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Category: Pharma Selling

The Best Piece of Advice

Alex Brodovitch (1898 - 1971)

Alex Brodovitch (1898 – 1971)


What is the best piece of advice given to marketers and who gave it to whom?

Paul Arden, the former creative chief of the renowned ad agency, Saatchi & Saatchi shared the best piece of advice ever given in his book, Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite:

Alexy Brodovitch,the Russian-born photographer, designer and instructor who is most famous for his art direction of fashion magazine, Harper’s Bazaar from 1938 to 1958 gave an advice to the young Richard Avedon, who later became one of the world’s great photographers.

The advice was simple:

Astonish Me!

Bear these words in mind, and what you do will be creative.

What are you doing today to Astonish your current customers to turn them into your advocates and to your prospective customers so that they become your customers and your advocates?

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


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.

Which Pitch?

Which pitch 2

The word Pitch has several meanings one of which is promotion by means of an argument and demonstration such as sales pitch or sales talk. Sales pitch is a message issued on behalf of some product or cause or idea or person or institution by packaging new ideas to grab and sustain the much needed attention.

Pitch, therefore, is an essential means of communication to sell something, your idea, your capability, your cause, your product or your service. Daniel H. Pink in his best selling book, To Sell Is Human describes about six pitches that can be used for gaining and sustaining attention to get your point across successfully.

 1. The One-Word Pitch. In today’s times when attention spans are shrinking constantly the one-word pitch is your ultimate weapon to penetrate the prospect’s mind. Maurice Saatchi, the Cofounder of one of the world’s leading advertising agencies, Saatchi & Saatchi is credited with the creation of the one-word pitch. His logic was that the companies compete for global ownership of one word in the public mind. The one-word pitch, therefore, aims to define the one characteristic the company wants their brand to be associated with around the world, and then own it. That’s why they call it the one-word equity. When you hear the word search what comes to your mind? Google of course! One-word pitch may sound very simplistic. However, reducing your key selling points to that one single word demands discipline and forces clarity. Consider for example what President Barrack Obama did in his 2012 reelection campaign. He built his entire strategy around one word: Forward. That’s what a perfect one-word pitch can do for you.

2The Question Pitch. Questions often pack a surprising punch. This is because when someone makes a statement you can receive it passively. When a question is asked you are rather compelled to respond, either aloud if the question is direct or silently if the question is rhetorical. Think, therefore, next time when you have a strong case to make to a new sales prospect or a prospective employer whether to make your pitch a question or a statement.

 3The Rhyming Pitch. Rhymes, says Daniel H. Pink in his book, boost what linguists and cognitive scientists call processing frequency, the ease with which our minds slice, dice, ad makes sense of stimuli. Rhymes can enhance reason. Moreover, pitches that rhyme are more sublime. Consider the murder trial of the former football star in the U.S. O.J. Simpson. The jury exonerated O.J. Simpson, who was accused of murdering his ex-wife and her friend and one of the reasons was the famous rhyming pitch made by his Lawyer, Johnnie L. Cochran: If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.

4The Subject-Line Pitch. Subject-Lines are like headlines in an advertisement. In today’s internet era where emails have become more like a habitat than an application subject-lines have become very important in our lives which are inundated by endless emails fighting for our time and attention. However to grab and sustain attention subject-lines need to address three essential elements: utility, curiosity and specificity rather ultra-specificity.

5. The Twitter Pitch. The twitter-pitch is becoming rather omnipresent. It’s 140 character count puts a limit on loquaciousness. Consultants, universities, and recruiters are increasingly demanding a twitter pitch from the applicants besides their regular requirements. It’s increasing importance is understandable as it is quick, painless and to-the-point.  It has become important in everyone’s persuasion kit.

 6. The Pixar Pitch. Daniel Pink explains the origin of the Pixar pitch and how it can be created in his book To Sell is Human very succinctly. He says that Emma Coats, a former story artist at the Pixar studio, has cracked the Pixar code and created a template for a new kind of pitch. The code is based on the six Pixar films, which share the same narrative DNA, a deep structure of story telling that involves six sequential sentences: Once upon a time________, Everyday__________, Oneday___________, Because  of  that________________,Because____________, of____________that__________. Until_________________finally________________. Every story that you need to tell can be formatted into this template, which follows a logical sequence and a persuasive reasoning.

Daniel Pink’s advice on making a perfect pitch? There are three ways to learn and practice the six pitches: Practice, practice, practice. As you prepare and practice your pitch, choose the one most appropriate for the occasion and answer three questions: After someone hears your pitch,

1. What do you want them to know?

2. what do you want them to feel? and

3. what do you want them to do?

If you have got persuasive answers to these three questions, you’ve got an effective pitch.

Image credit: M.S.V.K. Prasad

How to Mentor Effectively?

One of the most common complaints of sales and marketing managers in Indian pharmaceutical industry is the rising rate of attrition in field force. Not only that, most of the managers come to know of their team members’ departure after they join their competitors. Often, they do not even inform beforehand let alone discussing them about why they are looking out. This clearly shows a lack of a relationship between two people and lack of trust and mutual respect. How can we change this? Effective mentoring can address this issue.

Mentoring is a relationship. A relationship between two people where one person (the mentor) believes in the other’s capabilities and talents and is committed to that person’s success. The other person (the mentee) is open and willing to learning and growing to become the best he can.  As Zig Ziglar rightly observed: a lot of people have gone further than they thought they could, because someone else thought they could.

Mentoring, thus is a journey and expedition at the same time. Mentoring is a process. It does not just happen. It requires reflection, planning, and above all concern for people.

Mentoring and Coaching

Mentoring and coaching are often used interchangeably although there are key differences. Mentoring is much more relational, whereas coaching is functional. When you are coaching your focus is on teaching a skill or two for improving current performance. Mentoring is not limited to current performance or current activities. It takes on rather a longer term and broader focus. It focuses more on preparing a person for future challenges and helping him or her gain life skills as well as technical skills. The key difference is that while a mentor may also coach, a coach is not a mentor.

What is Good Mentoring?

A good mentor focuses on the mentee’s needs. While there is no single formula for effective mentoring, there are key characteristics and behaviors that form the basis of good, effective mentoring. A mentor should be approachable and let his mentees know about it. The concern for the progress and success of mentees should be palpable. A mentor should also be willing to share information and be open in communicating to earn the much needed trustworthiness and respect. A mentor should also give appropriate, honest and timely feedback to mentees to chart the course of progress. It is important that a mentor remains current and up-to-date in the area of knowledge and skills. Furthermore, a good mentor is always supportive, encouraging and empowering.

A mentee on his part should be open with the mentor and take a keen interest in learning and growing. It is the trust and mutual respect for each other’s competencies that determine the success and effectiveness of the mentoring process.

It is useful to have a mentoring agreement with specific time-bound goals, mutual expectations to remain accountable.

Three Vital Steps

  1. The first step is about setting the stage for success. Meet your new team member right away to earn his trust. Note down his strengths and areas of improvement.
  2. Create a winning plan for success. Prepare a blueprint for his success in writing based on his strengths and improvement areas. Make it an actionable plan with clear goals and specific timelines. Help him get organized. Make sure that he understands the science and share your most effective tips. Help him with computer skills. Emphasize the importance of promptness in providing feedback on all his activities including his daily fieldwork. Teach him proper communication skills: how he needs to communicate to all his customers – physicians, stockists, retailers and others. Teach him how to do a proper prescription monitoring and how to target customers for specific products and how to effectively detail and use promotional material.
  3. Follow up regularly with your new representative or manager on a daily basis for the first twenty-one days. Report back to your managers regularly.

Many companies have their own process of inducting a new team member into the organization. These are carefully thought out processes. Follow them without any deviation. The degree of genuine concern you have for your mentees determines the success of the whole process.

In essence, good mentoring is about doing to others what you would have others done unto you. Just as other people mentored you in different ways you will mentor others in your own unique distinct way.

Ad With an Attitude?

The ad with an attitude?

Can we learn from this brilliant copy of the Nike’s ad that gives the brand and the company the Attitude the craft of copy writing?

Can you think of  giving your brand the attitude that its personality deserves depicts? An attitude of irreverence, courage, confidence, self-esteem, can-do spirit as the brand demands?  Take for example for a brand of a very powerful antibiotic, or NSAID (non-steriodal-antiinflammatory drug) or any other category where strength and power matter?

This was the copy of the NIKE ad in the 1990’s. It is inspiring and telling clearly to listen to one’s own heart and believe in oneself rather than listening and conforming to what others are saying and trying to live up to their expectations.

10 Strategic Performance Review Questions

Everything we do has an outcome in life. In business too it is our activities that determine and dictate the outcomes. A performance review, therefore should co-relate activities with results to find out the ‘how’ of improving performance. Successful managers – be it sales managers, regional managers, area sales managers ask these ten basic performance questions and apply their knowledge of their territories, people, customers, and activities to gain insights for improving performance continuously. Ask and answer these questions on the first working day of each month and prepare a winning action plan for improving performance.

  1. What did you plan to achieve in the month that has just ended and what did you achieve? What is the surplus or gap like? If it is a surplus how do you plan to sustain it further? If there is a gap how do you plan to cover it this month?
  2. What is the performance cumulatively? How many territories are on target? How many territories are around 90%? How many are around 80%? What is your plan to bring up all the territories which are 80% or above to 100%? And by which month?
  3. Which product groups are on target? How many are around 90%? How many are around 80%? What is your action plan to bring all product groups which are 80% or more to 100%? By which month?
  4. Now about the activities of you and your team. What is your call average? Remember your call average is important as it sets the standard for the team. How many of your team members are achieving prescribed call average norms? How many are below? What are the reasons? What would you do to ensure that achieve the standards from now on?
  5. What about customer coverage? How many of your team members (including you, remember, you are the captain of the team) have achieved the customer coverage as per the prescribed standards in terms of specialty-wise call frequency?
  6. What is your team’s performance in terms of prescription generation both in terms of prescriber-base growth and prescription increase territory-wise? Have you gained or lost? Analyze territory-wise and prepare an action plan to improve in the current month.
  7. What is the total value of business you have obtained from your key customers? Is it according to the plan? Is it more? Or less? If it is more how would you sustain it? If there is a gap, what is the gap like and how would you bridge it?
  8. What is your success rate with your retention customers? Is it according to the plan? What  are your objectives and action plans for retention customers for  in this month? What is your strike rate in terms of customer conversion? Did you achieve your objectives? How many customers did you convert and what is the total prescriptions and business you have got from each customer? What is your plan to retain the converted customers and  for new conversions? What help do you need?
  9. What is your plan for earning incentives for self and the team? Remember, the incentive plan is not just achieve the numbers, but also to ensure that all the criteria of eligibility are met.
  10. What is the status of slow and non-moving products? What is your specific action plan to create demand for these products immediately to prevent them from dying on the shelf and the consequent monetary loss.

Remember, the strategic performance review is not for making a presentation to your managers across the hierarchy or for the consumption of regional, zonal or head office. This strategic performance review is review of you, review for you and review by you!

Mission Possible2

Changing Landscape of Pharmaceutical Marketing in India

Ask any member of pharmaceutical sales force in India and he or she is most likely to say that their landscape has changed a lot and the old sales model does not work any longer. It has become a world of give and take and therefore the ‘requirements’ of doing business (prescription generation) have changed. It is true that many things have changed.

Let’s take a quick look at what has changed and what skills and competencies were relevant yesterday and what are relevant today.

Key Elements of Prescription Generation Yesterday Today
1. Product Knowledge Essential Essential
2. Communication Skills Essential Essential
3. Presentation Skills Essential Essential
4. Impact Essential Essential
5. Differentiation Essential Essential
6. Relationship Essential Essential
7. Physician Access Very few restrictions in terms of physician timings and specific days only for Pharma Reps More difficult, increasing restrictions
8. Detail / Call Duration/ Time Up to 5 minutes on an average for an effective detailer Shrinking / one to two minutes on an average
9. Transaction Type Mainly Persuasion skills leading to the question of ‘why should I prescribe?’ Focus was on how can my patient be benefited? Increasingly commercialized focusing on ‘what is there in it for me, not necessarily for ‘my patient’ alone/Increasingly contractual in nature
10. Gifts and other Gratification Inputs Relatively inexpensive, more for brand promotion Expensive to very expensive with virtually no limit when ROI criteria are met
11. Personal Selling Effort Necessary Necessary

Life is 10 per cent of what happens to you and 90 per cent of how you respond to it. Think how much has changed and what skills and competencies are relevant and crucial for success today.

In a constantly changing marketing environment, your only insurance is building up your capabilities and constantly growing your competencies. Remember, when the going gets tough, the tough get going!

Coach or Poach?

What is the relationship between coaching and poaching? Inversely proportional. Think about it. As a manager if you don’t coach your team effectively and with a genuine concern for the development of each one of them, you are letting the competitors poach your team from right  under your nose.

Let’s face it. Today talent is short and attrition rates are high. People today in addition to attractive remuneration and hygiene factors are looking for opportunities to flourish and grow in their careers. Learning and continuous improvements are crucial for progress in the current hyper-competitive business environment. Research clearly indicates that people leave more often from organizations where managerial competence and concern towards subordinate development are low. In other words from organizations, where there is no effective performance coaching. Coaching is therefore, not some thing nice-to-have or optional. It is mandatory!

How to coach for performance effectively? When to do it? The answer is simple. Coach as often as you can and as often as necessary. Here are five essential steps of performance coaching to improve performance and develop your team:

  1. Open each coaching session by setting an appropriate tone. Make them comfortable. Remember, coaching is not a performance review or evaluation.
  2. Focus on one or two tasks or activities that are very important to discuss and stick to them.
  3. You can bring about a sustainable performance improvement in your team members only when there is a change in their current behaviors on the job. Observe the transition points carefully and provide timely feedback to accelerate positive change.
  4. Explain clearly specific steps needed for improvement, acknowledge and recognize the progress and encourage continued success.
  5. Set clear, measurable and achievable goals for the next coaching session.

To coach or not to coach is therefore, not a dilemma. The choice is clear. Coach your team effectively or else your competitors are going to poach!

Aim High!