Pharma multi-channel marketing: best intentions as learning opportunities

A CRM initiative for which I recently had visibility, post launch, was a direct mail program that included the delivery of product samples to non-called-on physicians.  The objective of the program was to provide brand messaging and samples to physicians that the brand’s sales force was unable to reach.  Unfortunately, the large quantity of samples was not well aligned with each physician’s prescribing behavior nor was the physician given a specific timeframe for which they could expect further sample replenishment.  The insights from the a post analysis of the program indicated that the physicians provided patients with sample quantities of samples that met the patients’ prescribed length of time on therapy and thus ultimately cannibalized brand sales.

The program objectives were to extend reach to physicians not called upon and minimize program costs by limiting mailings, which dictated increasing the quantity of samples shipped in each mailing, both of which are realistic and commendable objectives.  However, expectations were not adequately set with the physicians in that they needed to meter out the samples over a specific period of time.  Whether physicians are capable of executing this in an extremely busy office environment is also in question.  The take-away from this example is that the allocation of samples or whatever that offer might be - samples, patient education materials, co-pay cards, etc. , should be based upon the physicians potential incremental script behavior aligned with the quantity of samples to support the physician’s potential prescribing behavior and no more.   Leaving sample allocation solely to the sales force does everyone a diservice.  The sales rep will not have the time or resources to calcualte the appropriate quanties.  Inevitably, some physicians receive too few samples for their new patients being placed on therapy and others receive too many samples such that the distribution of samples cannibalizes brands sales.  Sample allocation optimization is not a new discipline but increasing complex with the multitude of channels by which a physician can receive and request samples.  A pragmatic approach to sample allocation analysis is addressed  here.

Another reoccurring opportunity for CRM program enhancement, is to ensure that all customer facing functions across the organization are informed about the CRM communications that are touching the physician, such that each physician is treated in a consistent manner based upon what the organization knows about that physician and such that each customer facing function has visibility into all the other touch-point interactions.  The classic example of the failure to do this is a physician confronting his/her sales representative with a direct mail communication and the sales representative having no visibility or insight to the marketing communication or program in question.  This damages the relationship between the physician and sales representative.  Since the sales representative is uninformed about the communication initiated by his/her brand(s), they are frustrated by the lack of internal communication as it jeopardizes their credibility with their physician.   The physician is also frustrated in that the company’s representative cannot address the physician’s questions.  This is not to say that multi-channel marketing programs should not be conducted, but to say that the sales force, call center/customer care centers, multi-channel marketing teams and the consumer brand teams should be in constant communication regarding the types of programs and the specific communications being conducted and as well as the timing of these communications reaching the physician.  One solution is to ensure that communications to physicians are captured in the sales force’s CRM system and can be easily reviewed during the pre-call planning process.  Not only does this enable the sale representative to have visibility to all communications with the physician, it also empowers the sales representative to proactively inquire with the physician as to whether they have any questions about the Brand’s programs.  This reinforces the programs message(s) and demonstrates that the sale representative is attuned to information being delivered to his/her physician.

Another solution is to leverage a real-time decision engine which enables business rules to ensure a consistent customer experience and provides internal notification as to a physician’s interaction with any touch-point communication.   For example, a physician visits a pharmaceutical company portal website and submits a request for samples.  Immediately after leaving the portal, the physician receives an email confirmation indicating that the sample request has been received and is being processed.  The confirmation email also reinforces brand messaging.  Two days later, the Brand’s sales representative is in the physicians’ office and mentions to the physician that he noticed that the physician had requested samples and the samples were already being shipped.  Additionally, the representative indicates that he is leaving a few samples today to ensure that the physician has a sufficient quantity on hand until the full shipment arrives.  This provides for an optimal customer experience by the physician, enables reinforcement of brand messaging through multiple touch-points , and positions the representative has being focused on his physician’s needs.  That said the above scenario requires diligence around sample quantity optimization, real-time communication enablement, and conforming to brand sampling guidelines.

All of these are realistic goals and provide for an optimal customer experience and lay the groundwork for continued brand growth.

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