in this regard.

Selling to Serving

Make the doctor’s life as productive as possible. If you can solve doctors’ pain points and try to make their lives as productive as possible, they will be obliged to you and the principle of reciprocity would certainly work in your favor. Doctors whom you can help would be much more willing to prescribe your drugs provided the quality of your drugs is second to none. He suggests four areas where doctors need help to improve their productivity.

  1. Practice Management. Doctors enjoy taking care of their patients. They are not very good businesspersons and most of them cannot think like entrepreneurs and managers. If you can assist in teaching and training doctors and their office staff such as receptionists, secretaries, and their assistants on practice management strategies and improve their effectiveness in running their clinics and hospitals, you will be differentiating yourself from the rest of the pack in the industry and earn the doctors’ respect.
  2. Help Doctors to remain Up-to-date. Some companies do this but not in a very systematic and consistent manner. They think that providing print or online subscriptions of some important journals, reprints of full-text articles and some books of doctors interest is enough to help the doctors keep them up-to-date. While that is an appreciable service in terms of providing scientific support, that is not all. Providing doctors with access to online resources from leading publishers so that they have 24/7 access to medical text books and journals which they want. Doctors understand the importance and necessity of updating their knowledge base on a regular basis. They will appreciate this service and are most likely to reciprocate.
  3. Continuing Medical Education. Provide online CME for doctors, which would be recognized by the appropriate Medical Council. An online CME would save the doctor a lot of time and travel and be much more convenient. Doctors like learning and what is needed is designing engaging teaching materials for them. It would even be better to ensure that the doctor answers a quiz at the end of the CME, as this would allow documentation that he has mastered the information, which was presented like most software training programs and project management programs do.
  4. Medical Record Keeping. Most doctors are poor at record keeping and documentation. That is why perhaps, despite their enormous clinical experience, they are not able to systematically review their patient cases with adequate documentation and write papers transferring their experience and expertise for posterity. Information Technology today has helped revolutionize the way medical records are stored accessed. Provide doctors with online electronic medical records (EMR). This will help them take better care of their patients and improve patient outcomes as they would be able to accurately document and access everything they need to know about their patients. If you provide a patient portal, through which patients could access all their information online, the patients too will be very happy and you would be providing a meaningful service.

Patient Education is another area where Pharma Industry can help the doctors. Help doctors in educating their patients. It is not merely giving patient education charts, and leaflets or booklets on various diseases. They are of course, important but not enough. Help doctors in designing patient education that is engaging and understandable and think of all the ways in which it can be communicated and transferred to the patients. In certain chronic diseases educating the caregivers at home is also very important. Help doctors design and deliver effective training and teaching programs to the caregivers too.

The Implications for Pharma Companies

Pharma companies need to rationalize their field force operations and retool their teams in building core competencies to meet the changing needs of pharmaceutical marketing. The sales force should metamorphose into service force with an enhanced set of competencies that include analytical, managerial, communication skills coupled with disease management approaches with substantial therapeutic knowledge, pharmacoeconomics, computer skills and practice management knowledge. They should be able to impart these skills and knowledge to the team members in the doctors’ offices, patients, and care givers in case of certain chronic disease segments.

Transactional to Transformational 

Joseph Campbell, the well known American mythologist, writer, lecturer best known for his work on comparative mythologies, wrote that opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging; we must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness. 

Pharmaceutical industry is probably going through its most challenging phase now. The selling model is partly transactional and partly contractual. The whole approach is one of self-preservation and always focused on – what is there in it for me. The industry is dependent on the physician and every company is focusing only on generating prescriptions for its products and how to improve its market share. There is very little effort towards helping the physician in improving his productivity, patient outcomes, practice management. A few companies, however, seem to help physicians in keeping themselves up-to-date and in attending CME programs.

What is needed is a paradigm shift from the current transactional model of selling to a transformational model. Such a shift calls for using one’s strengths to help others succeed. Helping the physician in areas where he or she needs help should be the simple but deep statements of belief, of purpose, of both cause and contribution. It is what creates meaning for everyone concerned. That is certainly a much better reason to get out of bed in the morning.