Curing ills not pushing pills


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It’s the Molecule, stupid! You produce ever better drugs; Drs buy those drugs; patients use those drugs, end of story. The battleground is to design better drugs and persuade your stakeholders to purchase them.

Of course no-one can deny it IS the Molecule stupid! But the pressures of commoditization in pharma, the decreasing returns from share of voice, necessitates a different way to look at the industry and learn from other sectors that have faced similar pressures, yet still come out the other side with improved profitability and growth.

After all Rolls Royce used to be in the engines business, IBM used to be in the computers business, bic used to be in the stationary business, Tesco used to be in the grocery business. These are still fundamentals but in each case, when faced with commoditization of core value, value extension led the way, achieved by focusing on customer loyalty and customer centricity in other words customer experience.

And I mean that term in the broadest sense of the word. Consider this.
When the next big innovation will take years not months and in the meantime you are getting ever reducing returns from pushing product, the only way to go is to move from selling products to selling services.

Hence, Rolls Royce no longer sells engines, they sell the services customers want to buy from using those engines (its value-in-use) and price accordingly! After all, the consumer is not interested in buying an engine; they are interested in getting from A to B. The advantage to Rolls-Royce is a deeper engagement (brand deepening) with their consumer base (we sell them the outcome) and a conversation that is no longer about the features and functions of the engine, but how it can help their clients achieve what they need to for their end-consumers.

With Tesco, you still get your weekly shop, but now you also buy services such as insurance and banking (brand extending). Tesco have realised that groceries are essentially a commodity or at least lack differentiation between providers. They can therefore continue to go to battle on price or they can add differential value by adding services their customers would be interested in but, and this is crucial, still fit with the Tesco brand.
IBM, Bic and many others have all taken this route. They have all deepened brand engagement and loyalty by understanding their clients business and offered services that their clients truly want which may not be the ones they are necessarily selling!

So, is this model applicable to the pharmaceuticals industry? The answer I believe is yes and I don’t believe that pharma can wait any longer. After all some of the best cases of this trend come from disintermediated industries, big brands that differentiate by trying to take their clients problems onto their shoulders by offering best of breed service solutions.

Big pharma brands will of course continue to offer superlative drugs but differentiate themselves in the minds of their client base, the hospitals and Drs surgeries, by the services they offer.

To date, no-one has truly grabbed this opportunity, instead there are a few piecemeal activities such as smoking cessation programmes but the old model still reigns supreme. In fact it is getting worse. Rather than say, lets listen to our customers and offer services, it is becoming, lets push those sales teams harder or lets change the talk, lets impart more evidence of how our drugs work, and recruit specialist reps who can give more complex advice.

As recent press reports indicate, this leads to pharma’s acting in the market like used car salesmen, in spite of their research capabilities.

But what if we were to offer services that help our clients business beyond the pill? What if we consider ourselves in the business of curing ills not pushing pills, what would such a business look like? What if we thought first about the Patient Experience in the round, after all that’s what our clients are interested in?

Think about it! Drs have to deal everyday with subscribing drugs but also dealing with the complex lifestyles and regimes of their patients alongside trying to manage budgets that take them away from their day job.
Hospitals, don’t want to listen to the next rep pushing a pill, but they may be willing to hear how you can help them.

Patients themselves are increasing using social media channels to learn about brands and drug regimens; regulatory authorities in the NHS are pushing patient led metrics such as Net Promoter (likelihood to recommend) and in the USA with HCAHPS Customer Satisfaction surveys to bring the real voice of the customer to bear on your clients (the hospital and Drs).

Think of that, big brand pharma helps a hospital improve the patient satisfaction scores they are targeted and budgeted on! Ills don’t have to be cured by pills.

The irony is of course, that getting closer to the end consumer, the patient, and breaking down the silos, actually ‘reveals’ opportunity for ‘new molecules’ as well as the design of new experiences.

Understand the mind of your customer. Whether that is the Dr, Patient, Insurer or other HCP. If pushing the pill does not motivate them, what does?

So to end with a Chemistry metaphor, the industry needs a new catalyst that must come from looking at how pharma brands can understand the psychology of their consumers better. Yes it IS the Molecule Stupid, but the new value model for Pharma is Patient Experience.

Steven Walden
Steven Walden is Director of Customer Experience at leading CX firm TeleTech Consulting (which includes Peppers and Rogers, iKnowtion and RogenSi). Steven is instrumental in efforts to develop the CX practice promoting thought leadership and CX community engagement and IP development. Prior to TeleTech he was Director of CX at Ericsson, developing their Experience Management Centre and also Head of Research specialising in emotion and journey mapping agency side.


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