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Creating a big impact with data in sales

Making better use of data offers companies a number of ways of adding value to their activities
Big data

The pharmaceutical sector continues to face some tough challenges on the road ahead. Tighter regulations by the FDA and the EMA have made it increasingly onerous for businesses on both sides of the Atlantic, and one reason why the number of new medicines coming to market has effectively flatlined for the past 10 years.

Costs also present a major hurdle; developing new drugs is becoming increasingly expensive, with many expecting raw material prices to rise by over 4 per cent on average this year. Add to that the gloomy backdrop of a generally downtrodden global economy, and it's easy to see why many sales and marketing departments are feeling the pressure of having to deliver investment returns with far fewer resources. It also explains why big pharma is increasingly turning to big data.

Big data has been a hot topic for discussion across all sectors for some time, and the pharmaceutical one is no exception to that. Many have come to realise the huge added value rich data insights can bring to product innovation and research efficiencies, with potential savings of as much as $450bn to the US healthcare system alone. It allows you to data mine, correlate and analyse vast amounts of information, not just from your own research and development processes, but also directly from retailers, care providers and the end users, patients. And while many pharmaceutical companies are now taking advantage of this, too many are still struggling to fully integrate it across all business functions, particularly in key drivers such as sales and marketing.

Keeping customer hotspots 'hot'

One of the main factors to any business success is using your resources to their maximum potential. It means understanding where your most valuable sales hotspots are and dimensioning your team accordingly, to ensure they remain 'hot'. In the pharma sector it means drawing on real-time intelligence from key gatekeepers can be invaluable.

Data can help determine where the physicians with the highest prescription levels are, or which practices or hospital departments should be targeted for their potential to prescribe more of any specific product. Conversely, big data analytics can flag those in danger of 'churning'. Similarly, on a more granular level, it can help monitor and analyse the rapport between sales reps and physicians and help decide which representative is best placed in a particular territory.

Analysts predict using big data could cut US healthcare costs by up to $450bn

But it is not just the physicians who shape sales territories. Patients are taking greater control over their own treatments and are sharing their experiences and views on medicines via social networks, increasingly defining what they are happy to be prescribed by their physicians. By performing analysis on unstructured data from social media sources and combining them with structured data on prescriptions, patients form a vital component in identifying product preferences and subsequent sales and marketing tactics used.

Right product, right place, right price, right promotion

At the heart of any sales and marketing tactics is deciding which products to push out above others through which promotional channel. While past performance can provide some guidance on the right mix of these components, typically a lot of those decisions have been based on gut feel. This is a worryingly narrow approach to often very large investment decisions.

Big data enables pharma companies to manage the vast amount of data that is available from a multitude of touch points and use it to understand the market dynamics around each product on a deeper and much wider level. It can take into account how regulatory changes or competitor activities will impact brand revenues, how brand promotions will influence one another, and what return on investment to expect from each brand investment.

Constantly moving targets

Of course companies need to be highly targeted with any promotional activity to ensure they are using the right channels to engage with those that matter most. These could be existing brand advocates, those with the most potential to become advocates, and key opinion leaders (KOLs) who are most influential in encouraging others to follow suit. What needs to be factored in though is that these targets are never fixed, but frequently change, and therefore need constant reviewing.

In the highly competitive pharmaceutical market, it is not so important to know what went wrong as it is to know what is going wrong. To enable companies to take preventative actions before any major damage is done, big data needs to be analysed on an ongoing basis, ideally in real time. Take a new product launch by a competitor. It might choose to announce the new product via an email marketing campaign targeting KOLs in the industry. These influential gatekeepers may not share their news en masse immediately. Therefore, the impact on your own product performance might not be immediately noticeable - and by the time it does it may be too late to reverse that slide.

Beyond buzzwords

Big data has been a buzzword in the pharmaceutical sector for the past decade, and its value-added message is at last filtering through. In fact, according to one recent report, 63 per cent of pharma companies are planning to build dedicated big data teams. While this is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, more strides need to be taken by many in the sector to ensure they integrate those better decision-making processes across all functions. Only then can big data truly help big pharma create big impact.

Article by
Sumit Prasad

is pharmaceutical sector lead, Mu Sigma

28th April 2014

From: Sales, Healthcare

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